Smackdown Books 2017

Arlene's smackdown17 book montage

The Memory of Things
Hour of the Bees
The Gospel Truth
Ultraman, Vol. 1
Ghost
The Bunker Diary
Echo
Trouble Is a Friend of Mine
Footer Davis Probably Is Crazy
The Hired Girl
An Ember in the Ashes
The Porcupine of Truth
Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings: A Memoir
Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans
Goodbye Stranger
Beautiful Blue World
The Blackthorn Key
One
Updraft
All American Boys
»

Wednesday, November 25, 2015


Shadow Hero ~ Only Ever Yours   (Nancy Adamson vs Tammy Wildemann)



As a team we are in total disagreement.  I want to smackdown Only Ever Yours (Louise O’Neill).   Tammy wants to smack that Green Turtle (The Shadow Hero) flat on its ass.  Both books came in as strong contenders and both are national book award winners.

Nancy:  Let’s being with the Shadow Hero.  This graphic novel pays homage to the 1940’s comic book format, in particular to the five issues of The Green Turtle created by Chu Hing.  The author creates a narrative that explains how the Green Turtle became a superhero.  I am not a graphic novel aficionado, however I did enjoy this story.  The story is set in San Incendio (read San Francisco).  The superhero is self-made, striving to overcome the evil and graft in his Chinatown community.  He fights the stereotypes that exist in that time; both by being a Chinese superhero and the white attitudes, and gains the respect of his community.  The author instills humour and pathos in the character.  Uncle Wun Too teaches him how to fight (gives him the old one – two...) and break through the clutches of the two Tongs… (which are the Sticks and Stones…).  There are lots of plays on words.  This is a classic good against evil Marvel style comic book, and is enhanced by the shifting attitudes where the local police force regret their prejudice, accept that their attitudes are wrong and need change.  The hero is accepted and the strong.  My partner Steve read this book and rather uncharacteristically, could not put it down.  He loved it.  I think it will find a strong audience in the young adult male reader. The capping of the book:  an awesome afterword that explains the context and includes an original 1940’s Green Turtle comic.

I (Tammy), on the other hand, loathed The Shadow Hero.  The ‘capping of the book’ came far too late. The humor used by the author comes in the form of an overbearing mother who stuffs her bra with pork buns, the characters are referred to as ‘Ching Chong’s and Chinks’. If that is not funny enough, the villains have an underground casino on ‘Coolie Hat Island’ that the wealthy and of course, corrupt, city officials frequent.  A preface, rather than an ‘afterword’, would have gone a long way in explaining the racist commentary throughout the book. The reader is not likely to read or care about the ‘facts and rumors’ dispelled at the end of the novel.  The only redeeming quality of this story is that it is a fast read and requires little thought. This book contributes very little towards quality literature or historical/cultural understanding.    

Tammy continues:  Only Ever Yours was a good read.  O’Neill takes popular culture and stretches it to the absolute limits. She creates a dystopian world in which power, wealth and morality are solely controlled by the male citizens. Females enter ‘society’ only once they are of age to be useful to men. Females are indoctrinated from an early age to see their value only in relation to their appearance. They are ranked according to their daily ‘selfies’ and receive feedback via social media. Unsettling and cruel. When they are of age they are judged by a male panel and assigned to one of three roles: companion, concubine or chastity. The women that hold no sexual value (the chastities) must shave their heads and submit to periods of silence.  The characters in this book engage in self-destructive behaviors. It’s tough to read. It challenges the audience to question the messages that our young women receive.  The author consciously refuses to save or redeem any of the women in this book.  It’s up to the reader to make the connections and to stop the obsession with appearance, media and public shaming before we, too, cannot be saved.      

Back to Nancy:  The misogynistic society O’Neill creates in Only Ever Yours is extremely disturbing.  The girls’ lives revolve around near worship of the worst elements of our teen society.  From ‘vomitoriums’, constant public selfies, weigh-in and prescribed use of oil of ipecac, a page doesn’t go by without a focus on how the girls keep their ‘perfect’ weight. The young females are all constant bullies, and meanness is the complete norm.  Page after page, the behaviour of the characters is relentlessly unacceptable.  The girls’ unapologetic language (bitch, slut,) and two faced treatment of their friends is a model that I abhor.  There is no redemption, no lessons learned, and the ending makes this a cautionary tale about the fate our society could move toward.  I would not want vulnerable young girls to buy into the hopelessness of this narrative.  The deep conversations that could be sparked by comparisons to our world are mitigated in my mind by the pervasive negative modeling of the characters. 

So that leaves us with a difficult decision; we yearn for a tie breaker vote but that is not to be.  In the spirit of collaboration, I, Nancy, concede to Tammy and will allow Only Ever Yours to move on to the next stage… I am very anxious to read other Smackdowners’ opinions on this book!  (And now Tammy owes me one…)

(And meanwhile, I encourage you to read The Shadow Hero!)

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