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!