Sunday, July 11, 2010

NerdsHeartYA - 2nd Round

This is the second year of the NerdsHeartYA tournament. It started with 32 YA books published in 2009. All the books got little fanfare. Hopefully this will bring some much needed attention to some very good books.

First Round Results. For this second round bracket, I must decide between

Almost Perfect by Brain Katcher

Say the Word by Jeannine Garsee

I will start with Say the Word, since I read it first. I had already read Say The Word and I really enjoyed it. I was looking forward to reading it again. Though this time I read it with a more critical eye.

Shawna is being raised by her father in Ohio. Shawna was seven, when are mother leaves her father for another woman. Now 10 yrs later, Shawna gets a call from, Fran her estranged mother's partner. Shawna's mother had a stroke and is in the hospital. Shawna makes it to NY to see her mother before she dies. Though there is no last conversation. Say The Word is about what happens after. Shawna is caught between her father's demands, his need to always be in control, and Fran's family. There was no updated will. The right thing for Shawna's father to do would be to give everything to Fran and her sons Arye and Schmule. Instead in takes everything out of spite.

Shawna trying to live up to her father's expectations, straight A's, follow in his foot steps and become a doctor. Shawna's father is emotionally abusive always calling her stupid putting her down in front of others. Shawna's best friend Lee Lee is always there for her. Though when Shawna finds out LeeLee, is a lesbian, she wonders what that means about herself and what people will think. When truth comes out that Scumule is Shawna's brother everything gets more complicated. Shawna's father wants full custody and refuses to give Fran visitation privileges. If it sounds like there is a lot going on in this book that's because there is.

Garsee does a wonderful job of balancing the many storylines. I found Shawna likable from the beginning. Shawna is a well drawn out character. Though I found her father to be a little one dimensional, a bad guy with no redeemable qualities. Its true some people are like that, the first time I read Say the Word I was okay with Shawna's father. This time I wished the author would've given us something to like about him, so it wasn't so easy to hate him.

Reading Say the Word with a purpose, took some of the fun out of it. I wasn't able to simply enjoy, I had to question. Besides Shawa's father there were a few other things that didn't stand up too well to a closer look. This time I wondered why Shawna doesn't have a another story about her mother after she moves in with Fran. The one time Shawna visit her mother, things go very badly. So focused on an opening art exhibit, Shawna's mother doesn't realize how sick Shawna is. After that, mother and daughter don't see each other again until Shawna's mother is in the hospital. Without another interaction, I am left wondering what type of mother Shawna had. Was she insensitive and self centered artist or was she a loving mother who for a moment lost her head to her art.

This story really made me think about the rights ( or lack of ) same sex partners have. When Shawna's mother is in the hospital, Fran must pretend they are sisters in order to see her. Even though they've been together for 10 yrs. Shawna's father being able to take over everything including funeral arrangements is just wrong. Though Fran has been raising Scumule since he was born, she has no legal rights to him. I knew this could and does happen, though I've never really thought about it. However, I know there are people who have never considered problems gay and lesbian couples face because they can't marry. While telling a good story Garsee also educates.

Almost Perfect by Katcher - My first time reading, I saw two very positive reviews last year. So I was excited for an excuse to read it. Logan is a senior. He lives with his mother in a small Missouri town. Logan can't stop thinking about his ex girl friend, Brenda. Then, a new girl moves to town, Sage. Logan, is instantly attracted. Sage wants the two of them to just be friends. Logan wants more but accepts being friends. After Logan kisses Sage, Sage confesses to being a boy. Logan questions is sexuality for liking a transgender person.

It took me much longer to get into Almost Perfect than I would've liked. I simply wasn't connecting with Logan. Early on their many references to his ex- Brenda and what they didn't do. They were together for three years, they never did more then kissing. Brenda wasn't ready for more. When Brenda's ready, she has sex with someone else.

When Logan looks back on his years with Brenda he remembers how patient he was. Its nice to see a guy, is willing to wait and not be too pushing. Though I found it difficult to believe Logan wasn't frustrated that his physical relationship with his longtime girlfriend was stagnant. If Logan was, he never expressed it. Logan was simply a little too nice for my liking.

I found myself enjoying this story a little more midway in. When Logan and Sage meet at a cemetery to talk about the kiss. Its the first time, we get to hear Sage's voice. Its a voice I wish would've come earlier in the story. This story is about a teenage boy coming to terms with understanding and falling for a transgender person, so its Logan's story to tell. Still I wanted more of the complex character that was Sage.

One of the Almost Perfect's strengths were the conversations between Logan and Sage, after Logan knew Sage's secret. Logan always does his best to understand. The little we see of Sage is honest and open. Logan has two close friends since grade school, but these friendships aren't drawn out. Katcher is focused on Logan and Sage's relationship.

I found Almost Perfect to be a good read. I think its really hard for a narrator to carry many scenes by themselves. Logan must do exactly that. My not connecting with the main character kept me from enjoying this book as much as I would've liked. Logan's feeling of confusion over Sage were very believable. I think the author wrote this with the intention of getting people be more understanding and accepting of transgendered individuals. I believe he succeeded.

Not More of the Same

Say the Word and Almost Perfect are worthwhile reads. Both deal with subjects that don't get much attention within YA literature.

I've never reread a novel to judge for a competition. Before I started I thought Say the Word, would have an advantage. However, I quickly realized that wasn't true. This time I would be looking to poke holes in everything I liked about Say The Word the first time.

Though, I was reading Almost Perfect for the first time, my expectations were high thanks to reviews and the premise. So in the end neither book had an advantage. Both had something to live up to .

It came down to one thing for me. Say the Word's multiple story lines vs Almost Perfect's single storyline. Logan is considering life after high school and possibly going to college but this still revolves around Sage.

Single storylines are very hard to pull off, especially if it features one main character. There is nothing else to focus on , every little perceived missed opportunity by the author is noticed. Whereas with a multiple storylines I may not notice or care if something is just little off because so much is going on.

This time questioned a few things Garsee did or didn't do, I still really liked it and thought it was the stronger of the two.

My decision

Say the Word moves on

When this tournament is over, one book will be declared the winner. Though I hope everyone will take a moment to look at the 32 wonderfully diverse shortlisted books.


Jodie said...

Thanks for being such a thoughtful judge Doret. I also hope people will check out more books than just the one that wins and right now I think I have four of the shortlist waiting in my house, some of which have been knocked out.

Amanda said...

Wow sounds like that was a hard decision to make!

Doret said...

Jodie - The shortlist is made up of some great books. Many were on made a few of my best of list of 2009, and I plan to read a few more.

Amanda - Both books offered something different, in the end I choose the one that spoke to me more. And I am happy I got a chance to read Almost Perfect.

Meg @ write meg! said...

Both books sounds great, and I'm really looking forward to reading them! Sounds like a tough decision, but I definitely see what you mean about enjoying multiple storylines versus just one single thread in a novel. When done well, a book with multiple stories is much more faceted -- and much more interesting.

MissA said...

Whoa Almost Perfect sounds like a very unique and compelling read as does Say the Word. Tough decision! It makes me furious that same sex partners have no rights. I wonder how I would react to meeting a trasngendered person. I can't say that I've ever met someone who identifies as such.

Beth F said...

Excellent discussion here about the books. Of course I'm sad that Almost Perfect didn't move on, but I trust your decision. I was drawn to the story despite the flaws.