Friday, March 17, 2017

All the Bright Places vs All American Boys (Round One)

Devon's thoughts:
Two people – Theodore and Violet - who look like they have nothing in common wind up in the school’s bell tower at the same time on the same day for the same reason; to commit suicide. They talk each other out of it, and start to build a friendship. Theodore wants to regain some control over his life because he has undiagnosed bipolar disorder and feels that committing suicide is the only way he can find that control. Violet, on the other hand, is having trouble dealing with the death of her sister the previous year. Over the course of the story they become friends and eventually more than that.
The story is told in alternating points of view which gives you a clear idea of what the characters are really thinking. There are a lot of very serious issues in the book; mental illness, suicide, teen sex, and bullying. But the characters make themselves so vulnerable that they’re very believable and you always want to know what happens next! The way they discover the place they live in mirrors how they discover their feelings for each other.
Watching Theodore and Violet’s relationship progress is realistic and as the story leads to the conclusion you won’t be able to put it down! If you liked The Fault in our Stars or 13 Reasons Why, this book is for you!

Jon's thoughts:            
Despite being somewhat skeptical of the opening scenes and character initiations, I found that I enjoyed All The Bright Places far more than I thought I would. Most of my initial misgivings about the book had to do with how Violet Markley’s initial struggles stemmed entirely from her sister’s death. It seemed lazy, not only because it felt like Jennifer Niven was trying to provide a compelling reason for why Violet Markley is suffering (as if the everyday pressures of being a teenage girl didn’t provide sufficient cause for unhappiness), but also because the exploration of death in YA has always seemed more compelling as an end to suffering as opposed to a cause for it. Indeed, many of the characters gave off the impression of being caricatures I’d read a dozen times before. Theodore Finch as an attractive but mysterious bad boy with a secretly troubled soul? Come on.

            Once the story actually gets rolling, though, All The Bright Places serves as a good demonstration for why it’s important to read generously. As the book progresses, Violet and Finch move away from caricatures of common YA troubled stereotypes and blossom into fully developed individuals. Jennifer Niven possesses a gift for expressing certain sentiments about what it’s like to love in a way that carries the full weight of its wonder and beauty without descending into the cliche. It’s a rare quality and one that makes All The Bright Places worth reading on that merit alone, to say nothing of the whimsy in Violet and Finch’s adventures and the willingness to address mental health issues without ostentiously making them the focus of the novel.

            Whether love can save us is a question we may never be able to answer. But All The Bright Places reminds us that love is, at the very least, the best thing we do. For as long we can keep it up and as much as we can give.

Devon's thoughts: 
Two boys – one white and one black – come to terms with a police assault. But it isn’t just Rashad and Quinn who are involved, their friends, their families, their entire basketball team, and their school has to face what happened. Over the course of the book, both boys have to fight racism, the desire to fit in, and the need to speak out for what is right.
The story is told in alternating points of view which gives you a clear idea of what the characters are really thinking. You get to see the same people from different perspectives, and you get to see the same situation from different points of view. There are serious issues in this book; violence, racism, bullying, and the need to live up to parents’ expectations.

Watching the boys try to decide what kind of world they want to live in, and how involved they want to be in changing their world is intense. This is a real page turner and great if you understand the team dynamics of playing basketball! 

The less hyped review is that All the Bright Places is a bit of a tear jerker but also feels real. All American Boys is a little didactic. Reading the two inspired a lot of conversations about if it is better to have a slightly heavy handed book that talks about issues that need to be discussed or if its better to play on emotions. 

 Jon's thoughts: 
           Inasmuch as we can call into question the inherent didacticism of books featuring black characters that are about racism (or books featuring LGBT characters that are about sexuality), one thing to bear in mind is simply that representation matters. So while All American Boys might not be the most compelling or original YA story I have ever read, it does feature a person of colour (POC) as the main character, and I believe it is worth acknowledging the trials and tribulations of an underrepresented group among a sea of YA literature that perhaps does not do so often enough.

            The book’s main shortcoming stems from bystander Quinn’s story arc. His struggle between remaining loyal to a family friend and standing up for what he knows is right lacks depth. It’s not so much that the struggle is unrealistic; it’s simply that we aren’t given enough reason to believe it ought to be as much of a struggle as it apparently is. As far as the reader’s experience goes, Paul is an abusive cop who uses his authority to beat the life out of Rashad. We never experience Paul the way Quinn seems to see him, and that, in turn takes a lot of the wind out of Quinn’s internal struggle and journey.

            Rashad’s story arc is one I believe is worth reading for his firsthand experience with racism and police brutality, especially for those who have never been exposed to such issues. For those who have read about similar accounts in the news or from personal encounters, his story may feel like one we’ve heard and read about before. Nonetheless, it is perhaps one we could afford to experience just a little more and understand a little better. 

Winner: All the Bright Places! 

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