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

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Ultra vs. Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass

A team divided:  Realistic Fiction?  Or not?
From One Side

Ultra by David Carroll

I was very excited to read a book about an ultra-marathon.  A few of my friends are ultra-runners and I have always been interested in the sport and the experience.  For the record, I am a 5 km walker for sure with very little running talent.  I expected Ultra to be realistic fiction as I teach my students, a story that possibly could happen.  The story is about a thirteen year old boy who has two physical traits that enable him to run ultras at a young age.  His body does not produce a normal amount of lactic acid and his heart is 20% bigger than kids his age and pumps blood at a quicker rate.  He is running the Shin-Kicker 100 which is a twenty four hour race in which he encounters a variety of obstacles. 
For all my initial excitement, I was not a fan of this book.  I have two issues with this book; the organization and the realism. 
As a teacher, I just wanted to hand this author a planner.  The novel didn’t feel well thought out and the events were either jumbled or over used.  How many halucaitions can a runner have before someone would pull them out of a race especially a thirteen year old?  Many of the events were interesting even plausible but I feel the novel would have benefited from a more logical layout.
My other issue was the non-plausible events.  No one is letting a thirteen year old run an ultra without a pacer!  Ever!  I can’t run 5 km and I know that.  It would have been plausible if the pacer had got hurt and couldn’t continue but this runner never has one.  I understand why the author wanted the main character to run alone but he could have used other literary situations to do that.  Ultras are usually far more organized than the one in the book and I felt the story didn’t describe the ultra-event in a realistic way.   Also, the crazy hallucations especially the whale sent me over the edge.  I couldn’t tell what was real or not because these events seemed to all blend in together.  By the end, I was so jaded I assumed a major event was his imagination when it was now a real event.  Maybe my issue was I thought the book was going to be realistic fiction when this was more a fantasy.
I would not recommend this book and I am not voting for it to continue on.

Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina

I was not as excited to start reading this book; Yaqui Delgado wants to kick your ass because I was a little unsure of the topic.  The premise is Piddy, the main character starts a new school and is then targeted by Yaqui Delgado because she has a swishy ass and talked to her boyfriend once.  Both of the targetable events in the book seem unimportant to Piddy and the reader.  The book also contains an interesting relationship between Piddy and her mother that many teenagers experience with their own parents as they learn who each other are.
The novel explores many of Piddy’s relationships and struggles in a realistic and interesting manner.  I loved her relationship with Lila, her not really Aunt.   The salon and the Avon parties gave this relationship more interest.  The relationship between mother and daughter was very well written.  Anyone who has a daughter knows that this relationship can be frustrating, fierce, comfortable and loving all at the same time. At times, the book made me feel sad and angry especially when the bullying turned to physical violence.      
This book has a realistic ending which I found satisfying.  I thought the ending gave the main character hope for the future.  I understand that some will say that there needs to be a better way to deal with bullying and the end of this story is not a satisfactory way to deal with these situations.  As a teacher, I agree that we need to continue to work with students to find ways to make them feel safe and comfortable at school.  I wish the ending never had to come to pass but I understand that this is a realistic approach to deal with bullying in large urban centers.  I didn’t say correct or right, I said realistic.
As a grade nine health teacher, I would use sections of this book to talk about bullying and the effects it has on students.   I would recommend this book and this one has my vote.

The other side contends:

Read your review, and disagree, although very respectfully.  Let me start by saying that a focus on believably is clearly not a requirement for YA literature.  Of the four books I have now read, Ultra is the only one that is even remotely plausible.  Ultra does not have Vedic Hindu Inferi with lithe and supple bodies wearing silk shirts, smelling hot, and wandering between worlds. I won't mention that this Hindu godstopper kisses with the hot passion of a full lipped pubescent despite being two millenia old.  Ultra does not have paranormal messages being communicated in swimming pools, bathtubs, through rose petals, and reflections, by a seemingly intelligent apparition that is able to pull living bodies under water, but can't communicate clearly (how about a lesson from the ghosts of McBeth?... Willa, Willa, beware, etc.).  Did I mention that the heroine is trying to make contact with her dead father, who, although also on the other side, can't communicate at all? ( I need to learn so much about the rules of the other side.) As for Yaqui Delgado, the story line is a bit more believable, (suspend the rapidity of descent from honors to failing grades, to being unable to confide in any adult, and to blah blah blah, essentially from honors kid to delinquent in one fell swoop).  My issue with this book is the anticlimactic ending.  Tension, revenge, comeuppance, retribution..., here comes the climax!!!... nope... ends in one short page with an apparent suspension and a change of school... done... over a hundred pages of lead up and everything drops, faster than Piddi can shake her booty (sorry, but that was another part of this book that irked me), and book is done.  I should have saved the time and tedium of the obligatory coming of age concupiscence, by reading the first and last chapters.  I would have gotten the drift, if not the entire story line. 

So, my vote is for Ultra.  While not entirely believable, believability does not seem to be on the rubric, or if it is, Ultra certainly rates well with the current contenders.  It is written by an ultra marathoner, who weaves interesting facts in the book throughout.  We can track Quinn as he runs, and the running story breaks in to Quinn's narrative interspersing fact with drama around Quinn's father, other marathoners, the fear of running at night, etc. The theme of "everyone is running from or running to something", tweaked my imagination as I tried to predict the threads of the admittedly shallow, but still interesting plot.  And... the author is Canadian.  Is that why it is perhaps a bit understated, politely avoids the formulaic sexual references, and even has some believable content.  "Everyone has a marathon in them".  Good quote from the book, and ... in fact... true.  My apparent marathon was reading the three contenders before getting to Ultra.

The dialogue continued toward an impasse.  One of us finally caved (don’t hate me Tammy) and conceded only on the merits of National Pride; the Canadian author can go ahead to the next round (as much as it pains me to the cheers of my colleagues down the hall.)  Ultra moves on.

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