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

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Ember in the Ashes vs. The Gospel Truth

Ember in the Ashes:  Sabaa Tahir
As a group, we found this book dark, and in places illogical. Every chapter there was death, violence and rape... oppressive... depressing. Where there is the theme of romance, a note of hope in this dreary novel, the plot is thin at best.  Ends up there is a love triangle, and then another love triangle.  Boy finds out his best friend is in love with him, and then he meets another girl, and they instantly fall in love, and eyes lock in deep passion (without words or substance, just instant retinal magnetism), and now nothing else matters, and blah blah blah…. You get the picture.  Aside from the weak grammar of my previous sentence, the obligatory romance was tedious!  Here are a couple of lines:

“I shot at her now because I’m so angry at her for loving me.”  Pardon?????
“If she had controlled her emotions, we would never have fought.”  Double pardon???
And then Elias (a remarkably stupid main character) has other love interests.  Hmmmmm.  Perhaps a love square instead of a love triangle.   And then Elias and Helene have to fight each other to the death… well, I guess that is one way to end the romance.  But… he does not kill his best friend, and gets Laia as the prize.  Yeachhh.  
Even as I am writing, I am getting irritated with this book and the low hanging fruit of young adult interest; violence and romance.  Sigh.
On the other hand…   The Gospel Truth by Caroline Pignat is unpredictable, tense, historically based, and engaging.  The book talks about the life of a slave from different perspectives, that of different slaves, the master and slave owner of a plantation and his daughter Tess.  The book reads like poetry and is easy to complete at one sitting.   Each character has their own distinct voice, but each voice is immensely readable. Each character reveals a different truth about the life of slavery.  The main character, Phoebe, accepts her lot in life, as the bird in the cage metaphor suggests.  She sees the world outside the plantation fences as more dangerous than the one inside. Her best friend, a boy named Shad, believes that if he does everything right the master’s rewards will make up for his lack of freedom. Shad’s brother Will, is obsessed with escaping the plantation even if that means his death.  This book is immensely readable, avoids the predictable and formulaic plots of most YA literature, and leaves the reader with questions.   What a gift!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Goodbye Stranger vs. Hired Help

Goodbye Stranger
For a first time reading anything by Rebecca Stead, we really enjoyed this novel! We thought that for the most part the characters were accessible and authentic and the pacing was appropriate to keep adults and young readers interested. I enjoyed how Stead approached some pretty difficult topics with a light touch and kept it PG for our younger readers. The issues of depression, picture messaging are current and relevant to students today  There is an element of mystery, but it gets wrapped up in a solid conclusion that leaves the readers satisfied.  I still have a few questions, but from what I hear that’s common with her work.

Hired Help

For the historical fiction fans in our group, this was a tough battle.  The novel was really well crafted and engaging to read. The struggles were authentic and easy to empathize with.  . I think that a mature Div 2 student could easily be hooked by the story and see it through to the end. This could be an extension text for grade 5 and 7 with the suffragette movement.  It may appeal to more females than males.  In the end, Goodbye Stranger won out for the greater accessibility of readers who are looking for something new to read, and could be read by both boys and girls.  

A Madness so Discreet vs More Happy Than Not

which left us More Meh Than Anything Else

Not sure if the holes in Dia’s Auntie’s afgan are bigger or smaller than the holes in my brain. The Hillcrest team met over a week ago for a lovely Smackdown Dinner. There was quite a bit of catching up (I’ve been on leave recuperating from knee surgery) and a few disagreements over our books. Katrina kindly wrote down everyone’s comments regarding both books and our reasons why we chose one over the other. Perhaps the holes in my brain are larger than the holes in the afgan - not only did I forget to blog but I have now lost the napkin Katrina wrote on. It could be that the holes in my brain have nothing to do with old age and I forgot to blog because the books were both rather forgettable. I would say this first round was "More Meh Than Anything Else". 

Although the beginning of A Madness so Discreet, an historical thriller we were all looking forward to reading. was compelling and perhaps even disturbing, the rest of the book left you confused and wanting more. The gripping description of the insanity of Victorian asylums was horrific and the author portrayed it well in the first part of the book. The madness of the beginning, alas, did not carry through and the book turned into a boring detective story with an abrupt and confusing ending. Too graphic and too disturbing at the beginning or just too boring were our reasons for dropping this book.
That left us with More Happy Than Not and our vote to go through to the next round. The book dealt well with relevant and serious issues of self-discovery around homophobia, sexuality, depression and suicide. The main character, Aaron, considers a memory altering procedure to try and change who he was. This was a good read and at times more sad than happy but it wasn’t a jump up and down, oh my goodness, you need to read this book. We liked the twist in the middle but also felt it was a book that didn’t quite excite us. Let’s see what the next round thinks.

Suanne for the Hillcrest Team (Katrina, Judy, Linda and me)

One Blows Away Updraft!

Sarah Crossan’s One tells the compelling and unique story of conjoined twins, Tipi and Grace, through the point of view of the quieter twin, Grace.  This is a universal story of the teenage girl, with heart wrenching complications and challenges.  It is the story of family, of siblings and of difficult decisions.  The choice of free verse is a perfect vehicle for the narrative. I did not want this book to end. Although at first, I was concerned that the free verse format would not draw me into either character or plot, I was so quickly engaged that I read the book in one sitting and was saddened that the story had to end. 

Updraft by Fran Wilde was a different sort of read.  This  well crafted fantasy with Kirit Densira as the protagonist in a sky world explores the wildly popular theme of a society gone awry while trying to meet the best interests of its citizens.  Kirit and her friends uncover and challenge the workings of the ‘Singers’ and set the book up for a forthcoming sequel.  Anyone who has dreams of flight will enjoy the beauty and challenges of these people as they put on their wings and catch an updraft, flying from one community to another!   Readers who love fantasy and dystopian literature will enjoy reading Updraft.  It was a fun read, but didn’t hold our attention or capture our hearts in the same way as One!

Both books deserve a place in our classroom libraries.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Porcupine of Truth vs. Ultraman

This was an easy round for us at DDM. We are unanimously voting through The Porcupine of Truth. We really liked the artwork of Ultraman and appreciated the storyline where the father was trying to protect the kid from his own destiny. Overall, the storyline moved too slowly. The whole book was only one battle. And it referenced a lot of past events which will probably show up as flashbacks in the next books, but in this book alone we felt a bit confused. Alana noted that there were almost no female characters in the novel, and the one female that was in the early part the book was shown mostly only from the waist down, with emphasis on her rear end. All that said, we acknowledge that there is a big audience for manga, as I was reminded when I offered up both books for my class to read during DEAR time. Way more kids wanted to read Ultraman than The Porcupine of Truth. However, the one kid that did read Truth really liked it too!

Porcupine - Brandy Lee found this to be a page turner. As she noted, "I read a bit, and then picked it up again and again until I finished it all. I guess I was wondering what other calamities the characters would get into. When I read books about hot topics or touchy themes, I always think about what type of kid I would recommend them to. You know, because books can sometimes help kids who are personally dealing with those same issues - death, gender, bullying, LGBTQ, etc. I'm not really sure if I could recommend it to anyone for that reason, but I liked it just as a book for entertainment." We thought the ending should've been fleshed out more, as it wrapped up fairly quickly after the main conflict was solved. I thought there were certain subplots that could've been cut out entirely, as the book dragged for me in some places. Overall, it is the better book and we'll see how it does in the next round! 

Friday, November 25, 2016

The Hour of the Bees vs. All the Bright Places


The Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eagar flies into the lead!

There were things we liked about Jennifer Niven’s All the Bright Places, including an audacious, smooth-talking (if unbelievable) rebel in Finch and the opportunity to broach discussions about some weighty discussions around loss, mental illness, bullying, and suicide. That being said, the novel still left us wanting for something more and an unfortunate “John Green aftertaste.” (Thanks for the quote, Shelley. K!) Students will enjoy the teen angst of young love between the beautiful, popular Violet and the complicated loner, Finch (who, of course, happens to be a hot musician), the novel doesn’t hold a candle to The Hour of the Bees.

The Hour of the Bees was as smooth as honey. It was gorgeously written with a slow build towards an emotional ending. Themes of family, heritage, and identity, as well as love and loss, are wrapped in a fantastical tale set in the awe-inspiring New Mexico desert and described in lyrical prose. Carolina, who goes by the Americanized Carol, leaves parties and her friends behind to spend two months with her family fixing up her ailing grandfather’s ranch. The relationship between Carol and her grandfather is fed by his telling of a family legend and Carol’s growing attachment to the ranch. While the supporting characters don’t evolve, Carol’s personal journey to her roots is evocative. Less sophisticated student readers will need support to make it to the end of the novel as the beginning of the story is more about relationships than action; getting to the end is a sweet reward.

All American Boys vs Blackthorn Key

We thoroughly enjoyed the Blackthorn Key and it immediately reminded us of other great series that captured our imagination. The book was completely engaging.  It was refreshing that the subject matter was slightly unfamiliar.  The idea of creating potions and healing the sick with basic materials was fascinating.  The mystery aspect of this story defiantly kept us guessing and would be interesting to the students we teach.  I believe students would be able to connect to the main character as an orphan who has now feels accepted and cared for by his teacher in the arts of the apothecary.   This story was Harry Potteresque with it’s intrigue and interesting subject matter.  I loved that it didn’t fall into that post-apocalyptic genre which can feel overused.   This is a terrific book which will be a quick read for many students.

All American Boys  is a really relevant topic but at times it can seem heavy handed and sluggish.   At times, the novel was quite predictable.  The novel has very timely subject matter and is an important read for students who would like a better understanding of these issues.  It does explore both sides of the race issue in the U.S.A. For me, it was a hard read with the state of the world. We would recommend it to our students who are interested in current events.  

Overall, we really loved Blackthorn Key and have chosen it to move to the next round.

Tammy, Nell and Tristan

P.S Great novels for the first round.