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

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.

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