And that's it! With Life: An Exploded Diagram, I have officially read all of the contenders in School Library Journal's Battle of the Books. I am ready to go public with my brackets, and, perhaps more importantly, with my predictions for how the BoB cocktail party that SLJ is going to throw for all the characters in the contender books is going to shake down.
(I made up this cocktail party, in case you were looking for your invite. Since it's imaginary, everyone is invited!)
I am not taking into account my thoughts about the inclinations of the individual judges, as Liz Burns has in her prediction post at A Chair A Fireplace and a Tea Cozy - that's just too much to get my tiny brain around. So I'm just plunging in. DEEEEP BREATH. Remember that I am crap at this.
Anya's Ghost vs. Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart. Amelia's gonna win. It's just such an appealing book, the rare biography that manages to be atmospheric and suspenseful even though you know how the story ends.
But at the Battle of the Books cocktail party, Anya and Amelia will be out on the balcony smoking cigarettes together, and I will be eavesdropping on that conversation. Anya will be all like, "But you were gay, right? That Putnam guy was just your business partner and your beard. C'mon, you can tell me!" And Amelia will be saying, "But what are you going to do with your life? I don't get this aimless thing!"
Between Shades of Gray vs. Bootleg: Murder, Moonshine, and the Lawless Years of Prohibition. Oooh, tough. I think the Lithuanians are going to take it, though. This is what I wrote about that.
Al Capone, of course, will be the one spilling hooch into the punch when he thinks no-one is looking. And Lina's mother Elena will be the one shooing all the kids away from it, while engaging in a spirited-verging-on-heated discussion of socialism with Jack Gantos's mom. After the party, they will exchange addresses and vow to be devoted pen pals.
And you know what the cats and the mice are doing at the party - they're hiding under the buffet table waiting for scraps and commenting on what everyone's wearing. They're like the Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan (who by the way, have their own March Madness going) of the party. Briony is hanging back with her sister Rose, feeling a little self-conscious, until Lil Spicer from Okay for Now strikes up a conversation.
Daughter of Smoke and Bone vs. Dead End in Norvelt. I know that there are people who didn't like Dead End in Norvelt as much as I do - heck, I like it so much that my Film Club at the elementary school is filming it for a 90 Second Newbery Film Festival entry - but I still think it's going to take it. The more I parse the book, and work with the kids in my club to develop shooting scripts, the more I appreciate its skillful writing.
At my imaginary BoB cocktail party, Karou would be sketching the Liam Neeson-esque yew tree from A Monster Calls, with Allen Say over her shoulder offering pointers, while Jack would be checking out a copy of Bootleg and making plans to get up a ball game with Doug Sweiteck.
Drawing From Memory vs The Grand Plan to Fix Everything. I think this will go to Dini from The Grand Plan. I loved the Allan Say book, but I keep forgetting I read it, and I'll take that as an indicator. Also, my library has it shelved in the adult graphic novel section, and not juvenile. While I found The Grand Plan to Fix Everything rather slight, it was appealing and sweet, and its setting, in a southern India tea town, gave it a nice novelty. Not every work of realistic fiction has to feature poverty, death, or disease.
Dini will wander off with Rose from Wonderstruck, having invented a mystery about a beautiful actress held captive by an evil gangster that they have to solve. They will buttonhole other guests asking for a lipstick or a pen, and ultimately work themselves up to making an incoherent accusation against someone at the party, but since Rose will have been teaching Dini sign language all night, nobody will have any idea what they're talking about, and they will just lose their minds giggling and go off for another cupcake.
Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans vs Inside Out and Back Again. This pairing is tough for me to predict. I was surprised at how much I liked Inside Out and Back Again, and not at all surprised at how much I liked Heart and Soul. I think it's going to go to Thanhha Lai's verse novel. I just think so.
Everyone at the party is initially too intimidated to talk to anyone from Heart and Soul, but eventually some of the dads overcome their shyness to talk to Joe Louis and Jackie Robinson, and things loosen up from there. Hà spends her party time exploring the buffet table with Lina, comparing notes on Vietnamese snacks versus Lithuanian.
Conor and Clem will bond while trying to out-dreadful each other with school stories and later be found judging a spitting contest off the balcony while teaching the younger boys rowdy song lyrics. They will somehow have gotten their hands on a lot of lager despite being quite a bit underage. Conor's grandmother, meanwhile, will have spent the evening chatting flirtatiously with Brimstone from Daughter of Smoke and Bone.
Doug is the one plotting a game of midnight baseball for after the party, and Ben is definitely up for that, but meanwhile, Doug is checking out Karou's drawing of Conor's yew tree and Ben has become some kind of uncomprehending character in Dini and Rose's intrigue. He has no idea what's going on, but he's having fun anyway.
Amelia goes up against Lina, and Amelia wins by a hair!
The cat and mouse show meets Jack Gantos, and Jack sends the kitty flying!
Dini and Hà like each other too much to fight, so they flip a coin and Hà wins!
Conor and Doug also get along too well to fight, but they're boys and so they do it anyway, and Doug comes out on top!
Amelia Earhart meets Jack Gantos and this I gotta see.
Thanhha Lai and Gary Schmidt's books go head to head and I swear the way these brackets of mine have shaken out, these are the four I would have expected as Newbery finalists.
I'm calling it Dead End in Norvelt vs. Okay for Now vs. whatever comes back from the dead (a BoB squiggle that throws a welcome monkey wrench into Round Four) and I am no way gonna call this one, especially because it's probably completely moot because see above RE me being terrible at predictions.
Every single contender in this Battle is a worthy one, and I am glad to have read each and every title. I love having BoB follow the Newbery each year - it gives us a fun chance to revisit some truly stellar books.