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, November 26, 2015

The Most Dangerous Revolution….EVER!!!!

Team Bellerose, checking in!:

Jenny writes:  First, I have to admit that I did not finish reading Most Dangerous.  In fact, I had problems getting through the first thirty pages.  I hated the “look” of the text.  To me, it was a text that I would give one of my students who was doing a research paper on Daniel Ellsberg; it reminded me very much of a textbook.  I’m an adult, an English teacher; I should have buckled down and read it . . . but I just couldn’t do it.

I did read Revolution.  Although this novel is also about an important period in American history, I found it interesting.  I loved the visuals:   the quotations, the song lyrics, the actual photos of people who were involved in Freedom Day and the Freedom Movement.  I also liked the characters in the text.  I loved the juxtaposition in character perspective; I really liked Sunny and Gillette.  I appreciated the fact that they are living in a blended family in Mississippi in 1964.  I found the conversations between Sunny, Polly, and Mary Margaret to be quite funny at times; parts of the novel made me laugh out loud.   Conversely, I was afraid when Sunny was caught in the theatre alone, and I was sickened by the incident at the hospital.

However, I did feel that the novel went on a little too long.  When I came to the extended essay on Cassius Clay, I cringed a little; it was interesting, but almost too much that late in the novel.  I also found it a little contrived that the family just happens to be driving by when several pivotal moments happen in the text.

Overall, I did like the book.  It was an interesting mix of fact and fiction.   It was about equality and civil rights; however, I also enjoyed the personal narrative.

Score:  Danger:  0       Revolution:  1

Graham writes:  It’s with some reservation and reticence I begin the process of responding to these books. I suppose it’s simply because I am unsure of what an appropriate response should look like (EDITOR’S NOTE:  literally, I printed off responses from old Smackdowns, and I put them in Graham’s hands to read for his edification.  And I printed them IN COLOUR.  Ingrate.—end of EDITOR’S NOTE). So, (holding my breath) operating with my general lack of good judgment, I offer my thoughts. I must say I am frankly unmoved by either book (exhale…). 

Revolution:  The story carried a deeply valuable message and spoke to a unique family dynamic, especially for the time. I found Sunny’s character well developed, age appropriate and forgettable.  I enjoyed the retelling of the social injustices of the time in a way that was meaningful and interesting. The voices of many who experienced the same event offer many wonderful entry points to discuss the importance of perspective, truths and the value of story. The use of imagery was interesting and captured harsh edge of injustice and deep complexity of being caught in hard choices. I found the story difficult to read, not because of the writing, but more so due to the distasteful treatment of the “Other” during the struggle for freedom in 1960s Mississippi. Notwithstanding, I found the book a long read, and, towards the end, it felt like work. I suppose as I write this, my feelings about the book are softening, but I just didn’t feel a mojo that would cause me to endorse this book.

Most Dangerous: This book also followed a history that I found, personally, both troubling and interesting. The story carried more revelations (for me) regarding the historic events of the Vietnam Conflict than the human equality and rights issues highlighted in Revolution. I found the story took liberties that at many times read to me more like a convincingly fabricated historical fiction rather than an embellished retelling of events. I found the read more along the lines of the Scandal TV series.

The pictures were again able to capture what text could not (including terrible fashions of the 60s and 70s). I found the linear progression and telling of one perspective easier to follow, perhaps with less depth. I ended up reading the book in one sitting and afterwards was somewhat enlightened and disappointed. I am not exactly sure what I was hoping for; perhaps I was expecting Daniel Ellsberg to be less “Snowdenesque.” Yet, in the end, I would support this book to move forward…

Score:  Whistleblowers:  1    Social Injustice: 1

Kelly writes:  I did not know what to expect when I flipped through Deborah Wiles’s book Revolution and saw a large portion of the book was pictures.  The first 40 pages were real-life quotations, images, posters, pictures of identifiable people and news articles of a time specifically known as the Freedom Summer.  I came to appreciate how it created a context that I could identify with.  I could the feel the chaos, uncertainty, change and threat of the time, all with the Beatles playing in the background.  Before the fictional story even began, you had a powerful context for the characters to exist.  Using the visuals throughout the fictional story kept the characters grounded to the facts of the time period.  As the characters experienced the events of the time they became likable and relevant.    I was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed the characters and the story.  I fully appreciated the creative use of visuals and feel that I have a better understanding and appreciation of the sixties.

I don’t really have anything to say about Most Dangerous.  I found it ponderous, and a chore to get through.  It just wasn’t for me
Score:  Vietnam: 1    Slightly-earlier-than-Vietnam: 2

Brad writes:  I, with every fibre of my being, want to make this a Survivor-like tie, where we would implore Deborah Wiles and Steve Sheinkin to, I don’t know, build a fire, or bind a book, or eat a paperback, in front of all us to see which text will move forward.  But alas…

Most Dangerous, it should come as no surprise, just didn’t do it for me, despite my fascination with: a) everything from the Vietnam era, b)conspiracies, and c) that thin edge between whistle-blower and perceived traitor.  I’ve written about my wariness of non-fiction that reads like fiction (no matter how well-researched) a lot between Bomb and The Nazi Hunters over the past couple of years.  I find it troubling—I really do.  But I’m not going to rehash it.  I did like it better than those other two.  But not more than the other book, which manages to interweave a fictional story with non-fictive elements without sacrificing, you know, any sense of veracity.

Deborah Wiles’ Revolution does all sorts of great things with form, interspersing a collage of primary texts (song lyrics, quotations, photographs, biblical passages, headlines) with a fictional narrative to address the countless types of revolution that occur in a Mississippi town during the Freedom Summer of 1964:  musical, cultural, philosophical, and racial.  There is a lot to unpack here.  A LOT.  And that’s what makes Revolution such an engaging and thought-provoking read:  images of volunteers teaching at a Freedom School alongside lyrics to Martha and the Vandellas “Dancing in the Streets.” A quotation from J.F.K announcing his intention with a civil rights bill juxtaposed with an excerpt from “Why You Should Join the Ku Klux Klan.”  Extended essays that interrupt the flow of the fictional narrative.  There is so much to teach—one could pretty much flip open to any of the “documentary” pages, and discuss authorial intent for a whole class:  the font, the layout, the placement of the primary source in relation to the fictional narrative, the interplay between text and word…super-duper interesting stuff.  The “documentary” sections do more than just establish verisimilitude and context:  they metonymically embody the revolution of the book’s title and dialectics clash in word and lyric and image and tone.

I agree with Jenny that the plot of the fictional narrative sometimes is a bit circumstantial, but I ended up really liking it anyway—I certainly wasn’t bored, despite the book’s length.  My biggest concern is that I doubt there are many young readers who would be able to negotiate this text on their own—the thoughtful and patient hand of a teacher could really unlock a new world of visual literacy to a student, but I’m pretty sure a student on his or her own could become frustrated without some assistance (it is 40 pages in before we even realize there is going to be a traditional narrative).  That, coupled with the length (and sheer heft!) of this book might scare off some of our kids.  But it shouldn’t.  With a little guidance with visual literacy, and the ways that text and image can sometimes catalyze necessary cognitive dissonance, this could be a really rich text for our students.  I didn’t love it with unfettered fervour, but I really liked it.


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