Monday, June 13, 2011

Nerds Heart YA - First round winner!

Today is the day! The first judging decisions of the Nerds Heart YA Tournament are revealed!

To review, the Nerds Heart YA Tournament is a way to publicize fantastic YA books with diverse characters and settings that didn't get a whole lot of buzz last year. Nominations were accepted online, and the Nerds Heart YA team, composed of dedicated book bloggers, narrowed the list down to 32 titles. From these 32 books, there will emerge the 2011 Nerds Heart YA Champion!

Heather from Book Addiction and I co-judged the following two books in this first round of judging. Take a look at the brackets to see what else is coming up soon!



The Red Umbrella by Christina Diaz Gonzalez
published May 2010 by Random House
288 pages (hardcover), MG/YA

Fourteen year-old Lucia, her little brother Frankie, and her parents are living in Cuba at the start of Castro's Revolution in 1961. This doesn't mean much for Lucia because she's your average Cuban girl - interested in fashion, American magazines, and of course, boys. But the Revolution recruited followers for only so long before it became mandatory to outwardly support Castro or be labeled a rebel and punished as an enemy. This means that either Lucia and her brother sign up for Castro's youth camps or they get sent to the U.S. to try to find a better life. Lucia's parents made the painful decision to send their children away as a part of Operation Pedro Pan, so they flew to Miami, Florida and were taken in by a Catholic church with many Cuban members. From there, the brother and sister were moved to a foster family in Nebraska, who took them in and treated them as their own.

Goodness gracious, how I loved this book! I'm astonished at how much I liked it since historical fiction isn't a genre I normally read. But I felt like this book wasn't boxed in by genre labels. The Cuban Revolution provided a very distinct context for the story, but the story itself - a family torn apart because of their beliefs, immigrating to another country for a better life, and hoping to reunite - could be plopped into a variety of cultures and/or time periods. Knowing that the book was largely based on the author's parents' personal experiences was a huge bonus because it added that authenticity I would have questioned otherwise. And when a book is that personal, I think the writing really shines. It was such an emotionally-charged story, and the characters and settings were so well-developed that I felt like I knew Lucia and could walk through her Cuban town. When they moved to the U.S., I felt how scared they were that they wouldn't see their parents, that they would even be separated from each other, but how brave they were trying to be so that they could make it on their own. And thank goodness a wonderful and kind family fostered them because I was not going to have a sad ending in this book! That's all I'll say - please go read it if you haven't! It's a gem.

Tell Us We're Home by Marina Budhos
published May 2010 by Simon & Schuster
297 pages (hardcover), MG/YA

This book is told in different perspectives by three eighth-grade immigrant girls who find comfort in their shared otherness and become friends - Jaya, Maria, and Lola. They live in Meadowbrook, New Jersey but come from different parts of the world, and their mothers are all nannies and/or maids. The girls struggle to fit in at school and to experience what it's truly like to be American.

I liked this book. In my mind, I kept comparing it to The Help by Kathryn Stockett (which if you haven't read, you need to go do so - like right now) because the mothers in Tell Us We're Home were, in fact, the help. I could relate to much of the book because I come from an immigrant family too, and even though our life situations were different, the feelings of being an outsider and not quite understanding the culture were very familiar. Although I liked getting to know three characters from distinct backgrounds, I felt like I often got their cultures confused, got the characters themselves confused because each chapter jumped from one character to another. And there wasn't one that I was really interested in - they each had a unique story, I guess I just didn't connect with that part. That being said, I think it's a good story, and a story that needs more telling because the immigrant experience is so vast and diverse.

The Red Umbrella by Christina Diaz Gonzalez wins in the First Round of Nerds Heart YA!

While Heather and I liked both books, we both LOVED The Red Umbrella and declared it our clear winner. Yay! I can't wait to see how the other battles go...



Lenore Appelhans said...

How exciting! I really enjoyed THE RED UMBRELLA too.

Jan von Harz said...

Although I have not read Tell Us When We're Home I have read The Red Umbrella and really enjoyed it. I also agree that while the historical aspect of the book was important it did not define the book as much as the family relationship and Lucia and Frankie's struggle to adjust to American culture without loosing sight of their heritage. Thanks for posting about round one.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for taking part in the tournament :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for a great review guys! You know I have to go fin The Red Umbrella now and add it to my TBR List :)

I'm really looking forward to the remaining brackets of NHYA2011 now.

Michelle from Pineapples & Pyjamas

ivanova said...

I read and loved Tell Us We're Home, but now I want to read Under The Red Umbrella too!

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