Friday, September 17, 2010

Nerds Heart YA: The Final Round Decision. Say the Word by Jeannine Garsee vs Last Night I Sang to the Monster by Benjamin Alire Saenz

We've come to the end of the Nerds Heart YA road, and two books are still left standing.  Nerds Heart YA is an annual event (in its second year) to showcase the quality gems in YA lit that don't get as much exposure or publicity as other books but are equally deserving of attention. 

SAY THE WORD is a novel that explores family relationships and homophobia.  LAST NIGHT I SANG TO THE MONSTER is about a teen in rehab confronting the monsters of his past.  Neither is a book I would have picked up on my own had it not been for Nerds Heart YA.  Both are amazing books I hope you will consider checking out.  But which one takes the title?

SAY THE WORD features Shawna, a very honest and flawed teen who is angry that her mother dumped her and her father years ago to live with Fran, her lesbian lover.  So angry that she hasn't spoken to her mother in quite some time.  So it comes as a shock when Fran calls and tells Shawna that her mother has had a stroke and is dying.

Shawna's mother's death sets off a whole chain of events that force Shawna to deal with her feelings of betrayal and homophobia. Though Shawna is a sympathetic character for the most part, she does and says some horrible things. Still, Garsee has a light touch, and the story, despite its heavy themes and tragedies, is a very entertaining read.  I really loved probably the first three fourths of this novel, but had a some problems with the ending.  One of the problems had to do with a romantic encounter Shawna had that just completely came out of left field and seemed out of character and out of place.  The other problem had to do with the resolution of the main conflict of the story which was just very unsatisfying to me.  Still, I really, really enjoyed reading this and spending time with the characters.  Find out more about it at the author's website.

LAST NIGHT I SANG TO THE MONSTER features Zach, an alcoholic teen in rehab.  Zach doesn't want to remember what happened to him that landed him in the facility, doesn't want to face the pain in his life.  An unlikely friendship with a 53 year old fellow patient Rafael helps him heal.

LAST NIGHT was a difficult novel to get into.  I did not enjoy the first half very much.  Zach is angry. His fellow patients are angry.  They talk about their monsters and addictions and how they drink and do drugs to avoid feeling anything.  Their stories, when they tell them, are shocking and sad and uncomfortable.

But at the halfway mark comes a passage where Rafael is painting and getting his monsters out onto the canvas.  Zach asks him why he does it, if it hurts so much.  And Rafael answers:

"I've been hurting most of my life. I tried to pretend I wasn't. I even believed my own lie. I've lived my entire life trying to avoid pain, Zach. That's a terrible way to live. I don't care any more if it hurts. (...) If I am working on a painting, and it doesn't hurt, then the painting won't matter. And if it doesn't matter, then it isn't real - then I am not real. (...) I have a new theory," he said, "and the theory is this: if I develop a great capacity for feeling pain, then I am also developing a great capacity for feeling happiness." p 115-116

Isn't that beautiful?  It helped me to see the characters and story in a new light and really root for their redemption.  And when I put the book down at the end, I was deeply touched. Find out more about the book at the author's website.

So which novel should I choose as the winner?  The book that entertained me more? Or the book that touched me more?  My gut feeling tells me to go with the latter.  That means LAST NIGHT I SANG TO THE MONSTER wins.  Congrats!

16 comments:

Beth F said...

Wow. What a tough decision and how great that you had the final round. Congrats to Last Night!

Darren @ Bart's Bookshelf said...

Boo!

Only kidding :-) I suspected that Say the Word might have a tough fight on its hands...

Many congratulatons to the winner!

Amy said...

Sounds like a very tough decision, and two wonderful books. Both that I will have to check out!

Amanda said...

What a rough decision. Excellent job Lenore!

Amy said...

I really want to read them both and hope to soon. I'm glad it was a touch decision!

Jodie said...

Excellent post Lenore and great decision. I'll be adding both to my TBR list for sure. Thanks for being such a fab final judge.

Melanie said...

Yay! I loved Last Night I Sang to the Monster. The writing is gorgeous. I'll have to check out Say the Word. Definitely sounds like an interesting book.

Lu @ Regular Rumination said...

I have to say I'm a little bummed that Say the Word didn't win because I picked it in the first round, but it sounds like you made the right decision!!!

Sadako said...

Last Night I Sang to the Monster sounds really cool. Love the title.

bermudaonion said...

Sounds like a great pick! The book sounds so relevant for kids today.

Lorin said...

Both sound just great! It was fun participating in NHYA this year - I loved getting exposed to so many new books.

Charley said...

I checked Last Night I Sang to the Monster out from the library last week, but couldn't get into it at the time. I like the title, though.

Michelle said...

What a difficult decision to have to make between two fantastic sounding books.

Congratulations to the winner!

Zibilee said...

I have been curious about Last Night I Sang to the Monster for quite a long time now. I am glad to see here that it won and to get the chance to hear a little more about it. Thanks for the great comparative post, Lenore!

Meg said...

Woo! I've been following Nerds Heart YA carefully since judging in the first round, and I'm happy to see you enjoyed both books in the end. Definitely adding both to my wishlist, but congrats to Monster!

Pam said...

I somehow missed this but yay. When I put LNISTM forward I thought it had winning potential!