27 June 2010

Reviews: The Rock and the River by Magoon & Almost Perfect by Katcher

As I announced last month, I was honored to be asked to be a first-round judge in this year's Nerds Heart YA tournament. The books I read were The Rock and the River by Kekla Magoon and Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher. The choice between these two excellent novels was not easy, but I did pick one to move on to the next round.

Rather than publishing two reviews in my usual style, I will give you an idea of what each book is about and then present a brief comparison and announce the winner.

The Rock and the River takes place in 1968--the year of Martin Luther King Jr.'s and Robert Kennedy's assassinations, the year of student unrest, and the year of riots in many big cities across the United States. Thirteen-year-old Sam Childs is the son of a civil rights leader who is a friend of Dr. King and who preaches nonviolence. Sam finds it difficult to live up to his father's turn-the-other cheek principles in the face of blatant racism. Meanwhile, Sam's older brother, Spike, has decided to join the Black Panthers, an often-misunderstood activist group that was not afraid to resort to violence.

Maroon brings the deep prejudices of the time out into the open and shows that there was conflict within the civil rights movement itself, with peaceful demonstrations on one end and the rioting and pipe bombs on the other. Sam, much too young to chose sides, is caught between his father's and his brother's ideals. He is on the brink of young adulthood and must pick a path after witnessing the worst that the city of Chicago had to offer a young black teen in the late 1960s.

The Rock and the River at Powell's
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Published by Simon & Schuster / Aladdin, 2009
ISBN-13: 9781416975823
Challenges: 2010, new author, 100+
YTD: 55
Source: Bought (see review policy)
Rating: B

Almost Perfect takes place in modern times and focuses on an issue that is not often written about, especially for a young adult audience. Logan Witherspoon starts his senior year in high school just a few days after his long-time girlfriend admits that she has slept with another boy, thus ending their relationship. Logan is not looking for another girlfriend, but when Sage, a new student at their small-town Missouri high school, sits down next to him in biology class, he feels the attraction. She is pretty, funny, tall, and very different from any girl he has ever known.

It is clear, however, that Sage is hiding a secret. And when she finally tells Logan that she was born a male and has not yet undergone transforming surgery, Logan has absolutely no clue how to react and how to deal with the knowledge. Vacillating between self-loathing, disgust, hate, confusion, sympathy, and love, Logan must decide just what kind of friend he will be for Sage.

Almost Perfect at Powell's
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Published by Random House / Delacorte, 2009
ISBN-13: 9780385736640
Challenges: eBook, 100+
YTD: 56
Source: Bought (see review policy)
Rating: B+

Comparison & Winner
Both books are coming-of-age stories, and each revolves around the larger issues of personal freedom, tolerance, and understanding. Sam and Logan, however, are at different ends of the spectrum. Sam wants equality for himself and others like him; Logan is scrambling to find a way to open his heart and keep it open. In neither case is the path clear. Furthermore, although both Sam and Logan have present and caring parents, each feels the need to find his own destiny.

The Rock and the River is important because it is all too easy to see the strides that have been made instead of the work that still must be done in the name of civil rights, not just for blacks but for most minorities. Unfortunately, Maroon presents only two movements within the black community of the 1960s. Almost Perfect addresses an issue that is little discussed but is no less demanding of our understanding. Transgenderism must be a painfully confusing situation for a young person and his or her family and friends. Katcher explores several reactions to Sage's sexual identity and makes it clear that at present there is no easy or happy solution.

It is my job to pick one of these young adult novels to move to the next bracket in the Nerds Heart YA tournament. This was not an easy choice, but I picked Almost Perfect because it focuses on a situation that is often ignored and because it deals with transgenderism in a sensitive and believable way. We need more young adult novels to help teenagers understand the biological and psychological aspects of sexuality and to offer a basis for further discussion.

Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)


Nicole (Linus's Blanket) 6/27/10, 7:45 AM  

These both sound really good, so you lucked out in having two enjoyable discoveries. Almost Perfect has issue that I have rarely seen in literature. A lot of the adults know just as little about sexuality and gender issues, so it is great to have this book as a resource.

CLM 6/27/10, 9:32 AM  

Two unusual books. Enjoyed your reviews. I agree such topics need to exist although some times I wonder if a writer aims for something very unusual just to create a niche. I'd like to see you interview Katcher before his work gets banned!

Sandy Nawrot 6/27/10, 10:07 AM  

This couldn't have been an easy decision. They both sound great but you have to pick. I applaud the author for tackling a very difficult and unspoken issue.

Wendy 6/27/10, 10:54 AM  

Thank you for this very interesting post, Candace. I think I'd like to read both these books, even though I do not usually read YA fiction. I liked how you recapped each book, then compared them...

Amy 6/28/10, 4:03 AM  

I actually would like to read both of these! Thanks for your participation in Nerds Heart YA!

Amanda 6/30/10, 9:49 PM  

Almost Perfect is DEFINITELY on my wishlist!

Michelle 7/5/10, 8:31 AM  

As you've stated each of these books is important to add to our TBR piles for different reasons. I'm glad you enjoyed them both!

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