Yes I'm way late in posting the results of my choices for the tournament. Please forgive me! Tip for everyone: DO NOT MOVE. It will wreck havoc on your life!
Anyways, I was very excited to be chosen as a first round judge for the Nerds Heart YA tournament because I'm trying to go outside my normal genres and read more general market fiction. However, when I saw the books that I would be judging I was a bit surprised. I appear to be the only mainly Christian fiction blogger in the first round judging list and I was given the only Christian fiction book in the entire tournament. Still though, the book was one of my favorite Christian YA reads of 2009 and the other book look interesting as it was one I normally would never have picked up so I was more than read for the challenge.
The two books I was chosen to read was Anything But Typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin (Simon and Schuster Children's 2009) and Me, Just Different by Stephanie Morrill (Revell 2009).
Jason Blake is an autistic 12-year-old living in a neurotypical world. Most days it’s just a matter of time before something goes wrong. But Jason finds a glimmer of understanding when he comes across PhoenixBird, who posts stories to the same online site as he does. Jason can be himself when he writes, and he thinks that PhoenixBird – her name is Rebecca – could be his first real friend. But as desperate as Jason is to meet her, he’s terrified that if they do meet, Rebecca will only see his autism and not who Jason really is.
This was VERY powerful read. I haven't read too many books that focus on autistic teens, the majority are either on children or adults and the majority of them are from someone else's perspective. Therefore this was one of the first books about autism from the actual autistic person's POV. Other books I've read have shown the autistic character to be nearly noncommunicable with the rest of the world. Here Jason is able to reach out to people, he just appears to choose not to at times. His world instead is in his writing and in the internet community he's allowed himself to be a part of. There he finds a kindred spirit in a girl who shares her stories with him and he responds by giving her tips. Jason begins to believe that she could possibly be his girlfriend.
There are several scenes that the reader feels horribly awkward being able to read into Jason's mind. That's always the case when you read something that's in first person but I just felt really bad for him at times and it's almost cringe worthy. I really like how he's incredibly creative and the stories that he would create. The qualm I had was more so that the book felt like a upper middle grade, young YA feel to it as opposed to an older YA audience.
Welcome to the world of Skylar Hoyt, a high school senior whose exotic Hawaiian looks have propelled her to the height of the "in" crowd, but who's no longer sure that's where she really fits. New friends, old friends, a reluctant romance, and a family crisis swirl around Skylar as she tries to keep it together and figure out who she really wants to be.
This book exemplifies why I think that Christian YA fiction is getting a lot better over the past few years. First off, the book features a POC character AND features her on the cover! And the cover model LOOKS exactly how the character is described in the book. As I've stated in the past, muti cultural characters are few and far between in adult Christian fiction, yet they seem to thrive in the YA world. This book deals with Skylar who is your average teenager trying to just fit in while meanwhile her family is in turmoil. Her sister has a secret that she's trying to hide from everyone and then there's the issue with her parents relationship as well. Plus there's boy trouble which every teen girl must face but it's done very realistic and one that most will be able to relate to.
By the way this is the first book in the series and I've read the second one and it's even better. Total props to Morrill for portraying realism in YA Christian fiction. Seriously major props. The book tackles issues that other Christian books just don't want to touch with a ten foot pole. This makes this book even more able to pass along to general market readers. It is not preachy at all and shows teens they are not alone in how they feel. The book shows what it's really like to be a teen and how hard it can be when you feel as if you are all alone in the world.
I enjoyed both books tremendously and it was a hard decision to pick between the two. Ultimately my vote went to: Me, Just Different.
My reasoning was that I connected more with Skylar than I did Jason, on many different levels. Also I felt that Me Just Different was more of a YA read than Anything But Typical as the protagonist is older and deals with more issues that many teens face. I also still preferred the chick lit feel of the second book but that was purely just my own preferences. I would highly recommend both books to be read. Anything But Typical for it's unique perspective and Me Just Different for those who haven't read any Christian YA and want to try it out.