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.