It’s the semi final round of the Nerds Heart YA competition! In this bracket, we have:
Rowan the Strange by Julie Hearn vs. Last Night I Sang to the Monster by Benjamin Alire Sáenz. Both books were very good, which isn’t surprising, since they’ve made it this far in the competition. Both books feature teen boys in mental institutions, but after that similarity, they are very, very different books.
Rowan the Strange is set in England during WWII. Rowan is 13 years old, and having an increasingly hard time dealing with the voices in his head– voices that lead him to break his sister’s fingers when she won’t stop playing the piano when he asks. His family takes him to a hospital that says they can help, using the very latest techniques. Rowan and another teen, Dorothea, become early test cases for electroshock therapy. The treatment has some of the expected effects, but the results also offer some surprises.
Last Night I Sang To the Monster is a contemporary novel. Zach is 18 and in rehab. He doesn’t know what led to his stay there, and he really, really doesn’t want to remember. He’s bright and very articulate. The book is first person, and at times goes into stream of consciousness as he wrestles with his past and present. His therapy doesn’t get any more experimental than Breathwork, but the effects on him are explosive.
Advancing to the next round is Last Night I Sang to the Monster.
Both books are worthy of advancing, and an argument could be made either way.
Both books feature strong characters, although I’d give Last Night the edge here– both for the main character and the supporting characters.
The books are aimed at different age groups– I’ll suggest Rowan to my 12 year old daughter, but Last Night will wait a few years.
I think Rowan probably has a wider audience, and not just due to the wider age range. I think most readers will be able to appreciate it, and I can see several reasons that people would reject Last Night. It has much more of an edge to it, with graphic descriptions of past incidents, in Zach’s life as well as others he’s living with.
This edginess is probably what gave Last Night such an impact, and that’s what my decision comes down to. I was in tears many times during my reading of Last Night, and even the more intense scenes of Rowan didn’t have that impact on me. Both books have haunted me since reading them, but Last Night I Sang to the Monster isn’t letting up.
I’m not sure I would have picked up either of these books if it wasn’t for judging this competition, and I’m very glad I did. I’ll be looking at more of the nominated books, and not just the ones that immediately call to me.
Please consider buying both books (or getting them from your library). Read them. Review them. Spread the word!
Lenore from Presenting Lenore is tasked with making the final decision on September 3, and I don’t envy her at all!