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

Tuesday, May 12, 2015


Yesterday I did a quick count as I raced from interviews to visit with people at the Smackdown Book Buy.  What I learned is never try to do math fast - especially when you'd rather be reading and let's face it, I would always rather be reading.

In the sober light of the morning I carefully recorded the votes and I'll Give You the Sun is our official winner with 15 votes, The Night Gardener is in second with 12 votes and The Nazi Hunters finish with 3. Don't be sad for The Night Gardener as Holly just tweeted details that it is being made into a movie - sounds like a possible Smackdown date night in the future!

There are people who didn't vote....ahem Holly....Spruce Avenue....Ellerslie. However democracy waits for no book and as Tristin pointed out in her great post:

 I hope my pick makes it through, but I'm more excited to get my books; put them onto the shelves of my classroom library; and hear my students give their own reviews of the books we've smacked this year.

That is the very point Arlene and I are trying to make with The Smackdown. We thank everyone who participated and welcome anyone who would like to join us next year for:


Monday, May 11, 2015

I have thought long and hard over which book deserves my vote. I enjoyed both The Nazi Hunters and The Night Gardner but for totally different reasons. I feel that The Nazi Hunters is an important book as it works to introduce the topic of the Holocaust in a gentle manner. Anytime I can work knowledge of historic events into my classroom, it is a win win situation: reading AND learning. Yes. On the other, The Night Gardner is such an accessible text, it is hard for me not to vote for it as my favourite. As a junior high teacher, I am always searching for those books that I can give to anyone, and say, "Take this; I think you'll love it.". I feel that The Night Gardner is that book. So, with my little social studies heart telling me to pick The Nazi Hunters, but my language arts brain telling me to pick The Night Gardner, I have to go with....The Night Gardner because it is that book that I can give to anyone in my classroom and know they will love it.

Lisa @ ABM

A Garden full of Nights of Good Reading

My pick this year delights me for the appeal I feel it would have for the wide range of readers I teach.  It kept me up at night as leaves rustled outside my window and black pages stared me down from my bedside table.  It was creepy, exciting and full of twists and turns my students would enjoy.  Without hesitation I vote for The Night Gardener as my Mighty Smackdown pick.  My very strong honorable mention goes to Nazi Hunters.
Night Gardener wins!
Although I enjoyed I'll Give You the Sun, I felt that there were too many threads and it was drawn out at the end. Too much description slowed down the plot for me. The Night Gardener on the other hand was easier to follow. I enjoyed the fantasy world that was created by Jonathan Auxier. I think this book would be enjoyed by our Junior High students.
Submitted by Dianne Tebby
I'll Give You the Sun wins for me!
My vote for Nazi Hunters was helpful in putting it through to the final round. I do not regret this, but I am very happy to have had the opportunity to read the other two finalist. I still believe that Nazi Hunters is an important book, that will at least start our young people talking about a period in history that we should not forget. I thoroughly enjoyed the other two books though. It was great to spend a weekend losing myself in the creepy fantasy of the world created by Jonathan Auxier in The Night Gardener. However, the reality of I'll Give You the Sun did it for me.

Life can bring with it tragedy, destruction, secrets, lies, etc., but it can also bring hope, understanding, love and reconciliation. We may not want to admit it but when we often think we're in control we're not. This artistically and creatively written book by Jandy Nelson will linger with me for a long time. My final vote is for I'll Give You the Sun! DebP.

The Night Gardener

Although we liked  Nazi Hunters and I'll Give You the Sun, The Night Gardener will have more of a mass appeal to the students we teach. We were more engaged with the characters in The Night Gardener than with the other two books.  The writing in I’ll Give You the Sun was captivating, however we really don’t believe a fourteen year old would sound and behave like that no matter how mature and eccentric he was.  The Night Gardener gets our vote.

Katrina and Suanne
I'll Give You the Sun has been my favorite right from the first round - I was so sad when it went down to The Night Gardener (though that's a great book, too) and was thrilled to see it re-emerge as Zombie pick.  It's been a long time since I read it now, so the details are getting a little fuzzy as they swirl around into a mural in my mind.  Although I really enjoyed both The Night Gardener and Nazi Hunters, and I think they would also be devoured by some kids, this is the one I haven't been able to get out of my head.  I've talked about it with friends and colleagues, bought it for kids in my life who I knew would love it, and shared little plot previews and teasers with students when I could.  This is my pick!

Sunny Days over Foreboding Nights

We really enjoyed The Night Gardener, and given its suitability for a junior high audience, ordered a class set that has been making the rounds among our students for the past month.  But even with its merits, it was no contest when up against I'll Give You the Sun.  (And we won't waste any more breath over Nazi Hunters, being that we're still shocked that it clawed its way to the end.)  Two more enthusiastic votes for Jude and Noah and their complicated but beautiful relationships!

-Chandra & Shelley

And the winner is...

By this point in Smackdown much of the Smack has already been dished out as I have worked hard to support the novels that I thought would be the best for young adults.  To be fair, the book that I believe is truly the best (We Were Liars) did not make the list and so I believe that I am supporting my second favorite.  Earlier I fought long and hard to push Nazi Hunter and Night Gardener  forward and I equally fought hard to crush I’ll Give You the Sun.  As a result of these past fights, I know all three of these novels fairly well. Overall I fully believe the Night Gardener is the overall best novel for young adults and should be the winner for 2014 – 2015 Might Smackdown.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Give Me the Sun

This will be mercifully brief as I’ve written at some length in previous posts on two of our three finalists. The one that was new to me this round was Nazi Hunters and it was an interesting book, detailing a chapter of world history that I think would be intriguing for young adults, regardless of whether or not they had some background on the topic. Nazi Hunters was exactly what I expected it to be: a well-written and well-researched book that would be accessible to a range of young people, and I think most adults would read it with interest as well. That being said, I read a lot of non-fiction, ranging from full-length books to many a feature length article and can’t really say that I see anything exceptional about this text. It’s good, and I’m glad I read it, but Smackdown winner? I don’t see it.

The Night Gardener is a book that does a lot of good, and even occasionally great things, and despite the fact that I didn’t think it should have emerged from that last round, I’m not too displeased to see it being discussed at this late stage and getting some well earned recognition. It is a book that I think would engage a really wide range of students, but for me, I think it has to come a distant second to I’ll Give You The Sun. When I think about how broad the YA literary landscape has become during my time as an educator it’s really inspiring and while I’ll Give You The Sun is more reminiscent of the typical “teen” novels that used to dominate YA, I think it takes that form to a different level. When I look at the depth of the character development and the way the book invites its readers into some really difficult and important discussions, I see a novelist who wants to change some lives and that, for me, is really what I’m in the game for. Looks like a fittingly tight race, but give me the sun, please.

Finalist is?

Well it is my first post and I am hoping this works.  Technology is not my friend.  We decided as our group of 3 that we could go with The Night Gardener, even with its flaws.  There were many moments of creepiness, and things that go bump in the night.  There were many unanswered questions about how did mom and dad end up in the disarray they did, how did the gardener end up with his lot in life?  Yet I still kept reading wanting more answers.  That is a sign I am liking what I am reading.  Nazi Hunters was fascinating, and the patience that was demonstrated through the story blew my mind.  Yet we would have to go with The Night Gardener as our final winner.

World Remade

I am finally chiming in, thanks to Jandy Nelson. This is my first Smackdown post, mostly because I am a busy person with flawed priorities, but also because I've found it challenging to compose rave reviews for the novels I voted for earlier in the Smackdown. They were good - tripping out on bat blood was cool - but they weren't special. Nelson's I'll Give You The Sun, however, it is special. It's beyond special, actually.

I'm not convinced that Jandy Nelson is an author. She's not writing novels; she's remaking the world, as the Sweetwines would say. Reading I'll Give You The Sun was like swimming through a painting. Noah and Jude's world is part Van Gogh, part Pollock, painted graffiti-grandiose on underpasses and construction site fences and bedroom ceilings.

While reading this book I frequently read passages aloud to my husband, who remarked, "What the **** are you reading?" I honestly couldn't say. I'm not sure I can now, even though I've been thinking non-stop about this story for over a week. What is this crazy thing? It's a kaleidescope of a narrative. Heartwrenching sister-brother dialogue. Impossible grief. Family secrets. Cartwheeling love. The ecstatic impulse. Somehow, impossibly, Jandy Nelson captures this with not with words, but with pure colour and clay and vibrating molecules.

I mean, technically, Nelson writes in words - English words, even - but nothing about this book is technical. It's technically a novel, but more like a mural. (Or a musical, or a carnival - honestly, it's that hard to nail down). It's technically fiction, but has screaming moments of magical realism. It is much, much better than technically good. It's an explosion of goodness.

I vote for I'll Give You The Sun, obviously. I truly enjoyed The Night Gardener (It was magical and I read it aloud to practice my Irish and British accents, so that was fun). The Nazi Hunters seemed like a book a non-fiction lover would like (I couldn't wade through it). But neither holds a paintbrush to I'll Give You The Sun.

Three very different books battle to the end

The Night Gardener - a creepy yet engaging story.
The Nazi Hunters - a historical read that highlights sometimes justice takes much time and effort
I'll Give You the Sun - a story about relationships 

I thought all the books had their flaws and also their highlights. I loved the goose bumps I had as I read The Night Gardener.  I was intrigued and in awe by the Nazi Hunter's determination.  The writing style of  I’ll Give You the Sun was very engaging and I was drawn into liking the characters.  My pick is for the one that I enjoyed the most - my vote is I'll Give You the Sun.


Friday, May 8, 2015


I vote for "Night Gardener".  Why?  Well...because my favorite didn't make it to the finals and this was the best of the lot.

Yes, "I'll Give You the Sun" was a great book.  It's a coming of age story, but the ending was too convenient for me.  After so much angst, betrayal, an attempted suicide and emotional abandonment..all of a sudden the three of them are The Musketeers?  Unbelievable...  If this were real life, which I had appreciated about the story up until the conclusion, there would be no sailing off into the sunset.

The Nazis Hunters was an interesting read; I already smacked about it in previous round, so I won't spend too much time here.  It's a historical drama, meant for history geeks.  The idea that so many people risked their lives to bring one man to justice amazes me.  The Holocaust seems foreign to our students, so I don't know if they could empathize with the Nazis Hunters as characters.  Students need a maturity to appreciate the place the Nazis Hunters were coming from when they pursued the Nazis to South America and beyond.  Without this maturity, I don't know if they could understand the impact of  pursuit of the Nazi cowards who escaped to South America.  But I think it is still an important read for students.  It is a new take on war history.  The unfortunate part is that it is strictly factual.  I know, I's historical, what can I expect?  Well...I expected to feel deeply toward the main players involved in the arrest of Eichmann.  Don't get me wrong, I cared for them, but not like the characters from "The Night Gardener".  If this were a contest of the best historical read...than Nazi Hunters is definitely a winner, even against "Bomb".  I liked Nazis Hunters better, but it does not compare to "Night Gardner" least for me.

I have had to review "Night Gardener" three times now, so I really don't have anything new to say.  At the end of the day, I'm picking a book that my students would pick up and read.  If I look at it from that perspective, everything from the book cover, to the word choice makes this book a winner.  It is both enticing and memorizing.  For a YA novel, this help my attention and made me want to know what was behind that door.  The Night Gardener, himself, was sinister, there was nothing good about him, nothing redeeming and I loved that.  Finally, a villain without a sob story.

I hope my pick makes it through, but I'm more excited to get my books; put them onto the shelves of my classroom library; and hear my students give their own reviews of the books we've smacked this year.

The Night Gardener gets my (green) thumbs up!

"I'll Give you the Sun" and "Night Gardener" - literally night and day.  Apples and oranges.  But both a battle between the 'good' and the 'evil' found in life.
Okay, so that is a little melodramatic - however, they are totally different books.  Neither would be the book I would likely choose to read on my own (without the push of the Mighty Smackdown driving my reading selection I can safely say this is the truth), but I am glad I read both.  Both were good reads. Not great, but good.

SO, with all of this being said, I am putting my final vote on "The Night Gardener".  A little Coraline-ish at times in its creepiness - sure to catch the imagination of many young teens.  "I'll Give you the Sun", although a good story, was a wee bit mature for many junior high readers (and since I often think "hmmm, would my students enjoy this?"....)

That's it.  That's all I have to say.

Westminster's vote goes to I'll Give You the Sun! We agree with what others have said in that we can see uses for all three of the final books in our library, but I'll Give You the Sun is memorable and beautifully written. I've already got my book club reading it as our next pick!

Votes from Westmin for I'll Give You the Sun: 4

And the winner is... what? what?

Quelle horreur!  We didn't get to read I'll Give Your the Sun!  Add it to the list of books for DDM please!

Notwithstanding others' infatuation with the former, my pick goes to The Night Gardner, by Jonathan Auxier, based upon the simple virtue of keeping my attention.  Which is not to suggest that other titles this year have been bereft of redeeming qualities, but to a one, those laudable features were diminished by vapid themes, tired archetypes, or sundry literary sins.  The Night Gardner kept me reading, won my appreciation with tangential details such as the 'hills' of ancestors, and suspended my criticism long enough to have a bit of fun.

It seems that I may have missed the ripest of this year's crop of books, but I'd be sated just the same if more of my YA fare was as tasty as this one.


Tuesday, May 5, 2015

As Dia said, there is room on our library shelves for all three of this year’s finalists and we can probably all think of students who would enjoy one or the other of the final three. My vote for this year’s Mighty Smackdown winner though goes to I’ll Give You the Sun. I’ll Give You the Sun is such a beautifully and intricately constructed/crafted novel. I appreciated the story being told through both the eyes of the brother and sister, but at different times in the narrative of their lives. Everything had a purpose or a reason for being in the story and I appreciated the depth and development of plot and character throughout the novel. As Lauren Oliver from the New York Times Book Review commented: “The book celebrates art’s capacity to heal, but it also shows us how we excavate meaning from the art we cherish, and how we find reflections of ourselves within it. . . . I’ll Give You the Sun is a dazzling mirror.”

Mighty Smackdown Choice: I’ll Give You the Sun

Rising from the ashes....

There has been lots blogged about these three books and lots of smack, especially when I'll Give You the Sun got knocked out only to crawl it's way through the zombie apocalypse to return.  Honestly, I thought we had better dialogue because it got knocked out early.  That being said, it is my pick to take it all ( aka Welcome back).  Did I like the creepster, toilet-licking weirdo?  Hell, yes.  Was I emotionally touched by the story in the Nazi Hunters? Yup.
But I've said it before, and I'll say it again, sometimes I just need to read a straight-up good story. Siblings who struggled with relationships and each other but still deeply caring for each other. Falling in and out of love, crazy art pieces and figuring it all out that life is not always what you thought. The siblings were not a dragon and werewolf.  Mom didn't fall in love with spectre and the crazy art pieces were not the result of drinking bat juice.  I'll Give You the Sun...for the win.

I'll Give you the Sun

I threw my support behind this book early on in the competition and I stand by my initial choice. Sure, it might be drama heavy and rely a bit too much on coincidence, but what YA novel doesn't? For me, it comes down to a beautiful story that captures the complexity all kinds of relationships - siblings, first loves, marriages, parent/child, friendships. The book has a richness and depth that is lacking in Nazi Hunters (of which people rightly commented that there was no real substance to any character) and The Night Gardener (which, owing to it's Victorian Fairy Tale style, seemed more about archetype than character).

I'll Give you the Sun is a novel I continue to recommend and students continue to love. It is the CLEAR winner of this Smackdown Edition.

Monday, May 4, 2015

And My Winner Is...

Despite a valiant effort from the zombie novel, my final vote of the year goes to The Nazi Hunters.  I have been struggling all this year with YA books not knowing how to end a story, and I'll Give You the Sun was another victim of great intention lost to flawed construction.  The story became a teenaged The Young and the Restless by the end, with more coincidental overlapping story-lines than should ever be allowed beyond 4 pm in the afternoon.

I am not, nor will I ever be a great reader of non-fiction, but The Nazi Hunters, was still my favourite book out of the bunch. I have come across so many references to Eichmann this year through the films, television programs and novels I have been viewing/reading, and each time my mind went back to Bascomb's book, and what I learned because of his research.

Nazi Hunters: 3  All Other Picks: 0


That's My Vote and I'm Sticking to It....I Think.

The surprisingly cool breaths of the zombies are upon me. Once in an earlier bracket I cast away I’ll Give You the Sun and now it’s back and chasing me.  The creepy Night Gardener has been vanquished but the blue/grey zombie spouting toilet licker, toilet licker will not rest.  What to do….what to do.

The Nazi Hunters was interesting and was very easy and important to read; two adjectives that don’t often go together. The Night Gardener is the creepy story you want to read to freak out your kids – but not too much (no calls from home). I’ll Give You the Sun is flawed but there are parts that soar and maybe these flights should be acknowledged. My twenty year old daughter phoned me to tell me how great it was, Westminster School practically shrink wrapped their school in the book jacket….hmmmmm. 

Once again I am forced into the best kind of vote….I think there is space for all these books in my library so I’m going to do something today that scares me since my yoga lunch bag told me to! My vote goes to the zombie pick – I’ll Give You the Sun.