Recently I was given the opportunity to be a judge in the Nerds Heart YA tournament. I read Bleeding Violet by Dia Reeves and Abe in Arms by Pegi Deitz Shea. I worked with Lisa at Lisa the Nerd in judging this round. We decided that Bleeding Violet would continue on in the tournament. I would recommend both of the books, but ultimately we had to pick just one and Hanna for all her oddity won our vote.
Bleeding Violet is the first of two books by Reeves that take place in the exceptionally strange town of Portero, TX. Hanna arrives in town to find her estranged mother because she needs a place to stay and is ultimately longing for acceptance. Hanna's father is dead, but continues to speak and appear only to Hanna. She left her aunt's house, believing she is dead after Hanna hit her over the head. Hanna also casually admits to suffering from both visual and auditory hallucinations. All this is why when Hanna begins to see odd things in the town the reader must wonder if they are real or simply manifestations of Hanna's illness. I will let you read it to decide, as by the end of the book I still was not sure. Complementing its odd subject matter and mind-boggling supernatural violence and action, Bleeding Violet is well-written; the reader is drawn to Hanna and her struggles, and roots for her to find a home filled with love.
The second book I read for the tournament is Abe in Arms. At first Abe seems to be a relatively normal teenager, albeit one who was rescued from the horrors of the Liberian civil war by a doctor and his family. He is a talented hurdler, close to his adopted brother, embarking on a serious relationship for the first time, and suffering from a form of post-traumatic stress disorder as a direct result of his experiences in the war. The book is a powerful reminder of the horrors many children must endure in war-torn areas of the world. There are intense segments of the book describing Abe's experiences as he struggles to face what he saw and did. The subject matter is haunting and disturbing, however what takes away from the power this book could have is the mediocre writing. The dialogue is stilted and unrealistic and the language used by Abe and others underplays the horrors rather than intensifying the emotional impact. This is a book that should have made me cry, I wanted to love it for its powerful message and emotion, but instead I had to create the impact the author was trying to make for myself.
I enjoyed participating in judging for the tournament. I intend to read other books in the bracket and would recommnend visiting the site (linked above) to check out the other titles.