Smackdown Books 2018

Wolf Hollow
Salt to the Sea
The Serpent King
Optimists Die First
The Hate U Give
Orphan Island
Dan vs. Nature
The Female of the Species
Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere
Paper Girls, Vol. 1
The Passion of Dolssa
The Distance Between Us
When We Collided
Louis parmi les spectres
Girl in the Blue Coat
Defy the Stars

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Tough Call

Well, I guess this is what we hope that any finale comes down to: some tough choices and an ongoing element of surprise. I echo some of the previous posts in that I am surprised that some books, notably, More Than This, did not make it into the final bracket, but I also think that we have three fine finalists. If that “fine” seems like an indictment, rather than an endorsement, that is probably a testament to the fact that we have arrived at three books that each could be enjoyed by very diverse segments of that seemingly ever expanding demographic known as YA.

Of the three, Bomb is probably the most polarizing in that some may find the idea of the book a bit . . . heavy(?) – historically, scientifically, and maybe even morally –but I think those who push past these initial perceptions will be pleasantly surprised. I enjoyed the book overall and I thought that Sheinken did a very good job of weaving together many complex elements into a fairly coherent narrative. It wasn’t as tightly woven as Trinity, but I’m not sure that’s a fair comparison. Though the books deal with same time period and, ostensibly, the same topic, I think the respective authors are trying to achieve very different ends, using very different mediums. What I like most about Bomb is that it offers many different entry points, and I was sometimes surprised by the aspects that I was most intrigued by. In that sense I could see it being an excellent teaching text, but I wonder if every reader who picks up the book independently sticks with it long enough to find his/her discrete entry point.

Counting By Sevens certainly offers more traditional YA elements and may be more immediately accessible to those with a more limited reading history, but I think it will also offer something substantial to those who may begin the book thinking – as I did –“Ok, been there, done that.” Both the characterizations and the narrative form seem to fly perilously close to too many YA tropes, but it is a testament to the writer’s skill that she allows the narrative to unfold in such a way that it problematizes our reading, but still does so in a satisfying way. (I’ll just note that this seemed to serve as the counterpoint to More Than This where many of us – although, I’ll exclude myself from this – found the continual problematizing so dominant that it limited the sense of satisfaction we could walk away with at the end.)

And, finally, there is The One and Only Ivan and believe me when I say that I am surprised that this is my choice for our Smackdown winner. I’ll go back to my original contention that in a triumvirate of accessible texts, this book is one that sets the standard for a book that can both provoke and inspire almost irrespective of age. I was a guest reader in one of the grade two classes at Stratford, whose teacher is reading Ivan to them, and I was able to see these kids grapple with some big ideas, even if they were not always able to articulate exactly what those ideas were. This cuts to the heart of my argument for the book. It is a novel that shows us that a relatively straightforward story with clear and plain spoken language can powerfully express complex ideas. It is a refutation of those grad school arguments about complex ideas requiring dense – to the point of obfuscation – explication and it’s also a reminder that life-altering thoughts are not just the domain of those with big vocabularies and/or big shoe sizes. I’ll ultimately argue for The One and Only Ivan because it has the potential to teach us all  about the possibilities of the reading and writing enterprise that is such a big part of all of our lives. I think it is a book that can add something to all of our lives irrespective of age or experience.

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