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
March
Unbecoming
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
OCDaniel
Girl in the Blue Coat
Refugee
Defy the Stars

Sunday, April 3, 2016

The Family Romanov No Longer Among The Living (Maybe)




True Story: Eschewing my usual preference for finishing reading my books and writing my post in the wee hours of deadline day, I actually finished my reading in early March and was apparently so self-satisfied that I completely forgot to write anything. So, here I am on  Sunday night at the end of spring break staring down a shamefully neglected to-do-list that just had one more thing added to it. Yeah.

On the bright side, however, I think a little distance from both of these books (Matt De La Pena’s The Living and Candace Fleming’s The Family Romanov) was probably a good thing. I enjoyed them both and don’t really have much in the way of critique for either of them. I think they are both as advertised (respectively): a high-concept, action packed adventure ready made for sequels and, probably, a movie and a tightly woven piece of non-fiction built around one of the most compelling - and world changing - series of events in the 20th century. I can envision kids who would love both of them and I can imagine other kids who wouldn’t get past the first few chapters of one while consuming the other.

One thing I’ve grappled with a bit was the degree to which students would be engaged by the historical context of The Family Romanov. It is something I was interested in and I seem to recall having a bit of a working knowledge of this historical period even in junior high, but then, as a child of the cold war era, I would wouldn’t I? The impending destruction of all mankind (The Day After? Rocky III?) was kind of a big thing back in the day. That great global pissing match between the Soviets and the Americans made Russian history a little more relevant in my teen world, perhaps. Fleming’s prose is certainly evocative, however, and I think that while we might not see kids just naturally gravitating to this book, once it was gently thrust into their hands, they would potentially be drawn into the story. I presume that what makes this “a children’s book” is the fact that the author made her prose more accessible, both in diction and length, than a typical doorstop style “adult” history, but she really does do a  remarkable job of walking that line between big H history and book that reads like a novel.

All that being said, however, I think I’d still have to go with The Living as my vote to move on. Not a perfect novel by any stretch, and it’s prone to some of the cliches and over simplifications that almost necessarily occur when you write a book for a generic teen audience (when no such thing as the “generic teen” exists) but it is, by any estimation a page turner, that also offers opportunities for thought and, even, introspection. I think kids would enjoy reading it and I think there are some big ideas that you could explore in a classroom discussion, or even, over a soda or coffee or whatever literate teens are drinking these days.

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