And determine which one goes on to the next round of the Nerds Heart YA Tournament.
It wasn’t an easy task. Both of these books were very good– after all, they have survived two previous rounds of competition, not to mention the nomination process before that. In addition, they were very different books. What Momma Left Me is aimed at the young end of the YA category (although maybe not as young as the cover makes it appear). How I Made it to Eighteen is going to resonate more at the older end. In addition, it is in a graphical format.
I could easily make an argument for either book continuing on, but in the end, I chose the one that I thought met the needs of its target audience better, and that was the more complete story. It’s not actually the one that spoke the most to me.
I choose What Momma Left Me by Renee Watson. Continue reading for my review of each book, and hopefully you can see why I picked it.
What Momma Left Me by Renee Watson
Description via Goodreads:
How is it that unsavory raw ingredients come together to form a delicious cake? What is it about life that when you take all the hard stuff and rough stuff and add in a lot of love, you still just might have a wonderful life? For Serenity, these questions rise up early when her father kills her mother, and leaves her and her brother Danny to live with their kind but strict grandparents. Despite the difficulties of a new school, a new church, and a new neighborhood, Serenity gains strength from the family around her, the new friends she finds, and her own careful optimism.
This book is a simple but beautiful story of a thirteen year old girl struggling to make sense of her life after the death of her mother.
The book is very readable, with a main character (Serenity) that struggles with all the issues of being a teen, as well as the bigger challenge of her mother’s death.
I really enjoyed the bits from Serenity’s journal at the beginning of each chapter as she uses something from her writing class to begin to develop a voice as a writer.
Serenity struggles with her attraction to the neighborhood bad boy (who isn’t all bad, but certainly is involved with things she knows she wants to keep a distance from). She takes comfort from her church at one moment while railing at God the next, as part of her process of coming to terms with her life and spirituality.
She has strong role models in her life, and she’s trying to figure out how her mother and her mother’s choices fit into the patterns Serenity is starting to figure out.
There are no pat conclusions or easy answers to be found, but there is hope that life is improving, and that the actions we take on our behalf and on behalf of our friends can make a difference. It was a great message without being obnoxious in the process.
How I Made It to Eighteen: A Mostly True Story by Tracy White
Description via Goodreads:
How do you know if you’re on the verge of a nervous breakdown? For seventeen-year-old Stacy Black, it all begins with the smashing of a window. After putting her fist through the glass, she checks into a mental hospital. Stacy hates it there but despite herself slowly realizes she has to face the reasons for her depression to stop from self-destructing. Based on the author’s experiences, How I Made it to Eighteen is a frank portrait of what it’s like to struggle with self-esteem, body image issues, drug addiction, and anxiety.
I was a little worried about how the graphic format would work with this book, but that wasn’t an issue, at least not in the way I thought it would be. The drawings really added to the, well, picture of who Stacey was.
They told a somewhat different story than would have been told only in words. You can see the changes she makes to her hair, for instance. A page might have several panels with her and her therapist, with nothing else happening. Words might have described the silence, but this shows it.
I really felt the book nailed her depression as well, although it may be that it tapped into what I already know (all too well) on the subject.
My only real complaint is that the book was too short. I actually don’t mind that it didn’t have a tidy ending, but I wish it had given more snippets along the way, more on what happened after she made her breakthrough, just more of this book.
Nerds Heart YA Tournament
To follow the next rounds of the tournament, check out the Nerds Heart YA blog. On August 7th, Beth Fish Reads will announce what book What Momma Left Me will face in the next round. The result of that match will make it to the final round..