Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Blackthorn Key vs All the Bright Places (Round Three)

The Blackthorn Key vs All the Bright Places

This really feels like an apples to steak comparison; both nourishing but so very different!

When I pulled out The Blackthorn Key, one of my students was very excited; he had enjoyed it greatly – bonus of doing this is that teens see us reading ‘their’ books – and he really wants to loan me the rest of the series! It was, in places, laugh out loud funny. Set in an alternate history, we follow Christopher, an orphaned apothecary apprentice in his first adventure (this is part of a trilogy, of course).

The language, initially, is difficult for kids to get into; slightly antiquated vocabulary that doesn’t last throughout the novel, and it has a structure that demands attention. The story centres around discovery, friendship, sacrifice. It is really his unending intellectual curiosity that I enjoyed; both as a reader and as a teacher. Seeing his friendship with the Baker’s son develop gave an awesome example of two boys being friends and supportive without any bro culture or toxicity.

This was, very simply, an enjoyable novel. The protagonist struggles and while smart isn’t so amazing that he’s unbelievable. The supporting characters have enough back story to be more than filler. The plot keeps moving at a good pace and there are unfair and awkward things that happen. Christopher has to deal with people who don’t like him.

And now I’m really torn; both novels are great but for vastly different reasons. All the Bright Places is literature while The Blackthorn Key is what I would use to get students reading. I’m going to very begrudgingly put All the Bright Places forward, even though I enjoyed Blackthorn more, because of how well it could be adapted to a classroom and how well both genders are represented. But if you have anyone struggling; help them with the first two chapters of Blackthorn and they will be hooked! 

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Ember in the Ashes VS Trouble is a Friend of Mine

Ember in the Ashes is a brutal dystopian fantasy world - the story was very compelling and the stakes life and death. (You can see my earlier review for more details.)

However, I found the lightness and humour in Trouble is a Friend of Mine to be refreshing and something I actually wanted to spend time with; I had to keep reminding myself to continue reading Ember.

An earlier reviewer compared Trouble is a Friend of Mine to Sherlock and Gilmore Girls, and it certainly feels reminiscent of those kinds of stories, or like an extended episode of Veronica Mars. It was an incredibly fast paced and fun read.

This is a very short review, but personally I am putting forth Trouble to the next round. As much as I enjoyed Ember (and would recommend the novel), I devoured Trouble. In fact, I liked it so much that I dropped everything else I was doing (weekend marking? hah!) and picked up the sequel instead.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Round 2:  
 VS.  The Blackthorn Key

I vote that The Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands move on to the next round. This book was a refreshing read after so many dystopian and teen angst-filled novels of late. The gripping tale of the 17th Century apothecaries and loyal friends, mysterious murders and secret codes, had me flipping pages in rapid succession. The story kept me intrigued throughout, and the characters were engaging and endearing. I feel this novel would engage all types of readers due to the variety of elements it contains. From magic and mystery, to thrilling explosions, to the tale of a boy trying to solve a code to avenge his Master and live up to expectations, it has something in it for everyone. I feel that Christopher, and his best friend Tom, are characters students will relate to and cheer for as they read this exciting tale!

I vote for The Blackthorn Key as well!  I like the mystery feel of this book that keeps readers guessing and wanting to read more!  As well, I like that it is part of a series, as those kids who really like the book now have two more to keep them reading!  I believe any student who likes magic might like these books.  The characters are very relatable and believable.  I agree with the above review; finally a book that is not filled with angst and drama!

I liked the Blackthorn Key.  It was fun and engaging, like an old episode of Young Indiana Jones. There wasn’t the darkness of other teen sci-fi like the other reviews have said.  It read like a quick paced adventure novel, essentially Clive Cussler for YA with enjoyable characters of substance with a solid theme of friendship and brotherhood.  It’s nice to see a YA book not focused on girls growing up in totalitarian regimes.  I will even read the next two in the series!
From the Library’s Circulation Desk…
I vote that The Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands  move to the next round.  I really enjoyed this book even though historical fantasy fiction is not my preferred genre.  The storyline kept me engaged. It had a heavy plot with some suspenseful writing.  It was truly a page turner.  In between explosions, mystery and puzzles to solve, Christopher’s character was on the search for Master Benedict Blackthorn’s killer.

Conviction vs. All the Bright Places (Round Two)


Devon's thoughts:
Conviction by Kelly Loy Gilbert 
(Spoilers. This book offends my delicate sensibilities so I’m spoiling it in hopes no one else reads it, even though I know that this isn’t how the book slam works)

I don’t mind books that talk about faith; I think it is interesting to watch characters struggle with matters of faith and the juxtaposition of what they learn at home and what they see at school, and I think this can be very helpful for readers to see as well. If you don’t grow up in that faith, as a reader you get to learn about it more intimately than you would from a textbook. My greatest concern with matters of faith in Conviction, however, is how homosexuality is portrayed. Calling it addictive and using it to fill other holes in your heart is offensive. Because of how many references there were to homosexuality in the beginning, I was desperately hoping that the major crisis would be for Braden to be gay. While I know this is an accurate portrayal for some denominations of Christianity, I didn’t see any benefit to adding this to the story. While it is used as a crisis point, it’s done so VERY weakly, and the crisis could easily have had other sources.
I struggled with how well written the novel is; the scenes of his father drinking, the abuse, and the entire scene where Braden and Madi are at the lake… So much of this was beautifully described. Even the discussion of baseball; it went over my head but there was passion and fun in those sections. The structure, on the other hand, was incredibly frustrating. There are too many problems for any character to face – or for any writer to handle effectively. It felt as though there were major problems raised and dropped repeatedly. The female characters exist solely as romantic interests or mothers; they not only have no depth, but when the men-folk do them wrong, the women justify the bad behavior. Is that realistic? Sure, sometimes. But they’re so one-dimensional that again, I thought Braden might be gay and that women just do not show up on his radar. 
I had to re-read the ending, thinking I had missed some major development. I still feel as though I have; out of nowhere, after repeatedly contrasting how important it is for Braden to work through his problems and how critical everyone is over Trey running away, the resolution is to throw down your glove and walk away? It would be full of teen angst drama on film, but on the page it was just confusing. There must have been a MAJOR epiphany that I missed, for him to leave his father, school, baseball, and the church to go live with his gay brother, who not only has room for him but also the time to raise a teenager, write a book, and run a restaurant. And then I just kept thinking about his home with his father standing empty for two months. Did they do the dishes before they left? I don’t need a scene where they pack, but some resolution would be nice.
I honestly would not recommend this book to anyone. Ever. I was horrified by the depictions of homosexuality. I wanted some depth to the female characters. I wanted at least one issue resolved. I don’t feel like one satisfactory resolution is asking too much.

Jon's thoughts; 

 Conviction is a good example of a book that emphasizes the importance of (a) being able and willing to read about other people’s experiences without necessarily feeling like we have to adopt their worldview, and (b) recognizing that sympathetic protagonists tend to make it difficult for readers to do this. For the protagonist Braden, religion is the lens through which he filters and understands the world around him. I think it is likely that secular readers would find the worldview off-putting, but I don’t think that is necessarily an incorrect or invalid way of experiencing the text. Once you get past that hurdle, I found it a remarkably honest insight into the way Christian youth attempt to make meaning of the world in which they live. Much of this can be attributed to Gilbert’s technique—she is an excellent writer, and that is a virtue that sometimes gets overlooked in YA in deference to the story.
            Where Conviction falls short is in its insistence on tackling too many subplots. Braden’s relationship with his faith, his father, his brother, baseball, the trial, his friends, and his girlfriend all exist at times independently of each other while at other times in anastomosis. As a result, none of them feel fully resolved by the end of the novel. Normally, this in itself would be a valid critique of any novel. However, the coming-of-age, bildungsroman-esq nature of the story underscores the issue of having a sympathetic but flawed protagonist who holds problematic opinions or worldviews at the beginning of the novel: if he doesn’t rescind those views or come to a better understanding of his own flaws by the end, it allows room for doubt as to whether those ideas need to be challenged at all.
            Overall, I see Conviction as a text through which non-religious readers can catch a glimpse of how a particular type of Christian youth can struggle to understand the world through the lens of his religion. It’s not so different from reading about young adults who struggle with their gender, sexuality, race, or class. Even as I’ve extolled the importance of writers to write responsibly, it is just as important (perhaps even more so) for readers to read generously. Conviction¸ I believe, is a good exercise in that.

We both put All the Bright Places forward as the winner. 

Friday, April 21, 2017

Wolf vs All-American

Image result for Wolf by wolf   Image result for versus   Image result for all american boys book cover

Reviewed by the Flying Bisons

We still love the surefooted way Graudin handles the alternate history that is the premise of Wolf by Wolf, but we also wanted the recognize the relevance of the issues explored in All American Boys. This was a difficult decision.

Devon made an excellent point in her review about Quinn's story line; his only real conflict is with Guzzo as it's obvious to everyone, including Quinn, that Paul's abuse of Rashad was completely out of line. Rashad's perspective about being unjustly beaten by the police officer (Paul) is raw and gritty and one that needs to be discussed in what many wrongly view as a "post racial" world.

While Wolf by Wolf is beautifully written and from a strictly literary perspective, deserves to move on to the next round, we felt All American Boys, written from two male's perspectives, to be timely and should be put in the hands of many of our teens.

We're putting forth All American Boys, but we'd like to recommend an even better book about #blacklivesmatter titled The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Ember in the Ashes

Ember in the Ashes:

I had a little difficulty with this book when I first started it. I found myself initially irritated with the character of Elias who kept self-sabotaging and (after years of intense training and self-control) somehow couldn't regulate his behaviour enough to keep from drawing the suspicions of his fellow trainees. I wanted this character to be smart and capable and he seemed to be having difficulty being either of these things...

However, as the book progressed I was sucked deep into this world and the conflicts it posed. Elias' storyline received an interesting supernatural complication (that satisfied my earlier frustrations) and I found both his story and Laia's story highly compelling! Laia's perspective as one of the conquered and oppressed people, alongside Elias' privileged and yet equally oppressive life, vividly depicted the many horrors that life in this world involved. I was quickly drawn into the story emotionally, eager to see how Laia and Elias would able to fight back against the many injustices they were faced with, and I'm looking forward to reading the next book in the series.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Secret Path VS. Conviction

Conviction:  Too much of a “God” undertone to the story.  I found the book to be leaving details out that could have been revealed much sooner.  It was not one that held my interest.  I approach these smackdowns in being given the chance to read YA books so I can recommend them to students.  However, I wouldn’t recommend this one, mostly because we work in a public school and it had a very religious undertone.  

Secret Path: This book was ok, but after reading it, I was made aware there is a prior book that would have helped to make more connections to the story of Chanie Wenjack. I have prior knowledge about the residential schools, so I was able to piece together the story.  But for some students, they may not be able to fully understand the book, as it is mostly just pictures with a few pages of lyrics, not necessarily like a traditional graphic novel.  I did not listen to any of the music as I read the book.  

If I had to pick between the two books to move on to the next round, it would have to be Secret Path.  It at least exposes students to our past history and might open up some conversations and deeper thinking.

From the Library’s Circulation Desk…
I finished reading Conviction but at times it was painful to read.  The only reason I finished it is because I thought I might want to vote it to the next round but that is not the case.  There were baseball references and at times I thought to myself maybe I could recommend this book to my sports oriented students.  I did not enjoy the book and I do not see myself recommending it .  The God references made me uncomfortable and I also work in a public school.

I vote that Secret Path be moved to the next round.  Even though, in my opinion, it is a dark read.  It is a graphic novel about the story of Chanie Wenjack.

Secret Path: I vote for this unconventional graphic novel to move ahead to the next round. There is a section on the back cover of the book that I wish were included within the pages, because it gives a better understanding of the story and I worry that some readers may miss it. The book is dark and, at times, a little bewildering; however, it has potential to spark curiosity about our past, which is dark and bewildering itself. It is one way to dig into a conversation which should be had. Secret Path has my vote.