Friday, September 4, 2009

Nerds Heart YA Finals! Part 2 of 2!

Ladies and gentleman! Nymeth and I are proud to present the finals of the Nerds Heart YA tournament where the winner shall be announced! Before you read this post, please please PLEASE go over to Nymeth's blog and read the first part of our HUGE conversation about the two finalists, My Most Excellent Year by Steve Kluger and The Screwed Up Life of Charlie the Second by Drew Ferguson. We started with 16 books and it all comes down to these two who will duel it out for the final winning spot!


charlie CHRIS: Ok, Confession time and then I SWEAR I'll move on to My Most Excellent Year. I think Charlie worked for me so much because I related so much to his character. I really don't know why. We're very different from one another but at the same time, he reminds me so much of myself as a teenager and I think I just assume that many other adolescent males will relate to him as well. So in a way, I guess I'm putting some of my own values onto Charlie. Values that we don't actually see. I know I wasn't perfect as a teenager. I know I said some horrible, horrible things that I would be absolutely ashamed to admit now having ever said that doesn't fit who I am at all. Another thing is, it's been awhile since I've read this book so I've had some time to think on it, but at the same time, I've had a lot of time to forget a lot of it. So you're probably right in that he didn't progress as much as I'm thinking he did. And for the record, I laughed my ass off at that scene as well :p It was hilarious! Poor Charlie...that was the saddest and most comical scene I think I've ever read :p Ok, now on to My Most Excellent Year FINALLY! First of all, thank you so much for sharing that amazing article by Malinda Lo! I hope that whoever reads this tl;dr review goes and reads that too ;) I couldn't agree with her more! Gay people do need fairy tales! And I totally commend her for writing one and I can't wait to read it. But I don't think that My Most Excellent Year was that book. I don't think it's necessarily a gay book. Sure, it has a gay character, but I was actually a little bothered with how Augie Hwong was portrayed :/ He was so stereotypically gay! He had the best fashion sense of anyone, everyone knew he was gay but him and when he "discovered" he was it really wasn't a big deal to anyone (not that it should be, but come on, that's a major stepping stone in's sexuality that is), he loves female starlets from the 30's, 40's, and 50's, he loves broadway and musicals, he loves sparkly, glittery things. I don't know...something about it just bugged me. But still, he was just one character in the book. Everyone in the book just seemed so ideal to me. And there were issues. There were SO MANY ISSUES TO BE DEALT WITH!! But I guess here's my problem with many issues came up. And none of them were dealt with in any depth really. There's the issue of TC dealing with his mother's death, Alejandra being an exchange student and being forced to live her parents dreams, Augie coming to terms with his sexuality, first love, Little Hucky! Adorable little Hucky and the mess that is his life. So many issues that just barely got skimmed. I would've rather one issued get introduced and really looked at. But that's not the kind of book this was, so I guess it really is unfair for me to look at it like that, huh? LOL. It was a really fun read, I'll give it that! I literally could not put the book down and I loved the atmosphere, the feel good nature, the style that it was written was almost just "too" good though...making any sense at all? NYMETH: You raise a point I hadn't considered - is Augie stereotypical? I can only say that I understand why you're saying that, but the reason why I hadn't considered it is because he always felt like a real person to me - he and Andy, and I so loved their romance. The next thing I was going to say is that a musical-ish sort of book runs the risk of becoming frivolous, but the reason why that didn't happen with My Most Excellent Year was because it was emotionally resonant, and there were so many things that were dealt with in depth. Hahaha, you can see where this is going, right? :P T.C. pain about his mother's death, Alé trying to balance what she wanted for herself and her parents' expectations, Hucky's loneliness and fear.. what can I say, I found the way it was all dealt with satisfying. There's maybe something to be said about Augie's coming out being too easy, and I'll return to that point in a minute, but before that, you reminded me of something else that bugged me about Charlie: the whole thing with Rob's mom. It's funny, because the way you felt about all the issues in My Most Excellent Year is the way I felt about euthanasia in Charlie: it was dealt with too superficially for my taste, and even though I know it's not the central thing in the book, it kind of bugged me. I swear I'm not just trying to be contrary! CHRIS: You're not being contrary at all! This is what this is all about! I totally forgot about the whole euthanasia thing with Rob's mom :/ How did I forget that?? That was a big part of the fight for Christ's sake! Yeah, that was kind of horrible. The book focused more on how it affected Rob and Charlie than the fact that it actually happened and the issues surrounding it. I'll totally give you that one. I agree with you that Augie felt like a real person...they all felt real enough to me, but I wanted more, more, more!!! And it's actually because I loved the characters so much! I wanted to know more about them. I wanted more background about Ale...a whole book on Ale...a whole book on TC's thoughts on his mother. Though there were so many passages in TC's journal to his mom that just brought sweet sad tears to my eyes. As for Augie's coming out being too easy...ok, I'm going to totally contradict myself here :p Part of me really liked that and this is why: I'm hoping that more and more books maybe do address the topic like this and are read by a wide audience of teens and it does become this easy for kids to come out. Yeah I know...that's high hopes, but there's nothing wrong with that, right? I guess my main complaint (and I'm so conflicted with this because I hate saying "complaint" when I really loved this book) is that I felt like this book was on speed...or had too much packed into it. I just wanted more. NYMETH: Yes! You loved the characters too! I'd have loved a whole book on every one of them too, but I didn't feel that the pace in My Most Excellent was too fast. And I totally teared up too - more than once. As for Augie's coming out, I'm of two minds about it myself. On the one hand, I can see how the perfect way in which it all happened can be frustrating. On the other hand, I'm all for positive representations. This is an argument I often hear about sex in teen lit, for example: if there aren't any problems like regrets, pregnancy scares, you name it, people complain it's not realistic enough [for the record, this is just a bit of a random example; there's no sex in the book]. Of course that, sadly, things go wrong for gay teens a lot more often than they do for straight ones. But still, maybe sometimes it is this easy. And we need to include those stories in books too. And then there's the whole matter of books not existing in a vacuum: for every book like My Most Excellent Year, there will be ten full of angst, like Charlie ;) There's another thing I want to address, especially because it's something in which Charlie might top My Most Excellent Year: the parents. How did you feel about the way they were portrayed in both books? CHRIS: Like I said earlier, I haven't read Charlie in awhile, so I may be a little rusty on the details of the parents, but I remember feeling like Charlie's parents wanted to relate to him, wanted to care about him, but just failed to a point. Especially Dad. I remember thinking that his dad was a total asshole for most of the book and seeing how Charlie would hate being called "the second" all the time. His dad seemed to never have time for him. But his mom, I liked. If I recall right (and like I said, I'm rusty here), their relationship was awkward but open. And she was accepting of who Charlie was and I liked that. She seemed like a good parent to me. The parents in My Most Excellent Year were MOSTLY awesome. But could've been developed more (sorry had to get that in there ;) T.C.'s dad was great. I loved him. He's a down to earth, fantastic single father that's done everything he can to give his boy the best life he can have. Including adopting his best friend. I liked Augie's parents a lot too. Though I felt like I never really got to know who his mom was aside from her little snide reviews that she'd write of local plays. One thing bugged me scene in particular. Do you remember the scene where Augie was all upset because he thought his dad didn't want a son who didn't understand football and then all of a sudden his dad is like "oh Augie, you're upset because you think I don't want a son who doesn't know anything about football."? THOSE are the kind of things that bugged me about that book! That's what I'm trying to say. There are too many little perfect coincidences that happen in the book. Sure, a lot of parents and their kids are really close, but no parent is freaking psychic. back to the other parents. Couldn't stand Ale's parents. Though I guess there was slight redemption in the end. But once again, they were never really developed. They served the purpose of throwing out what expectations Ale was to live up to and what her background was and that was it. Charlie's parents actually played an integral role in his development as a character and to the story as a whole. And I'm going to disagree one more time. I'm sorry Ana!! God I'm sorry! Please don't hate me! LOL. I think that for every Charlie there are 10 books like My Most Excellent Year. I agree that there is WAY WAY WAY too much angst in teen lit these days, but I think there are very few angsty books that actually tackle real issues like Charlie does. Most of the angst these days revolves around sparkly vampires and superficial love. On the other hand I think that there are plenty of feel good books out there for young adults. However, I do think that My Most Excellent Year does that genre better than 99% of them. I've just never read another book (aside from The Latent Powers of Dylan Fontaine) that is targeted towards YA that addresses the issues revolving around teenage boys in such a direct fashion as Charlie. Ok...leaving it alone I promise!!! NYMETH: I agree that Charlie's father seemed like a jerk for a good portion of the book, but by the end the sort of redeemed himself. And I liked Charlie's mother a lot - the way she was portrayed helped balance the way I felt about female characters in general in the book. I thought the way the book dealt with the ambiguity of a teen's feelings towards his/her parents was very satisfying. And Bink's parents were good characters too. As for My Most Excellent Year, I'm going to grudgingly agree :P The parents weren't half as fleshed out as in Charlie. It's not that they were badly written, though, it's that they're more in the background. However! Mwahahahah! About that thing that bugged you (can you tell I'm enjoying this? :P), you're forgetting that later on T.C. admits to Augie that he'd told his dad that Augie was upset about the footbal thing. So no, he's not psychic :P Though yes, I agree that it would have been too much of a coincidence otherwise. About there being more feel-good books, I just don't know! You read more YA than I do, so you're probably right. I've read quite a few that deal with real issues, but then again, my sample is biased: I only read the best of the best, which is to say, anything you and Renay read and recommend :P Still, if we look at glbtq YA in particular, I think stories full of problems and angst and things going wrong are a lot more common than stories in which two kids of the same gender just fall in love with no complications, like Augie and Andy do. Well, no complications beyond those of being a teen in love for the first time, that is :P Chris, what are we going to do?! CHRIS: I don't know :( I guess what we should do is pick based on certain criteria, but that criteria gets so muddled!! It should be, what book does the best job at being what it's supposed to be? And I'd say that both books are tied there honestly. Then you could say what book tackles more important issues? I'd give that to Charlie. Which book is more socially conscience? Probably My Most Excellent Year. But you see, I can argue the point for either to win either of these categories :p I wish we could chicken out and call it a draw, but that wouldn't be fair. For me personally, one book stood out more than the other and left a deeper impact on me. Whether for better or worse at times, I think that a year from now, I'll remember Charlie more vividly than I will My Most Excellent Year. But at the same time, I see My Most Excellent year appealing to a wider audience and I just loved the writing style of it. And I honestly loved the characters. Oh no Ana!! Stop me! I'm playing devil's advocate with myself now!1@ NYMETH: Yeah, I was going to suggest we call John Green to help us (not literally, though how cool would that be?) and your criteria pretty much match his. I know I'm the opposite: I'm going to remember My Most Excellent Year more vividly. Charlie's far from forgettable, though, and both books do what they set out to do well. I just disagree that the issues tackled in Charlie are more important. It deals with sexuality and loneliness and awkwardness; with parents and relationships and love and growing up, but in My Most Excellent Year we have a lot of that too. Even though the parents are more in the background, parental relationships and family are still important, especially in the Hucky storyline. There's love, of course, and friendship, and being true to yourself. And also social justice - I love how passionate Alé was, and I haven't read all that many books in which young characters truly care about causes and where it all sounds so real and natural. The only other one I can think of is Little Brother. CHRIS: You are right about Ale. She's one character that we didn't really get to talk about! She was amazing and I really liked her story from the beginning. Such a strong character. You know...thinking about this whole thing, I really kind of feel bad because I feel like I just dissed My Most Excellent Year throughout this whole thing and that's not what I meant to do. I really loved that book. It was right (and I mean JUST) below Charlie for me. Whereas, I feel like there was a bigger gap between the two for you. My issues with My Most Excellent Year were minor for the most part, whereas I think you had some more major (and valid) issues with Charlie. I'm comfortable going with My Most Excellent Year if that's what you want too! But I won't stop pushing for Charlie to be read by everyone :D It's a fantastic book in my opinion. I wish we could give the award to both. P.S...I do like your idea of calling John Green ;)
NYMETH: I don't think you dissed My Most Excellent Year! I hope I didn't sound like I was dissing Charlie either. Both are strong books, otherwise we wouldn't have had the longest debate ever about which one should win :P And I definitely agree that both should be read. Ultimately, though, I think it comes down to both My Most Excellent Year having grabbed me more and to the fact that I identified with the sensibility behind it more, you know? Which is, of course, a very personal thing.
CHRIS: So does that mean we have a winner?! Finally?? I think I actually learned something from this. You can't write a perfect book. And if a perfect book is ever written, it won't be recognized. The reason being, reading is such a subjective thing. Each reader puts their own values on a book they read and there's never going to be a book that everyone feels the exact same about. I had so much fun reviewing these books with you Ana! This was something that I won't soon forget :) NYMETH: Well, let's do it again then :D
And for all of you wondering, yes, we picked My Most Excellent Year as the first ever winner of the hopefully annual (Renay?) Nerds Heart YA Tournament! Can we print an award on the cover? :p And can Charlie please have a finalist silver metal award on it's cover?? Please!! I have to give MAD MAD props to Renay for organizing this whole thing. What an amazing blogger for putting together such an incredible project that I'm so thrilled to be a part of. And of course, we wouldn't have gotten here without all of the other wonderful Nerds Heart YA reviews from: I'd like to give away a copy of each of these books! If you're interested, let me know which one you want to read more! I'll draw a winner next Sunday, September 13th! That's all for now folks!

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