Book Discussion Book Reviews Miscellaneous

Nerds Heart YA: The Verdict

Nerds Heart YA is an annual bracket-style tournament dedicated to appreciating and showcasing new titles that are underrepresented in YA fiction.

In 2011, the third year of the event, the central focus of the tournament continued to be on diversity, with a list of book contenders that were published in 2010, have received minimum press on blogs, and feature characters or are penned by authors that meet one of the following criteria:

  • Person(s) of Color (POC)
  • GLBT
  • Disability
  • Mental Illness
  • Religious Lifestyle
  • Lower Socioeconomic Status
  • Plus-size

This year, we were given the great honor of judging the final matchup of the tournament: What Momma Left Me by Renee Watson vs. Five Flavors of Dumb by Anthony John.

After careful consideration and deliberation, here are our thoughts regarding the final round verdict:

This was not an easy decision to make. First of all, although both books are Contemporary YA, they are extremely different in terms of writing style, voice and tone. What Momma Left Me is more serious with an extremely sad (yet hopeful) story whereas Five Flavors of Dumb is fun, sweet, and has a fairytale-ish feel to it (one which is totally awesome). We felt that both books absolutely deserved to be in the final round of this tournament, and we loved reading both books – although in all honesty, reading Five Flavors of Dumb was a more pleasant and easygoing experience overall for the both of us. Both books are excellent, both books meet the initial tournament criteria, and both books address diversity in completely different – yet equally legitimate – ways.

But, there has to be a winner. In the context of this competition – giving underrepresented, diverse titles a voice – we have picked What Momma Left Me as the winner.

Although there are quite a few poignant, important books about abuse, familial problems, sexuality, psychological issues, etc currently on the contemporary YA market, we haven’t really seen many books like What Momma Left Me. We haven’t seen many books about a socio-economic and racial minority growing up in a situation that is unfortunately very real and prevalent (at least, in the USA). Of all the contemporary YA titles we have seen, read, and reviewed, the characters are almost always white, and/or the stories are set in a suburban or middle class environment. While the hefty issues and ugly, gritty reality these titles deal with are significant and in no way less important than those in What Momma Left Me, we believe that the racial, social, and economic distinction is very important – especially in the context of this tournament.

We think What Momma Left Me – a beautifully written, heartbreaking novel about a young, black girl named Serenity dealing with the grief of loss, the burden of secrets, and the fear that she and her brother will repeat the pattern of their parents and peers – is an important story that speaks to a gap, or underrepresented area in Young Adult fiction today. Five Flavors of Dumb is a wonderful book: it’s fun, it’s exceptionally well-written, it’s uplifting, it addresses the serious topic of deafness in an awesome way, and we both loved it. The thing is, the novel is cut from the same cloth as the majority of contemporary YA today: yes, it effectively addresses disability and diversity, but it also does so from the relative safety of a suburban neighbourhood in Seattle (one of the most affluent cities in the United States).

In contrast, What Momma Left Me lingers and resonates as a poignant, understated, and heartbreakingly raw novel. And for us, it is the clear winner.

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  • rachel
    September 11, 2011 at 10:58 am

    Do you think the cover of What Momma Left Me does it a bit of a disservice? It looks really young, and kinda lightweight, and not at all like what you describe. Glad you didn’t judge by the cover!

  • capillya
    September 11, 2011 at 2:44 pm

    Dumb definitely put up a good fight! And What Momma Left Me sounds beautiful. I’m definitely going to have to check that one out. I agree with what Rachel said in regards to the cover, as well.

  • heidenkind
    September 11, 2011 at 3:41 pm

    Hooray! Loved that book. A well-deserved win, I think.

  • Thea
    September 11, 2011 at 4:01 pm

    Rachel and Capillya – Yup, we completely agree with you about the cover. When I first saw the cover, I immediately thought Middle Grade Cutesy Baking/Hallmark Happy Feelings book. And that is soooo not the case. On a brighter note, the paperback is being released later this year with a marginally better revised cover.

    I really hope you both get a chance to read and enjoy this book – both Ana and I certainly did.

    Heidenkind – It was a powerful read, wasn’t it? Glad you are pleased with the outcome! This was a very hard one to judge.

  • Antony John
    September 11, 2011 at 6:05 pm

    Congratulations to Renee. From all I’ve read, WHAT MOMMA LEFT ME is an extraordinarily powerful and well written novel. I look forward to reading it ASAP.

  • Jodie
    September 12, 2011 at 5:51 am

    Thanks so much for giving so much thought to your final decision. I’m looking forward to taking a look at ‘What Momma Left Me’ after your thoughts on the disconnect between the cover and the content (and hearing what a fab book you both thought it was). Awesome judging ladies 🙂

  • Laura @ ImBookingIt
    September 12, 2011 at 3:48 pm

    Yay! What Momma Left Me was a worthy contender, and I really like the criteria you used to decide– I struggled with comparing two very different books as well.

  • Heather
    September 12, 2011 at 5:27 pm

    Sounds like we had a similar situation with the books we had to judge against each other. And it looks like we used similar criteria. I went with WMLM for the same reasons you did; it just tells such a powerful story, one that needs to be heard. I’m truly glad it won.

  • Renee
    September 14, 2011 at 12:20 pm

    It is such an honor to have What Momma Left Me selected! Thank you Ana and Thea for such thoughtful reviews. The paperback will be out in March with a new cover!

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