This officially marks the end of my experiment and I gotta tell you, it was a ton of fun. None of these books were on my TBR but pushing myself outside of my comfort zone and reading those stories that I normally wouldn’t was quite an eye-opening experience. If you missed any of them, here are the links to my reviews for each book.
Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman
The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin
Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
Bone Gap by Laura Ruby
Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War by Steve Sheinkin
The first Finalist I picked up was Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman. I adored Unwind by this author and while this one is completely different, oh, this story quite blew me away. This is the story of a fifteen year old boy who is suffering from schizophrenia and is struggling to live a normal life before getting treatment. An incredibly heartfelt story that the author brings to life based on his own son’s experiences with mental illness. It was part fantasy and melancholy and I truly loved this story. What I loved most was the honesty (and the lack of a romance to make mental illness all okay like most stories of this ilk). Extremely well-written and completely captivating.
My second read was The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin. This is more of a
Middle Grade novel and is actually the authors debut. It’s the story of Suzy Swanson who loses her best friend, twice. The first time she loses her is to the group of popular girls at school when Suzy fails to change her quirky ways and the second time is when she dies from drowning while on vacation. This one wasn’t on my TBR because kids books that deal with death are typically the most heartbreaking. I loved the portrayal of this one with its positive message and Suzy’s character is definitely one to admire.
Up next was the graphic novel Nimona by Noelle Stevenson. I hadn’t heard much of anything about this story despite the fact that it was apparently a well-loved web comic before it was published this past May. I’m a recent convert to graphic novels so I was eager to pick this one up after it got declared an NBA Finalist. I can’t say that I particularly see why it was nominated though. It was entertaining and made me laugh but it didn’t necessarily have the impact on me that the other reads already had. I do love seeing graphic novels being given the spotlight more and more these days though.
My second to last read was Bone Gap by Laura Ruby. This one had been on my TBR at
one point but apparently didn’t survive one of my infamous shelf purges. I’m a huge fan of magical realism though so I can’t quite recall why I gave it the boot. Bone Gap was easily one of the most unusual and unconventional reads I’d read this year… possibly ever. I didn’t realize until halfway through when I was reading an interview with the author that this is in part based on the Persephone myth which made me more intrigued in the book than I was before. Very mysterious with some rocky world-building but still an impressive enough story in my opinion.
I saved the most daunting read for last, and ironically enough it ended up being one of my favorites. Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War by Steve Sheinkin, as the title proclaims, is a story about the history of the Vietnam War. I saved it for last because, eeek, Non-Fiction. Except! It’s written in such an awesome way, I could have mistaken it for one of my typical mystery thrillers. This marks the third time that Steve Sheinkin has been a Finalist: in 2012 for Bomb: The Race to Build―and Steal―the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon and in 2014 for The Port Chicago 50. Third times a charm? I suppose we shall see.
So who should win?
It’s not like I’m actually picking the winner, I could be completely wrong but this still feels like a huge decision. I’ve spent the last month or so reading these stories and I’m so excited to find out who’s going to be taking home this incredible honor. Having read all of the Finalists and experiencing the stories makes me feel more invested in the outcome. But, I suppose the whole point to this was to make an actual decision.
It’s so hard to really differentiate between the stories because they’re all so incredibly different. Mental Illness, Death, Fantasy, Magical Realism/Mythology, and Non-Fiction. They’re all in a category of their own so judging them all grouped together like that is a bit daunting. In terms of overall impressiveness, it boils down to two: Most Dangerous by Steve Sheinkin and Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman. I gave both of these stories 4.5 stars but for different reasons. Most Dangerous was an incredibly thrilling portrayal of a real-life event and Sheinkin’s research was impeccable. Challenger Deep was an amazing yet heartrending adventure into the mysteries of mental illness. I’ve read several stories about mental illness before and none affected me quite like this one did.
Argh. Clearly I’m being indecisive. I can’t pick two winners. So, drum-roll please…
If I had it my way, Challenger Deep would win the National Book Award. The uniqueness in the portrayal was immensely moving and it couldn’t have been a more authentically felt depiction. It wasn’t emotionally devastating just because that’s what one would expect, it wasn’t a story that started off about mental illness only to be sideswiped by a romance that came out of left field, and it wasn’t given an unreasonable happy-ending. It was sincere and genuine with artwork that only added to its appeal.
So there you have it! That’s my pick at least. 🙂 Be sure to check out the National Book Award site tomorrow (November 18th) for the actual winner.