The Political Refugee vs. The Coal Miner – Nerds <3 YA Decision

The Nerds <3 YA tournament is designed to showcase some of the best under-recognized YA Literature for a given year – especially YA literature that revolves around under-represented people groups. I am a second-round judge deciding between Melissa Wyatt’s “Funny How Things Change” and Lyn Miller-Lachmann’s “Gringolandia.” If you would like to see the Round 1 decisions that sent these books on to me, they were at Good Books and Good Wine and Pineapples and Pyjamas.

Gringolandia by Lyn Miller-Lachmann

Daniel has been living in Madison, Wisconsin with his mother and sister for about six years when his father Marcelo is released from prison in Chile, where he has been tortured by Pinochet’s government as a political prisoner. The man that arrives at their house in 1986 is not remotely the same man that Daniel’s family remembers being taken away in 1980. Marcelo is partially paralyzed on one side from a blow to the head and can’t stand being touched. Worse, he cannot get close to his wife and children, continually pushing them away. ┬áHe hates himself for living up in Gringolandia while many of his friends and colleagues are still being tortured. Things get even more complicated when Daniel’s girlfriend Courtney gets involved in trying to get Marcelo to share his experiences.

Funny How Things Change by Melissa Wyatt

Remy Walker is ready to get out of Dwyer, West Virginia. The town is more or less dying anyway, and Remy’s girlfriend Lisa is about to leave for college in Pennsylvania, and she has asked Remy to go with her. They aren’t exactly sure how to fund their getaway and their life together, but it doesn’t matter, because Lisa’s determined to get out and Remy loves her and doesn’t want to lose her. He already decided to finish high school instead of transferring to technical school to become a certified mechanic – a job he loves – just so he could stay with her, so why wouldn’t he follow her to Pennsylvania?

The Decision

Both of these books are well-written, but I have this thing where books about coal miners or coal mining towns don’t seem to do anything for me. I’m thinking “American Rust” and “The Ballad of Trenchmouth Taggart.” So, really, “Gringolandia” had the advantage even before I cracked open the first book. And don’t get me wrong, “Funny How Things Change” is a great book. This is a first time a book with this sort of setting and themes has gotten me to care about the characters, even if it still took me about 100 pages. “Gringolandia,” though, is not only well-written, but also fearless. The book opens with Marcelo being taken from his family, followed by his torture at the hands of the guards. I loved how complex the emotions were in “Gringolandia” and how Miller-Lachmann didn’t dumb any of the reality of the situation down for her YA audience. I think “Gringolandia” is important for the message and history it imparts while also being an engaging compelling read that should appeal to the YA audience while also crossing over well for adult readers

“Gringolandia” by Lyn Miller-Lachmann moves on

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