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)
- Mental Illness
- Religious Lifestyle
- Lower Socioeconomic Status
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.