Round 4: The Big Kahuna

My prediction: “Far Far Away v Rose Under Fire v (return from grave) Eleanor & Park, Judge Jennifer Holm. And what will win here? I think Eleanor & Park.”

How close was I? Boxers & Saints vs P.S. Be Eleven vs Eleanor & Park judged by Jennifer Holm

Alas, I wasn’t right enough to really matter — at this point, the odds were against me. I only had a one in three chance of being right.

And the odds weren’t with me. Boxers & Saints triumphed!

BoB 2014 RND4 FINAL REV The Big Kahuna Match: Between Boxers & Saints, P.S. Be Eleven, and Eleanor & Park

I’m going to do something a bit different here: not talk about the actual decision. All three books are terrific; Holm writes beautifully about all three, and about her choice.

Rather, I’m going to talk about two things that I didn’t see in the decisions.

I was thrilled to see various critiques of books; acknowledging of flaws; and people both liking and disliking books. Some did it from emotion, some from in-depth knowledge of certain topics in the books.

What I would have liked to see:

Eleanor & Park is a wonderful book. It’s a thrilling look at first love. But, I would have loved to see a discussion of Park’s heritage. As Laura writes in Clear Eyes, Full Shelves, “as a Korean-American, I found this simplistic attitude that portrays being a minority solely as a negative solely based on racial appearance shallow, offensive and frustrating because this type of poor depiction has been going on for my whole life, repeatedly, in every cultural medium.

Angry Girl Comics also offers a critique on Park: “Park’s Asian-ness is only brought up in the context that it is different to what Eleanor is used to, that it is EXOTIC and MAGICAL and because of that she likes him. No, but it’s in the text, where Eleanor openly admits to fetishizing.

And Lost in Cynicism also discusses the issues of Park, his mother, assimilation, and accuracy within the text of Eleanor & Park. Part of that discussion also touches on the realities of the American military presence in Korea.

I am not saying that what is discussed in those posts are reasons not to like the book.
I am not saying that someone else’s reactions and analysis trump your own.
I am saying that there are some things here, to discuss, to consider, to ponder; and to allow for the possibility of a book being flawed and being something you love.
And while people may disagree, here’s one thing I do believe: me, as someone who is not Korean American, should listen when someone who is Korean American points out to me how they read a book about a Korean American.

And, given there were decisions that talked about when a word was first used, I would have liked to see this issue of Eleanor & Park discussed.

I’m not done.

I loved Boxers & Saints. I gave it three blog posts. Why?

While Boxers & Saints is sold as a set, and the judges (as other reviewers and various groups did) read it as a set, it is also sold as individual titles.

That can be purchased individually.

That, when they end up in a library, have catalog information that makes each book appear to be a standalone. (No, really.)

The reader handed the set will, well, read it as a set.

The kid reader, browsing library or bookstore shelves? Won’t see a set, won’t read it as a set. And I would have liked to see this discussed, at least briefly  — that yes, this was an interesting decision for the publisher, and as such it has some negative implications on the reader experience. Is this a reason for it not to have won SLJ BoB? Absolutely not! I just wish I’d seen someone acknowledge the problems presented by having two books — not one book, but two books — make up one story.

So, what are your thoughts on this year’s SLJ BoB?



Round 3, Match 2

My prediction: “P.S. Be Eleven v Rose Under Fire, Judge Robin LaFevers. I think Rose Under Fire will take this one.”

What actually happened?  P.S. Be Eleven vs The Thing About Luck judged by Robin LeFevers.

So, going in, half-right! Alas, the wrong half: P.S. Be Eleven moved on to Round 4.

BoB 2014 RND3 2rev Round 3, Match 2: P.S. Be Eleven vs The Thing About Luck

I think, much as it’s fun to read the decisions where someone clearly doesn’t like a book, that it’s harder for the judge when they like both books. When forced to choose — and that is what is happening here — what to pick?.

And why?

And, of course, the “why” is what is so intriguing.

Here, what pushes P.S. Be Eleven to the front is Delphine: “I ultimately came to realize that it was Delphine’s journey that reached the farthest into my heart, perhaps because my own childhood was peppered with such similar disruptions to the ones she experienced.” There are “complexities;” there are “skillful shading of issues of power;” and darn if this doesn’t also win me over, to want to read P.S. Be Eleven.

Round 3, Match 1

My prediction: “Boxers & Saints v Far Far Away, Judge Patrick Ness. I’m putting my money on Far Far Away.

What it was: Boxers and Saints vs Far Far Away! YAY.

What advanced: Boxers and Saints. BOO.

BoB 2014 RND3 1 Round 3, Match 1: Boxers and Saints vs Far Far Away

I am not booing Ness’s decision; no, I’m booing myself and luck in that I didn’t guess the right title.

Ah, well.

Even if I were giving a boo to Ness, based on his judgment, I think he’d be able to take it — after all, he can dish it out.

Boy, can he dish it out.

But I actually got sidetracked by something that really didn’t have to do with the decision. Rather, it was Ness’s assertion that the young adult books of his adolescence weren’t good: “I, like so many others my age, tended to skip teenage fiction altogether and go straight to Stephen King for one simple reason:  Judy Blume aside (and God bless her forever and forever), most of the rest of it lied.

And it goes on, and all I can think, is — huh.

I know, I know, I know — it’s the golden age of YA. But just because there is a lot of terrific YA books now, doesn’t mean that there weren’t terrific books then.

Just because the books weren’t in your library or bookstore, didn’t mean they weren’t in mine, or others.

Just because you didn’t know about them, didn’t mean they weren’t there.

Just because you didn’t want to read them, didn’t mean they weren’t read and loved by others, and that, yes, they meant something to others.

Norma Klein, Julian Thompson, Janine Boissard, to name just a few. Check out Lizzie Skurnick’s imprint at Ig Publishing for more.

I get it, I get it: not everyone found these books, or liked these books. But…they were there. And they pushed boundaries: having sex without being in love, parents wanting unruly children dead. Just to name a few.

Sorry to go so far off topic, and to react to a bit of a minor part of the review, but this is one of my buttons!

Topic: one other thing. Boxers & Saints, which is two volumes, is talked about as one book. Not two. Which I’ll be writing more about later!

Round 2, Match 4

My prediction: “Rose Under Fire v True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp, Judge Katherine Marsh. Another choice between two books I read; and so I’m picking Rose.”

The actual matchThe Thing About Luck vs The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp judged by Katherine Marsh.

RND2 LUCK SWAMP Round 2, Match 4: The Thing About Luck vs The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp

And for the third time, half-right. So all I needed was for True Blue to move up. Alas, that was not to be. It’s The Thing About Luck that advances.

Why? It’s all about the “punch in the gut,” and delivers that.

One thing I liked: Marsh, like me (and others!) compares Luck to Laura Ingalls Wilder. She says because of “their depiction of farm work and its trials and rhythms,” but I see it more as the details and the how-to aspect. Just as Wilder has me convinced I can make a cabin complete with door, and smoke a pig, just from reading her books, so, too, does Luck make me think I can cook for a mess of people and drive a combine.

Oh, and how do you define “punch in the gut”? The urgency with which one turns the pages.

Or, in my case — how hard you have to resist skipping ahead to read the last chapter.




Round 2, Match 3

My prediction: “March Book One v P.S. Be Eleven, Judge Joseph Bruchac. Having not read either one, I’ll go with P.S. Be Eleven.

The actual match: Hokey Pokey vs P.S. Be Eleven judged by Joseph Bruchac

RND2 HOKEY PSBE Round 2, Match 3: Hokey Pokey vs P.S. Be Eleven

And once again — I began half-right. What did Bruchac pick? P.S. Be Eleven! See, sometimes for brackets it doesn’t matter if you’re only half-right, as long as you have the half that advances right.

But why?

First, let me say that I liked Bruchac’s way of writing about the books: both at the same time, in the same paragraphs, entwining his reasoning. There are things he likes about both books.

So, what’s the deciding factor? Especially when there are no real rules?

For Hokey Pokey, Bruchac concludes: “you know.” Ha! I love this. And concludes that he doubts many kids will read it, no matter what its strengths.

As for P.S. Be Eleven, Bruchac concludes that both “teachers and kids” will love it.

Teachers and kids. With one throwaway line, such a shift in looking at the books. A focus on the child-reader as well as the judge’s own reading preferences? We’ve seen that. But, “teachers.” Because yes, teachers matter. Classroom libraries, books that are read aloud to the classroom, assignments, all the ways that a teacher introduces a book to students.

Round 2, Match 2

Once I realized it was going to be impossible to write up and post my reactions to the various matches, it became freeing! So yes, I’m a day (or more) late. But rest assured, late as my commentary is and will be — it’ll still be here!

My prediction: “Doll Bones v Far Far Away, Judge Rae Carson. I’ve read both; but this time, I’m going to lean towards Far Far Away.

RND2 ELEANOR FARFAR Round 2, Match 2: Eleanor & Park vs Far Far Away

The actual matchEleanor & Park vs Far Far Away judged by Rae Carson. So, only half right so far.

What did Carson say? “I’m giving the slight edge to Far, Far Away.”

Yay me! But why did Carson give the edge to Far, Far Away?

Carson likes both books, yet tempers her discussions. About Eleanor & Park, she notes “minor quibbles with some muddled pacing.” And with Far, Far Away, she begins with “I was prepared to hate it.”

I was prepared to hate it.

If you’re a reader, you have a reading bias. It’s just human nature, to have things you like and things you don’t. What is interesting about Carson’s decision is not that she admits her bias; but, rather, she doesn’t let that bias control her reading.

It’s easy to say, “I hate fantasy, I read this fantasy book, and I hate it because ugh, fantasy.” It’s harder to read that book and not have ones biases confirmed.

It’s a great lesson, I think, as a reader. Have a bias, recognize it — but still be open to what you may discover.

And Carson discovered a book that ended up passing along to the next round.

Round 2, Match 1

And so Round 2!

My prediction: “The Animal Book v Boxers & Saints, Judge Tonya Bolden. I’m going with “pick something I read,” so Boxers & Saints.”

And I accurately predicted what the match would be: it was, indeed, The Animal Book v Boxers & Saints.

And double prediction: I was also right about Boxers & Saints moving on!

RND2 ANIMAL BOXERS Round 2, Match 1: The Animal Book vs Boxers and Saints

Bolden gives background on both books: and as I read through, let me just say — Bolden is good.

She was both enthusiastic and objective about both books, so that I had no inkling which way she’d go — two works that are necessary, two works that will stay with me for years, two works I am sure to revisit“.

Truth is, it’s easy to make a decision when there is one book that you don’t like, or you don’t connect with, or leaves you cold. Less easy, is when you actually, truly, like both books.

What do you use, then, when all things are equal?

Bolden’s answer: “Which will I revisit first?

And Boxers & Saints is first.



Round 1, Match 8

And finally, the last of the matches in Round 1: True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp v What the Heart Knows, Judge Sheila Turnage

My prediction: “Having read True Blue, that’s my pick.”

And I was right! Alas, I don’t think this return to picking the right decision means my brackets are saved.

BoB2014 MG R1 M8 Round 1, Match 8: True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp vs What The Heart Knows

One thing I liked about Turnage’s decision: she gave context for both books. I’ve read one, but not the other, and if someone dives too soon into the “why” of a decision it leaves me not fully appreciating it.

And I also like what was Turnage’s deciding factor. Not so much about herself, but, well, about reader’s advisory, an area near and dear to my heart. “While I admire both books, if I were handing out books to young readers I believe I’d reach most often for Kathi Appelt’s.

Round 1, Match 7

Match 7: Rose Under Fire v The Thing About Luck, Judge Malinda Lo

My prediction: “Rose Under Fire because Lo writes young adult books.”

And NOOOOOOO. Lo totally let me down by not being Team YA!

BoB2014 MG R1 M7 Round 1, Match 7: Rose Under Fire vs The Thing About Luck

What I liked best about Lo’s decision is the analytic approach she took.

I’ve decided that making this judgement call requires me to think like a writer (which isn’t much of a stretch since that’s what I am). Both are first-person novels. Which does it better?

Lo steps back as a writer, as an examiner of the craft. But though the shape is appropriate, I felt that the means by which the shape is formed — Rose’s journal entries — did not quite work. Rather than bringing me closer to Rose’s experience, I felt distanced from it because I knew, due to the journal entry dates, that Rose survived. Writing a novel in journal form is a complicated task for many reasons, and while I admire Elizabeth Wein for doing it, I think Rose’s story might have been better served in a more straightforward first-person narrative. For that reason, I choose Cynthia Kadohata’s The Thing About Luck, and Summer’s pitch-perfect first-person voice, to win this round.

It doesn’t matter whether or not I agree with Lo — I’m not the judge here, and as we’ve seen, anything goes with these decisions! — but I do appreciate being able to understand, and see, where Lo comes from in making this decision.

Even if this totally destroys my brackets.

Round 1, Match 6

Match 6: Midwinterblood v P.S. Be Eleven, Judge Mac Barnett

My prediction: “While I read and love Midwinterblood, I think it isn’t for everyone. Plus, I realized I kept on picking based on what I’d read, so this time, I went with what I haven’t read – P.S. Be Eleven.”

And wow, did I turn out to be right!

BoB2014 MG R1 M6 Round 1, Match 6: Midwinterblood vs P.S. Be Eleven

I know that Midwinterblood isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But, wowza, Barnett’s decision illustrated that beyond my wildest predictions.

It also shows how something being “wrong” in a book can color the entire reading experience. It’s something that has been talked about often, especially in historical fiction: how accurate does the history have to be? How many of the “facts” contained in a work of fiction must be correct? Or, as I sometimes think of it — the “we don’t pump our own gas in Jersey” test. Once a book makes that mistake, can I trust anything else in it? Will I be open to anything good at all in that book?

Keep in mind, that Midwinterblood is this year’s Printz Award book.

So, the two starts of Barnett’s decision about Midwinterblood that sets the tone:

The jacket copy of Marcus Sedgwick’s unfortunately named Midwinterblood promises “a painter, a ghost, a vampire, and a Viking,” which sounds like the start of a joke my uncle tells that makes everyone uncomfortable.

perhaps it is stony-hearted fate that delivered this novel to a BoB judge who spent four years studying premodern Scandinavian literature.

Needless to say, it’s a blood bath. (Midwinterblood? Blood bath? Get it?)

And P.S. Be Eleven moves on. Since that’s what I chose for the brackets, that’s good for me!

And of course, the Battle of the Books is about picking one book. And not picking another. And the reasons being personal.

Still and all, in this, I agree with the kid judge, about Midwinterblood: “I enjoyed it thoroughly. It’s not my favorite book in the competition, but it’s inventive, it’s interesting, it made me think and appreciate things in a different way. The writing and the characterization may not be altogether clear, but I got past it. Besides, it’s fantasy.

I’m quite interested in what other people think about this!