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Decisions, decisions

February 12, 2010

I planned on posting a review today for Angie’s Retro Fridays using the books that would have made my Unsung YA list, since I didn’t have time to put a list together for that.

Instead, I’ve been working on my Top Ten YA books list (deadline is the 14th, if you haven’t submitted a list yet), debating whether to include The Thief OR The King of Attolia and Sloppy Firsts OR Second Helpings, since I don’t have room for all four books. OR, should I have stricken a title or two from my Top Ten and included all four, since the internal debate was so fierce? I didn’t submit a list for Betsy’s Top 100 Picture Books or Top 100 Children’s Books, since that is not my area of expertise, or passion. But maybe I should have, just for practice, because, my god, this was difficult.

Sloppy Firsts vs. Second Helpings turned out to be the easier decision. I still love both books, regardless of my feelings for books 3+, but Second Helpings is my favorite. It’s also not the one that made my list. My reasoning, which may not make sense to anyone else, came down to two things: 1) how Megan McCafferty made Marcus Flutie such a compelling character that, despite what he admits at the end, we (I would have said I, but I know I’m not the only one) still want Jessica to end up with him. And this despite everything being narrated by Jessica! Which, yeah, means we understand the fascination with him, but also how hurt Jessica is. And yet we’re still ultimately rooting for them as a couple, even though we have no explanation or perspective regarding Marcus’s actions that *isn’t* filtered through Jessica’s POV. I have no aspirations of becoming an author, but I think that’s amazing. 2) I honestly don’t think Second Helpings would be as awesome or as satisfying or that I’d love it as much if Sloppy Firsts wasn’t so good. I mean, Second Helpings is just as smart and funny as Sloppy Firsts, but I think it’s a more satisfying read because of the payoff that we’d been hoping for since the end of Sloppy Firsts. I’m sure people who read Second Helpings prior to Sloppy Firsts would have no problem understanding what’s going on or enjoying the book, but I don’t think they would appreciate it as much as people who read the books in order.

So, along these lines, I should have picked The Thief over The King of Attolia, right? But I couldn’t. It was so hard to decide, because ultimately, I think the brilliance of this series is more than the sum of the individual books. Megan Whalen Turner‘s ingenuity and pacing and precision of language. The changes in POV, which enrich one’s reading of each book, and how, upon rereading, you pick up things that you overlooked the first time around, but are important in subsequent books and hence make them even more satisfying after the first read. I really can’t explain why I picked The King of Attolia over The Thief, since the “it’s my favorite of all the books in the series” argument didn’t work for Second Helpings. Maybe it’s partly that with Sloppy Firsts vs. Second Helpings, I was only choosing between two books, whereas The King of Attolia is my favorite of the three MWT books I’ve read thus far, and any argument in favor of The Thief would probably also work for The Queen of Attolia, so why not go with my favorite here? But ultimately, it’s my list and I think I’m happy with it, so there.

One book that didn’t make my list was Cynthia Voigt’s On Fortune’s Wheel. I think I first read this in 7th grade, and I loved it. Reading it again, I was struck by how beautifully written it was and really admired the writing, something I didn’t give much (if any) thought to back then. But, emotionally, it didn’t hold up as well for me. I recognized why I loved it so much as a kid, but I guess I’m more — cynical? skeptical? — now, since I couldn’t bring myself to keep it on my top 10 after rereading it. I’ll revisit this one later, in a Retro Friday review (no, it was not the book I had originally planned to review today), because it’s still a fabulously well-written and moving book, and also because I think its age is visible when you read it today (it was originally published in 1990), but in a good way. Meaning: the pace is leisurely and thoughtful, it’s not dynamic like so many YA fantasies today, and although the book itself is post-Alanna, Birle is not a post-Alanna heroine, in that she’s strong, but not in a physical, kick-butt way.

If you’re looking for a booklist right now, there’s a new list up at Flashlight Worthy, The Most Romantic Young Adult Books of All Time, which includes a contribution from me.

20 Comments leave one →
  1. February 13, 2010 4:47 am

    I’m so glad to see your pick for the list! I was debating between that, Saving Francesca, and Graceling.

    I have a feeling that for a lot books I loved as a kid, I’d have a similar reaction to how you felt about On Fortune’s Wheel. I read a book that a friend said she LOVED as a kid, and it was just “eh” for me, and I think she was a little disappointed in me!

    • February 13, 2010 1:19 pm

      I have to admit that Jellicoe Road would probably be my top pick for any number of lists, so that was an easy decision for me. Yay.

      I think the interesting thing about my reaction to On Fortune’s Wheel is how I was amazed by the writing but not captivated by the story. I mean, there are other books that lose something when you read them again as an adult because the writing is junk, the plot was predictable in retrospect, etc. With On Fortune’s Wheel, the writing was great and some plot twists admirable, but it just didn’t work for me the way it once did.

      • February 13, 2010 1:31 pm

        That’s sort of how I felt with Tender Morsels. I thought the writing was gorgeous, but the story just didn’t connect with me.

        • February 15, 2010 8:31 pm

          But it connected with me at one point, and then I changed. I was a bit disappointed by that.

          Also, I’m curious. If you had picked Jellicoe Road for the Most Romantic YA Books, what would you have written about it?

        • February 16, 2010 2:49 am

          Haha, good question! That’s pretty much why I didn’t pick it in the end…because I didn’t think I could explain how it was romantic while at the same time being heartbreaking and about dealing with grief.

          Man, I love that book.

  2. February 13, 2010 6:38 am

    I’d definitely go with King over Thief. I can’t really say why, either. It’s my favorite in the series, too, but it’s more than that; once you read Queen and King, Thief starts to seem more like… a prequel. Not that it’s not good, but that it’s not the point of the series. Or something? I don’t know. My feelings about that series are complicated, but they run deep. Oh man, only like six weeks until the fourth book…

    • February 13, 2010 1:28 pm

      Glad to know I’m not alone, re: explaining The Thief vs. The King of Attolia!

      That’s a good point about The Thief. I hadn’t thought of it that way before, but it does. Must think more about and will leave a longer comment later…

    • February 15, 2010 8:28 pm

      Okay, so here’s what I’ve come up with, besides the superficial 1st person vs. 3rd person narration and the fact that we know the truth about Gen’s identity from the start of QoA and KoA, but not until the end of The Thief. The Thief, as I see it, is ultimately a quest story with some political machinations and intrigue going on, whereas QoA and KoA are more about the machinations and intrigue, and hence seem more like part of one larger story. Or something.

      • February 17, 2010 6:25 pm

        I find the first/third person thing fascinating. With each book, she moves farther from Eugenides himself. The first book is from his perspective, the second book is about him but in third person, and the third book is from the perspective of someone else entirely (but still third person). I wonder what the fourth will be like.

  3. missprint permalink
    February 13, 2010 6:40 pm

    What I love about MWT is I like each of her books more than the last. I just took a YA Lit class in library school and the teacher told us to booktalk the book in hand, not the story for the series–I think that goes the same for picking top 10 lists. Going with favorites can never be a bad idea!

    • February 15, 2010 8:30 pm

      Going with favorites can never be a bad idea!

      True, but I felt like I had to justify my picks somehow. When I started my list, anyway. After a certain point, I gave up and just went with my favorites. 🙂

  4. February 13, 2010 8:34 pm

    Now that sounds like a Retro Fridays post I want to read, Tricia! Feel free to slap that puppy up anytime. 🙂

    I saw your awesome JELLICOE ROAD pick on the Flashworthy list. I had fun putting one up and thought it was a pretty great list.

    I’m gonna try to submit my top ten list just barely under the wire. Your thoughts have got me thinking. And I’m feeling sheepish to admit I didn’t know the Jessica Darling series was YA! It’s been on my TBR forever and I’m determined to get to it this year.

    Picking a favorite MWT is agonizing. I have a hard time not picking QUEEN. But I’m never for sure, for sure, you know? 🙂

  5. February 15, 2010 8:39 pm

    The Jessica Darling series was published as adult books, but they’re (the first couple of them, anyway) definitely great books for teens. I know some people love the entire series, but I’m one of those who’d rather pretend that it was only two books long and ignore the last three.

    • February 16, 2010 12:04 pm

      Yeah, I’ve heard very mixed things of the last three. Hm…

  6. February 16, 2010 6:21 am


    i agree that “second helpings” is probably the best book in the series, although i really admire megan mccafferty for pursuing the story through jessica’s college and post-grad, kinda depressing years. i think everyone goes through a slump after college, and i loved how mccafferty embraced that darkness and allowed us to see jessica through it.

    • February 26, 2010 1:01 am

      True, but having gone through my own “college and post-grad, kinda depressing years,” I didn’t exactly want to see it with Jessica (and Marcus). Especially after the perfection of Second Helpings.

      Although I’m obviously able to do that with YA books.

      Maybe I need a couple more years of distance before I can read and enjoy the aforementioned college and post-grad fiction.

  7. February 16, 2010 4:34 pm

    Gah! I read this too late and now I can’t participate! I tell ya. I’ve been wanting someone to do this for YA ever since I saw the picture books on Fuse. I love Sloppy Firsts (that was my contribution to the romantic list), but I agree, the series doesn’t quite stand up to the first two books. Still fun though!

  8. February 25, 2010 8:29 am

    What stands out for me in this review, and as a writer too, is the phrase “such a compelling character.” Yes! When I sit through endless previews when I go to the movie these days, I’m always appalled by how the total emphasis is on action (usually gun fights or car crashes), and the interior world of the characters seems almost non-existent. To me, that’s not interesting. I want to see (and read about) people thinking and feeling.

  9. Emily and Her Little Pink Slips permalink
    March 9, 2010 7:16 am

    “Second helpings” is still one of my all time favourite but I also really liked “Perfect Fifths”, If I had to choose one it would be “Second Helpings”.

    Have you ever read “Diary of a crush” (it’s a trilogy by Sarra Manning)? those three books are awesome and they would be in my “The Most Romantic Young Adult Books Of All Time ” list.

    Also I would select “Looking for Alibrandi” by Melina Marchetta .


  1. My top 10 YA novels « The YA YA YAs

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