Smackdown Books 2019

Piecing Me Together
We Are Okay
Hello, Universe
Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow
The Marrow Thieves
The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives
The Poet X
Children of Blood and Bone
Far from the Tree
Long Way Down
The Goat
Amina's Voice
Macy McMillan and the Rainbow Goddess
The First Rule of Punk
24 Hours in Nowhere
The Astonishing Color of After
Obsessed: : A Memoir of My Life with OCD
Train I Ride

Thursday, April 16, 2015

For all you We Were Liars fans: The Oyster Review just listed the novel as one of the best 100 of the decade so far. How these people think that E. Lockhart should rank alongside authors like Hilary Mantel, Kazuo Ishiguro, and Alice Munro is beyond me, but there you have it. I'm still not buying that it's absolute tripe.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Give Us The Sun

The Vimy zombie pick is for I'll Give You The Sun.

That's it. Short and sweet.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Night Gardener Vs. Glory O'Brien

Having read through the last few rounds on the other side of the bracket, Team Spruce Avenue was largely unaware of the what was progressing through the Smackdown this year. The last time we were on this side of the tournament, Noggin was moved forward and quickly smacked. 

This round we had the opportunity to read Glory O'Brien and Night Gardener. Neither novels has moved this far without having its merits and in the end we decided that Night Gardener was the novel to move on the the finals. 

A lot has been said about the two novels and I doubt we'll add anything new or groundbreaking on them. We enjoyed the writing style of Night Gardener and believe that it is the more well written and could have the greater 'teachability' in the classroom. Glory O'Brien was a fine read but we felt that there was nothing spectacular about it. We felt as though it was too close to Ask the Passengers and did not progress as we would have liked.

Having Night Gardener up against Nazi Hunters in the final is an interesting choice but the real wildcard is I'll Give You the Sun - this is our pick to reanimate and run amok as the Zombie Novel! 

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Zombie pick: I'll Give You the Sun

I was very impressed with previous blogs re: I'll give You the Sun. In addition, I  am very curious as to why this book has garnered so much attention and awards from around the globe. I'd like to give it a chance as my zombie pick. I guess if I don't get to read it in the land of Mighty Smackdown I'll add it to my summer collection. Deb
Glory or Garden...

I read both of these in previous rounds, so I've had a nice hiatus from the madness of Smackdown to venture into adult fiction.  I don't want to repeat myself on the aspects of each book that I liked or disliked, so I'll just summarize why I have chosen Night Gardener to continue smacking.  Personally, I was more enthralled by the characters and voices of the Night Gardener.  If you read my previous post about Glory...I was not a fan of the characters or the premise.  Drinking dead bat?  Definitely not my scene.  But people seem to love A.S. King, I'm just not a fan.  Night Gardener was spooky, the description was fantasical!  I loved the adventure wrapped up in this story.  As I said before...I the story was magic right down to the book cover and paper.  Night Gardener also more accessible to my students.  Realistically, Glory wouldn't be a viable option for me to put in my class library or at least it's a book I would only give to a select few to read.  I'm hoping for a real showdown next round.  This was went out with a whimper, I want a tough decision next time!

Are you all liars?

Having read both books and finding positive merits in both, I would have to say that We Were Liars is by far the much better book for young adults to read.  At this point I believe that I might have to apologize to some of my colleagues with whom I battled toe to toe in order to keep Nazi Hunters in the Smackdown race, but that was in the earlier stages of the contest when it was up against a much weaker selection.  In this case however, Nazi Hunters does not have the qualities to compete with We Were Liars.  The depth of detail and characterization in each story alone is  enough to push We Were Liars to the front of this contest.  Each person in the Liars was developed with connects (either like or dislike) are created for the reader. Questions such as "Is being rich really the wonderful life that we fantasize about?".  "If I were the Grandfather could I forgive that much?"  In Nazi Hunters, Eichmann is never really portrayed as "a bad man"... more like just someone going off to do his normal daily job.  I felt that because of this the characters are flatter and hard for the reader to make meaningful attachments.
If our goal is to find a book that will grab the attention of young adults then the choice should have been We Were Liars. Unfortunately, this is not the case.  So to rectify this choice - my zombie pick is We Were Liars. 

Liars and Nazis

Even though the majority has already spoken and Nazi Hunters has emerged victorious, we still want to add our votes to the We Were Liars column.  I went into Nazi Hunters thinking it would be akin to last year's winner (Bomb), an expectation to which Nazi Hunters fell short.   We Were Liars might lack the gravitas and educational value of Nazi Hunters, but it was an engaging story that students have been loving.  And while I kind of detested the whole family and had little sympathy for their self-manufactured tribulations, I think that was part of the appeal of Liars. Cadence and the other Liars are captives in a world where wealth is just a mask that can't quite conceal the dysfunction and racism that lurks beneath, and their ultimately fruitless efforts to escape that world does give readers something to mentally chew on, I think...

That being said, We Were Liars doesn't measure up to other Smackdown titles we've read this year, and this round most of our excitement has been reserved for voting for the zombie.  Mark two Xs next to I'll Give You the Sun, please!

-Chandra & Shelley K.

I Make My Own Rules

I feel like there is some sort of rule that if I didn't vote for a title in a previous round and it comes back at me again in another round I still shouldn't vote for it.  Arlene and I battled for Midwinter Blood  over Nazi Hunters a few rounds back with our staff, and sadly we were the minority.  This book still refuses to die, as it came back to our bracket again against We Were Liars.  I read Lockhart's book this summer and loved it.  The scene in the front yard had me utterly confused and had me hooked.  As I read, I knew something terrible had happened, but what? It reminded me of Halse Anderson's Speak where it takes the whole book for the horrific memory to come to the surface.  And that is precisely what I loved about this book- the whole thing just explodes at the end.  This old money family provides a (possibly) true look into how  power can corrupt a family and then decimate it.

We Were Liars has been floating around my room for the last few months and it hardly ever makes it back onto the shelf.  Readers immediately tell a friend that they MUST read it, and so the cycle continues.  Just yesterday two of my students were discussing a scene from the book.  Watching students talk about this book is interesting because the one who has read it always has to be careful about how they discuss or explain something as to not give away the ending.   I book talked Nazi Hunters to my homeroom the other day and two students immediately wanted it.  It is no surprise that the girls are the ones that gravitate to We Were Liars and the boys are fighting for a copy of Nazi Hunters.

My vote is for We Were Liars, my zombie pick is still up in the air.

Nazi Hunters vs. We Were Liars

We thought Nazi Hunters won as the book to move forward.  This is for no other reason than it is an important piece of history that people need to remember (and learn about how painstakingly it all 'went down').  The other reason is that We Were Liars was a book with little hope and very few, if any other,redeeming qualities (maybe I was grumpy when I read it), but other than the demonstration of how powerful the mind can be - we just didn't find much between these covers that would make us want to recommend it to kids (unlike Nazi Hunters that we feel kids should all read).

Posted by Arlene on behalf of Dianne, Deb and Donna

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

With 27 minutes to spare

I guess the one thing I always hope for, as we get to this stage of the Smackdown, is a good battle between some good, and even great, books. This round did not disappoint. I enjoyed both The Night Gardener and Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future and I would recommend them both to many a student and colleague. I literally just finished The Night Gardener while Glory’s glory has already faded a bit in my rapidly aging mind, which poses a bit of a challenge in making this a fair contest. Ultimately though, as much as I enjoyed the sheer storytelling of The Night Gardener and its, at times, subtle (and sometimes more direct) meditations on story-telling, I can’t say that it is a better book than Glory.

I don’t really have anything snarky to say about The Night Gardiner: it was pretty much exactly what I expected as I took in its super-cool cover. Auxier must have a great relationship with his publisher because the physical form of this book is completely in sync with the tone he has created. It reminded me a bit of one of our previous winners A Monster Calls. I think Auxier is a really fantastic writer and I could feel that this novel was a labor of love even before I read his very thoughtful Author’s Note at the end. As some previous reviewers have noted, this would be an excellent read-a-loud novel and it’s a book that I’d like to add to our school library sooner rather than later.

With all that being said, I’m going all in with Glory and here’s why. “A story helps folks face the world, even when it frightens ‘em. And a lie does the opposite. It helps you hide.” That, my friends, is the moral of the story of The Night Gardener. Again, I like the figurative and literal packaging around that moral, and I don’t necessarily need something more profound (What would Tim O’Brien - or countless other writers for that matter - have to say about this neatly packaged nugget, I wonder?) in this particular story, but I think you’d be hard pressed to boil Glory O’Brien (Character or novel) down to a three sentence thesis. If we tried though, it would surely have something to do with the lies we tell ourselves to create the stories of our lives. I think A.S. King is forcing us to confront these lies through the slightly cracked mirror that is Glory, but maybe more significantly, she’s not letting us get away with thinking that lies we tell ourselves don’t have ramifications that go well beyond our puny little lives. There is a vision of the future (Our future?) at the heart of this book and it is more Cormac McCarthy than John Green and, for me, that really upped the stakes. The Night Gardener is a story about the power of stories, but I’m going to suggest that Glory O’Brien, arguably no less fantastical in some ways, is the story that is more likely to change a young - or even not so young - life. A high bar to set of course, but I’d bet that it’s one that both of these fine authors set for themselves.

ZOMBIE pick still to be determined.

The Night Gardener blooms, while Glory was less-than glorious.

While Glory had a certain charm and sounded like a novel with promise, the premise fell flat, turned out to be a bit too hard to buy into.  The characters lacked sufficient depth to draw us in.  This futuristic Glory story also lacked the broader appeal and teachableness of The Night Gardener.

The Night Gardener is a gothic tale that was both light-handed and mystical enough to be enjoyable. The Mystery in the story was revealed in layers, at just the right speed to keep us reading.  The main characters evolve in a way that is both believable and endearing.  While this story is lovely and imaginative, it is also has greater potential to provide the jr. high classroom another novel to be taught and/or enjoyed.  

Therefore, in a unanimous 5-0 nothing victory, the Westminster pick for this round goes to The Night Gardener.


We Were Liars OR The Nazi Hunters

Not surprised there is a division in the team one camp. Both books are worthy of a vote and we are having a difficult time picking one over the other.

We Were Liars was our enthusiastic pick in an earlier round mostly for its unseen twist at the end. We have recommended the book to students and adults with both groups enjoying the tragic and haunting story. We didn't think The Nazi Hunters would even come close. Weren’t we liars! The non-fiction book reads like a spy novel making it an easy read and interesting way in which to learn new information - a definite appeal for young readers. We sobbed at the end of We Were Liars and cheered for justice (yes an audible cheer came out) at the end of The Nazi Hunters.  So how were we going to decide? We have waffled back and forth all week. When I mentioned the dilemma to my grade eight class this afternoon, one of them pointed out a quote, which we have decided to use as a guide in our decision-making process:

"If you love two people books at the same time, choose the second one. If you really loved the first one, then you wouldn't have fallen for the second."
The Nazi Hunters gets our vote.

Suanne and Katrina 


It looks like some division amoungst the readers of We Were Liars and Nazi Hunters. 

Where some have argued that Liars is fluff, a look at a too entitiled rich world, it really portrays the humanity of a class of people we often show with disdain.  The effects of trauma on memory are profound, perhaps more so in young people and wealth does not ameliorate its effect.  Liars reminds us of this. The lens we see life through often clouds reality.  Is everything we see and believe real?  I see a wide range of themes to explore here, not the least of which is our reverse prejudice against entitled society.

In fact, Nazi Hunters bored me.  The writing was simple and the straight forward, lacking suspense, perhaps just like a non fiction should read.   Here is my bias, as I love a good yarn that leaves me hanging.  I want to get engaged with my characters, and this book left me wanting.  Hence my preference for Liars. 

Zombie bid?  Well, I haven't read the recent suggested books, (Glory, Sun( and am wanting too, so will stick to my first choice book, first round, which Wendy and I argued over... The Cutting Knife of Memory,  another book like Liars that uses the foil of memory to create conflict.  (I lost that battle to Wendy's preferred choice. (Summer)

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Night Gardener buries Glory's History

This round, The Night Gardener and Glory O'Briens History of the Future were pittted against one another.  Glory O'Brien's History of the Future provided an interesting premise but, for me, it fell a bit flat (I guess I never really bought into the bat juice leading to a remarkable new skill to see into the future).  The Night Gardener was pleasantly creepy without making me sleep with the light on.  I can see The Night Gardener being a preferred read for some and I can see it used in the classroom (some of the imagery describing that tree was worthy of a class discussion). So without consulting any of my fellow readers my vote is for "The Night Gardener".  This year, unlike past years, I have no vote for the Zombie pick.


Trying to think after Spring Break

I'll keep this short.  We Were Liars is my pick.  The family was horrible - I don't think every book should make you feel like you went to Disney (or else Disney would be like everywhere else). The fact that I could feel such a strong emotion is what drew me in. And I'll admit it, I did NOT see dead people until it was pointed out directly to me at the end.  Child-like innocence? Perhaps.  More likely, I skipped a critical page and didn't realize it but either remains my choice! (she said proudly!) And I don't need to wait for my zombie pick because it's already out... I'll Give You the Sun.

Big Buzz vs Little Buzz

When We Were Liars came out this last Spring there was a lot of buzz! This books is a game changer... you'll never see it coming...I knew I wanted to read it and I knew I wanted to be surprised. Unfortunately, I wasn't. I'm old enough to have seen Bruce Willis and a little boy see dead people. I saw it coming. Still it was interesting to read about such a repulsive family though the whole fire thing (even drunk) doesn't make much sense.

In contrast, The Nazi Hunters came with little buzz beyond a grade eighter in my class who really enjoyed it (and he, like Mikey, didn't like anything). I do have a little love set aside for non-fiction that reads like a story. Tell me a story, after all, is essentially the phrase that wins my heart. Like others who have bloged already I read this book in just a few sittings. What sticks with me is the role ordinary non-spies played in the novel...the sense of purpose everyone seemed driven by.

Though there are messages in both one keeps rolling around in my head and will be my choice to move on - The Nazi Hunters. 

Now I need to sit back and dream of zombies.....
Nazi Hunters vs. We Were Liars

Much has already been said about both of these books, so I will keep it brief. I found The Nazi Hunters engaging, well-paced, and informative. I had previously read Hannah Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil so was not unfamiliar with him. Still, Bascomb managed to bring some interesting new details to light and I was captivated enough to read the book through in two sittings. Students are generally fascinated with Nazis and WWII history, and this book would be a nice introduction to reading research-based texts. I would recommend this to students across division 3 and 4 and be confident that most would like it.

By contrast, We Were Liars is pure, escapist fluff. It was a quick, disposable read that won't have a lot of lasting power for me and that would appeal to a much narrower set of students. Nazi Hunters has my choice.

My zombie pick is I'll Give You the Sun. It remains my favorite book of this Smackdown series and never should have been eliminated in the first place. Anyone who has not yet read it should do so ASAP!