YALSA 2012 Best of the Best Reading Challenge — FINISHED!

Finished!! Last week I completed the Best of the Best reading challenge.

I’m so glad I did this challenge! I conducted a wrap up interview about this challenge and wrote a post about it over at The Hub, but here are a few more thoughts.   (But really, go read my Hub post-it’s fun!)
Not only do I love a challenge, but this also got me back into YA in a great way.  Also, I definitely read things I wouldn’t have otherwise, specifically the non-fiction.  I really liked all the graphic novels.  I pretty much never read graphic novels except for ones I get off the Great Graphic Novels list-I find it too difficult to choose them on my own (seriously), so I rely on the list.  My favorite books were:  The Scorpio Races, The Girl of Fire and Thorns, and Ghostopolis.  But I also really liked Tripping and Brain Jack and Enclave a lot.  My least favorites were My Friend Dahmer and Daybreak.  Most surprising like was Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life by James Patterson.  I read one adult book of his and hated it, so I really wasn’t pleasantly surprised by this one. (It shouldn’t have been much of a surprise-how else could it have made it to the Top Ten list if it wasn’t pretty good?)  I read more about zombies in the past three months than I normally ever would (I also happened to read another zombie book for a book club during this time) and that manifested itself into a horrible dream I had. Not a zombie fan!!!

This also really pushed my numbers up in my overall Goodreads goal for the year.  I had set a goal of 70 books, but I’ve already read 50 and it’s only halfway through the year!  I’m happy to get back to the things that I’ve had waiting to read, but I did really like doing this and will absolutely do it again next year.  And in case I didn’t say it enough-The Scorpio Races was amazing and you should go out and read it right now!

Here is the complete list of the 25 books I read for the challenge:

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley
Big Girl Small by Rachel DeWoskin
Thor the Mighty Avenger by Roger Langridge
Leverage by Joshua Cohen
Wandering Son by Shimura Takako
The Influencing Machine by Brooke Gladstone
Pavement Chalk Artist by Julian Beever
How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous by Georgia Bragg
Jane by April Lindner
I Love Him to Pieces by Evonne Tsang
Sidescrollers by Matthew Loux
Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol
Music Was It: Young Leonard Bernstein by Susan G. Rubin
The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson
Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King
My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf
Ghostopolis by Doug TenNapel
Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life by James Patterson
Are These My Basoombas I See Before Me? (audio) by Louise Rennison
Tripping by Heather Waldorf
Brain Jack by Brian Falkner
Wheels of Change: How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom by Sue Macy
Enclave by Ann Aguirre
Daybreak by Brian Ralph

Daybreak by Brian Ralph

#25! I did it! I completed the YALSA Best of the Best reading challenge.  Now, I have to admit that this morning I wrote about #24, which was Scorpio Games, and I was fully prepared to read right up until the final day (Saturday) The Notorious Benedict Arnold.  It seemed a fitting ending-a book I wouldn’t normally read, but one that I expected would surprise me with its fascinating insight into American history’s popular punchline. But then I picked up another one of the books on the list that I’d gotten, Daybreak, and saw that it was much shorter, as well as a practically wordless graphic novel.  So obviously I read that. In the time it took for Paul to read the kids their bedtime stories.  It feels like cheating, but it’s on the list, so it counts. And hey, maybe I’ll read about Benedict Arnold after all (but not until I finish Divergent, which I read all of 5 pages of at lunch today and am hooked on.)

So, Daybreak.  For someone who really hates zombie stuff, I seem to be reading a lot of zombie books lately.  One of the things I dislike about them is how they are so relentless and humanity will never win and so I feel that all zombie stories are, from the outset, hopeless.  In Daybreak you feel a little tricked-there’s a cute dog, a helpful one-armed fellow-hey, maybe this post-apocalyptic zombie world won’t be so bad! But of course, it is.
What is so interesting about this book is that you, the reader, are placed in the position of being one of the characters. The other two characters talk to you, and when you move what you see changes.  It’s most effective (and a bit disconcerting.)  I did have a little difficulty following some of the frames-trying to “see” in the dark and trying to distinguish differences between panels. The gore was very minimal, for which I was grateful. The color palette was actually really effective-not black and white, more like a dark sepia.
I’ll be honest, I didn’t dislike this, but I didn’t love it.

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

This is the 24th book I’ve read in the reading challenge, and I wasn’t even sure I would read it at all.  It was a 2012 Printz Honor book and when it won and I read about it I was just not interested. I knew it had something to do with horses and a race, but the cover was unappealing to me (and made me think it was Grecian?). Well, as Paul said, now I must eat crow.  Because this book captivated me, impressed me, sucked me in, and I gave it FIVE STARS.  I’m going to go so far as to say that I, personally, would have loved to have seen it win the Printz. I just thought it was that good.

The story is set on the small remote island of Thisby. Kate, aka Puck, Connolly loves the island, even though it’s rough going for her and her two brothers ever since their parents died.  Sean Kendrick also loves the island, and he too is orphaned.  The strange element to the island are the water horses, or “capall uisce” (I found it irritating that it was something like 96 pages in before there was a clue to the pronunciation of this.)  The capall live in the sea, but they emerge from it.  If you can capture one and control it, it will be the fastest strongest biggest horse you ever ride.  However, they are vicious, unpredictable,  dangerous, and they yearn for the sea.  They can tear a man apart in minutes.  Kate’s parents died when a capall took down their boat, while Sean’s father died during the Scorpio Race.  This is an annual race where men ride the capall, many will die, and mainland folk come to watch and also to buy horses.  Sean works for the main horse farm on the island and he is an indispensable horseman.  He rides Corr, a big capall, and has a way with him.  Unfortunately, Mr. Malvern owns him and will not sell him to Sean.  Sean has won the race 4 times now.

When Kate finds out that not only is her eldest brother going to leave the island, but also that they are going to lose their house, she enters the race.  No woman has ever raced before and there are plenty of people opposed.
I found myself desperate for both Kate and Sean to win, but knew that only one could.  It’s interesting reading a novel and knowing that the whole thing is leading up to this one event, and it has the potential to be frustrating or boring as you wait for the main event.  However, that is not the case here.  This book was great-the alternating viewpoints, the growing relationship between Kate and Sean, the vividly realized island, the pull of the magical capall–it all fit together perfectly and was beautifully written. One of the things that’s interesting about it is that although it contains a magical mythological element, I would not in any way consider this a fantasy novel.  It was completely realistic.
I absolutely loved this!

Enclave by Ann Aguirre

( spoilers begin in second paragraph!) This was another must read straight through finish it in a day or two book! I enjoyed this very much and felt like it combined elements of various books I already like.  In the beginning, when we meet Deuce, who lives entirely underground in what you assume are the ancient New York City subway tunnels, I kept thinking about Neal Shusterman’s terrific book, Downsiders. Deuce’s life in the enclave is a difficult one.  You are either a brat (a young child), a Hunter, a Builder, or a Breeder.  The Elders keep strict control over everyone.  As a new proud fierce Hunter Deuce’s job is to go out and hunt meat for the enclave, as well as protect the enclave by fighting the Freaks.  These are sort of zombie like creatures.  Deuce is as good a fighter as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and in every graphic fight she has I pretty much pictured her fighting like Buffy. It’s a pretty dreadful life, but what else is there? That’s just the way it is.  There are other underground enclaves, but they are several days away.

After being paired with Fade, a mysterious Hunter, Deuce, for the very first time, begins to realize that maybe the Elders don’t know best.  In the second part of the novel she and Fade are aboveground (topside!). Can you even imagine that, much like City of Ember, she is emerging into a world with the sun,which she didn’t even know about? And, unfortunately, the Freaks live aboveground as well, and instead of enclaves there are violent gangs.  The world Deuce sees is one that is clearly post-apocalyptic, though what happened? Was it plague or nuclear or environmental disaster? We don’t really know.  This section of the book was my favorite (and a relief to be aboveground because it was freaking me out to have my head completely underground in the dark smelly sewers).  It was following the comfortingly reliable formula of refugees trying to find a “better place”, which due to my reading of other novels, I assumed would be a settlement of people who lived neither underground nor were zombies.

I thought the author did a great job of seeing this world through Deuce’s eyes.  Her wonder at everyday objects, which at this future point are no longer everyday things but the reader can figure out what they are from clues, is great.  The changing dynamics between her and Fade and their two other companions was compelling and believable.  This is clearly set up to be the first in a trilogy (or maybe even just a sequel?) and I can’t wait to read #2!

Wheels of Change by Sue Macy

The subtitle of this book is “How Women the Bicycle to Freedom (With a Few Flat Tires Along the Way), which was frankly too long to type up above, but is a very accurate concise summary of this book.

Like the Leonard Bernstein book, and the Rhys Bowen novels I’ve been reading, this was a very interesting look at popular culture/daily life of a time period that I don’t know too much about (late 1800s/turn of the century.)  It’s all about how bicycling became popular in America and specifically how it became popular with women who were able to make tremendous leaps towards independence with it.  I kept being reminded of a scene in The American Heiress, which I loved (and just searched in vain for my review of -turns out I never wrote about it!! ), in which a young woman goes for a bike ride with a young man, much to the frustration of her chaperone.  That is indeed, one of the things that was suddenly happening everywhere.

I liked the setup of this book quite a bit-every several pages there would be a double page of a specific topic, and sometimes even boxed off insets within those pages. Those sections might include a profile of a particular woman, or show examples of how bicycles were used in advertising, were prominent in song (Daisy Bell, anyone?) and story, and more.  The memorabilia and illustrations were great primary sources and fascinating to pore over.

This was one of those really interesting and accessible nonfiction books that I have to wonder how often it will get checked out and read. I hope teachers and librarians will put it in the hands of kids because it’s an interesting look at a piece of American history that I never thought about, but turns out was quite significant. On that note-the forward was also very interesting, as it spoke to the role of bicycles transforming the lives of young girls in Africa (and other parts of the world) today.

Brain Jack by Brain Faulkner

Plowed through this in a day! Very exciting, fast paced book.  It reminded me a little bit of Ready Player One, just because of all the computer stuff, but it was actually quite different.

In the future Las Vegas has been obliterated by a nuclear blast.  There really aren’t a lot of “crazy future things” except that and the use of “neuro-headsets”.  These neuros are caps you wear to operate your computer-no mouse, no keyboard, you just think what you want and it reads your brainwaves and happens.  Sam is a genius hacker who attracts the attention of the Cyber Defense Division of Homeland Security.  There are many pages describing Sam’s work, which is kind of weird.  It reads like you’re reading about a group of people in fighter jets-wingman, pointman, watch my back, look out you’ve got them on your tail, I’ll repel them by throwing a blaster at them, etc.  I mean, frankly, it made literally no sense to me that it was actually describing computer things. This was one of those cases where you just read for the action and don’t even try to understand what is happening.  And it was easy to do that because it was all very exciting and dangerous feeling and I could see it like a movie in my head.  Sam and his colleagues discover an insidious threat to the entire civilization and it’s up to them to save the world before it is literally too late.

I thought the ending was kind of strange and a bit unbelievable, but I was satisfied nonetheless and recommend this.

Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life by James Patterson and Chris Tebbetts and Laura Park

I can honestly say that I was very pleasantly surprised by this.  The only James Patterson I’ve ever read was a story I hated, and it was one of his adult books.  I know his books for kids have been really popular but I haven’t read any of them.  In this story Rafe  having a tough time of it in middle school.  At home his mother’s boyfriend is a horrible bear of a guy who lives with them, doesn’t work, yells, and is a total loser.  At school there is a dreadful bully, Miller, who torments him.  Egged on by his friend, Silent Leo, Rafe decides to spice up his year by attempting to break every rule in his school’s Code of Conduct book.  This definitely gets him noticed by the other kids, sometimes in a good way, sometimes not.  And it definitely gets the attention of school administrators. Rafe’s year really is a terrible one.  It’s definitely funny, but you can watch as he gets into more and more trouble, unable to stop himself.  The adults in the story can see something is wrong and try to help Rafe, but without much success.   The story is told through words and pictures and the pictures were great and very natural.  I really felt for the kid and I liked the hidden surprise depth to the story.   The resolution was not 100% satisfying for me because  the bully did not got enough of a comeuppance for me, but I did like this.