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Season 4, Episode 8

Battle of the Book

March 3, 2022

Hosts Charity and Jen share their divergent opinions on the same book, Jasmine Warga's Shape of Thunder. Book recommendations for young adult and middle grade readers.

Titles Mentioned in This Episode

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Charity 0:01 This is Charity and Jen of Planet Book brought to you by the Springfield-Greene County Library District. On each episode we discuss our favorite YA and middle grade books and anything else having to do with reading. Got a book or topic you'd like to hear us talk about email us at Thanks for joining us. I am super excited for this episode. So anyone who's been listening for a while now, you know that each season we do an episode that I call battle of the book, where we take one book and we talk about our differing views. And I'm excited to have this conversation, Jen, because up until now, we have been pretty similar in our takes on books. But here is one that we are completely opposite on.

Jen 0:43 Yes, yes and the funny thing is, I suggested this book because I thought I was going to love it, and that you would hate it because I can't even remember my rationale. It was because you weren't as in love with the first book as a lot of people were, which I have not read. What's the honoree book?

Charity 1:03 Other Words for Home was the one she got the Newbery Honor for. So we're talking about Jasmine Warga's Shape of Thunder today. And if that sounds familiar, she is the author of Other Words for Home, which was the Newbery Honor winner. And I did read that one. I did not enjoy that one nearly as much as this one. So let's get into it. Shape of Thunder is the story of two girls, Cora and Quinn, whose lives really have been rocked by a tragedy. I think we can say what it is, I'm trying to see.

Jen 1:41 Oh you can. They say it on the cover.

Charity 1:45 Quinn's brother, Parker, he does a school shooting. Quinn and Cora are best friends, but Quinn's brother Parker in that school shooting ends up killing Cora's sister. And so that, of course, has destroyed their friendship. And they both are grieving in their own ways, and trying to deal with the fallout and the loss and all of that. So Warga is really dealing with some big, big themes here. So I'll just say I liked it. I gave it four stars on Goodreads. I thought it was very well written. I loved those characters. I loved the way Warga handles all of the issues. I thought it was beautiful.

Jen 2:33 Okay, and here I'll say this, for me, I gave it three stars, which is just, it's a book, it's a good book. And I recognize she writes beautifully. The characters were as in terms of representation, they were like, they were not two dimensional. They were very well representative of the cultures they come from. And I'm impressed that she was taking on the topic because as I was doing the research, I saw that there have been a lot of books kind of about this topic written for high schoolers, but not a lot for middle schoolers. And what my problem was, is I've read the adult books that have been written for this topic. So they hit the adult books I read, hit me in a way that was just so gut wrenching, like the title I read. So when I was reading this, because you do need to be a little bit more delicate with the subject, it didn't touch me because so many of the characters were in their heads. I wasn't-it's okay that she avoided the action, but if not, like there was a little bit of action missing on some level for me to really draw me in.

Charity 3:47 I think that's fair. I too have read some adult fiction titles that are on a similar topic. The one that I'm thinking of is oh- is it We Need to Talk About Kevin?

Jen 3:59 Well, and which is funny, because that was like a four star for me and you gave it two stars. So-

Charity 4:04 Did I really?

Jen 4:05 Well, but the characters are really unlikable.

Charity 4:08 They are but looking back on it now I liked it as much as you can like a book like that. So that one is definitely for adults. But yeah, Warga definitely, yYou don't get any of the action as far as like the school shooting itself.

Jen 4:23 And the thing is, when you've read a book on that level, that's like, kept you thinking about it for months after reading it, like it's in your brain and the whole like, we have no real idea exactly. Like it's such a weird topic, because I don't think you can point to one thing, because even I think that Warga does make a good point that the availability of guns sure doesn't help that the kid could just go in and get a gun out of his parents' gun cabinet. That doesn't help. But in We Need to Talk About Kevin he uses a different weapon. He uses arrows and now people are using cars. And so there's like an anger that's at root of this that it's not just explained by a weapon I think.

Charity 5:12 My only criticism or the only thing I would have liked to see from this is a little more delving into Parker's story. But Parker, you know, the characters talk about him. But he does not speak for himself in this story. And so you're just hearing Cora and Quinn's-you're in their heads and their perspective and respective feelings about their loss and grief or whatever. But there was no explanation of why Parker does what he does. And I would have liked to see that like. But I understand why she didn't include that.

Jen 5:49 I think at some point, I think it's Cora's character that's thinking and she's like, yeah, only four people were shot. We were off the news. After a month, nobody thought about it. Like you have these people that have died, you know, and we are so jaded. As a culture right now that, you know, that doesn't even register as news after a couple of days.

Charity 6:12 I liked that she kind of, in a way, makes some commentary on certain aspects of our culture. And that's one of them. I mean, but there are so many, not just school shootings, but just mass shootings that, like you talk about one for a couple of days, well, there's probably, you know, like, you almost have to move on, because there's a new story happening. I also appreciated that she talks a little bit about race, but it's really just kind of a bystory. But Cora's character is half Lebanese. And she talks about that experience of being biracial, and what that's like, and as someone who's biracial myself, like I really related to that, and I appreciated seeing that depicted in the story. And it's not about that, which I also appreciated. But you know, and so you really kind of get to see all of Cora's struggles.

Jen 7:11 She came to the country laters so she doesn't remember much about Lebanon. And so I've had a lot of friends, even that were mixed race that were full blooded, whatever country that came from, and if they moved here at a young age, everything through their culture is through an American lens to a certain extent. Like their Asian food is made with whatever ingredients you can get in a town of 600 versus having some super authentic experience. And I think a lot of times when they talk about race, they act like there's a one and only authentic experience out there. And I really did appreciate that she had a nuanced relationship with her dad and her mom's side. It was interesting on both levels.

Charity 8:01 Well, and that's the other piece too. I wish they had talked about-we don't know what happened to mom. Cora's mom is not in the picture but we don't know why. And but-I don't know you said the characters like the story didn't move you but especially near the end, and you really see Quinn and Cora's stories, like, I don't know, sort of coming to a head, like to me the emotions in those scenes just felt so palpable. And you're like, oh, like, and so when it finally resolves itself, like it was such a release, and the ending was so satisfying.

Jen 8:39 Oh, I know and I'm on Goodreads and that's what people get out of this book so I'm over here feeling like the Grinch with some small small heart, because literally the last couple of chapters, I am rolling my eyes, because they're inner dialoguing so much.

Charity 8:57 No, Jen, no.

Jen 8:59 I'm horrible. I'm a horrible person.

Charity 9:01 Listeners, listeners. Don't pay any attention to that. Those last two chapters are beautiful. And they are almost like heart wrenching. Oh, Jen. Like-

Jen 9:13 I know, I don't know. It must have just been like the wrong time to read the book. I will admit that I did read They Both Die at the End right after and I sobbed, ugly cried for thirty minutes straight after that one.

Charity 9:30 Okay, so I haven't read that one but that's YA isn't it?

Jen 9:32 Oh, yeah, that's YA that I just had been. Like I said, I'm not the most current reader always. So I have a lot of catch up to do. And that one had been on my radar for a long time. And so I was just like, I need a good cry and I didn't get a good cry. So we'll give this one a shot. And let me tell you it was fine until that last couple of chapters and then ugly cry so much.

Charity 9:57 Really. Okay. Well, I haven't read that one. So I have to put that one on my list because I like a, I guess I like a difficult story with complex characters. And I feel like in this book, the characters are both complex, like really all of them, the dad, the parents, like they're, they're all complex. Also, what I appreciated about this, so there are lots of middle grade titles that have come out in the last few years that deal with loss and grief. And I feel like so many of them really tried to, like, give you this message about, I don't know, moving on whatever, but they try to give you a message and I don't feel like she does that here. Cora and Quinn, both struggle.

Jen 10:40 Yeah, what she does sort of remote is like one of the kids is in therapy. And one one of the kids needs to be in therapy. So therapy is valuable, it's good, seek it out, especially if you go through something horrible, especially since our kids, the students that go through because their shooter drills every year. I mean, that's their existence. That's the kind of trauma they have to worry with. So I appreciate that she wrote it, and I appreciate that she didn't glamorize the shooter in any way. He didn't get very much time in the story, which that was actually okay with me, because I don't think anyone ever really knows why these kids do this. Like, each time it's going to be different for each kid.

Charity 11:23 True, true.

Jen 11:25 And we don't need to glorify this right. So I appreciate that she didn't. But for whatever reason, it was just too much inner dialogue for me to be able to like, accept, but it could have again, been my headspace when I read it. I think I'm in the minority. And I honestly think this could win the Newbery.

Charity 11:47 You know what? When I finished it, I was like, this is what should win the Newbery. And I don't know, like, I don't know, I have to go back and see what I said about Other Words for Home. And that one was well written too. But I just-I did not like that one at all. And this one, it was like, oh, Jasmine Warga. Like, this is the book. Like, can I just put a Newbery medal on it?

Jen 12:10 Her first book, My Heart and Other Dark Places, or something like that?

Charity 12:12 I haven't read that one.

Jen 12:13 That sounds like it would totally be my kind of book. So I'm not, I'm not gonna give up. I'm not. I will go back and start with her first stuff and maybe that'd be fun to watch how she progresses.

Charity 12:28 I liked it a lot. I mean, as far as middle grade titles dealing with loss and grief, I think this is probably one of the better ones. I have a Pinterest board where I put the books that I read. So I keep track of things on Goodreads, but I have my Pinterest board where I put my favorites. So this made it to Pinterest. So I'd probably put it in one of my favorites that I've read this year.

Jen 12:48 This whole experience made me think we need an episode on what our ratings mean, and why we give certain books certain ratings, because to me, a three is not a bad rating. It just means like, I'm not gonna buy it. And I don't know that I'll even suggest this to kids. Because most kids are wanting to read comedies, Charity. They're like, what's a funny book I should read? Well, it's not going to be this one.

Charity 13:16 Jen. Okay, I, on the other hand, will happily recommend this book for those kids. And once in a while I do see those kids, they like stories that are all about the characters, or they want a hard story. And I've even had kids come into the library, and they're like, I want a sad story. So I think this book, this fits the bill. But you know, and it is a sad story but as much as kind of what happens can resolve nicely, she does give it a good, hopeful ending. And I even kind of like that moment, like Cora and Quinn come up with this kind of bizarre solution that in their middle grade minds, they think will kind of fix things, and you know that this isn't going to happen. And so there's like really a lot of suspense that she builds in to making you wonder like, okay, this isn't gonna happen. So like, how are they going to respond to that? And so when that moment happens, it's like, I don't know, like my heart just, I don't know, almost broke for them. Because it's like, they finally had to come to grips with what had happened. And they hadn't really and to me that was just so tender. And I enjoyed it. Okay, initially you said you hated it, but really would kind of just say meh about it?

Jen 14:34 Yeah, I didn't hate it. I intellectually can see how it's a good book. It didn't touch me. And it could be that like that threshold just been too high. Because yeah, I'm comparing it to Elephant, the movie by Gus Van Sant and then We Need to Talk About Kevin. Those two things hit me so hard that maybe they just emptied my tank on this topic. So hopefully the middle graders will-we don't think they've been watching those kinds of things so yes, that should be a good read for them. But still, I think it's going to be the kids that want to read the Newberys, want to, you know, really get into literature with a capital L.

Charity 15:16 On a slightly related note, I'm curious how many books you will read by an author before you're like, nope, I'm done reading their books. Because you said you would continue would read her other things. But like, how many books would you read by an author if you know?

Jen 15:31 I think that's what disappointed me about this one so much is I really was expecting I would like, love it. Like, I was really like, this is such a cool way to approach this topic. I would definitely read her first one. And then if I didn't like that, I'd be like, well, I don't like where she is as much now and I don't like where she was then.

Charity 15:53 Yeah, I think I'm the same way. Like, I'll give you a couple of books. But if I don't like either one of them, I'm probably not going to read anymore. And there are some other middle grade authors I'm like, meh. I'm not going to revisit you. But you know, maybe like, I want to know what you think if you read Other Words for Home. Like I want to, if you end up trying that one, I'd love to know what your-

Jen 16:15 If I love it and then you were like, meh. That's what you were. You didn't hate it. You're just like, meh.

Charity 16:18 Well, yeah, a little bit less than meh. So like but-

Jen 16:22 It was problematic in some areas maybe.

Charity 16:25 I didn't. But this one, two thumbs up, put a Newbery medal on that cover as far as I'm concerned.

Jen 16:32 Yay, okay.

Charity 16:36 Oh, well, this has been fun. We had differing views. I'll recommend it; Jen will not but decide for yourself. Find it at your local library. Thanks for joining us for another episode. Send your book and show suggestions or comments to We'd love to hear from you. Check out the library's website at the for these and other great book recommendations and follow us on Facebook for the latest news and events. This has been a production of the Springfield-Greene County Library District. Thanks for listening.

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