I’ve been reading like madwoman lately, trying to get through any books that anyone I know has mentioned favorably in the context of award getting. I have one more (Brooklyn Burning) that I want to finish and one review from our original contenda list left to post (Beauty Queens), and Sarah’s been working on a pile of her own, so we’ll get all that up this week. But MOSTLY what we’re going to give you this week is a Mock Printz of (y)our own. The list will post tomorrow, and we’ll give until probably midnight Wednesday to vote, and then do honor book polls with the goal to post all results by Saturday, just as the REAL committee is finishing their own discussions, decisions, and votes.
But I’m jumping ahead, because what this post is really about the last minute reading I’ve been doing.
It felt young, and I’m realizing that when I say that, I mean it as a damning thing when we’re talking Printz contendas. It means a suspicion of pulled punches and things smoothed over and a slightly false happy/resolved ending. None of these are flaws in a book for a younger readership because there are developmental realities and reasons to pull some punches, but when I think about more mature readers, it does seem like a flaw. Pulled punches/too easy: The hero teacher, who is delightful but a type more than a character; the librarian who gives Velveeta keys to the library, which was just insane; Travis’s sudden ability to restrain his temper: all it took was a little TLC. Come to that, a little TLC gets him reading, which also seemed too easy. And the fact that he’s been skating by for all this time unable to read but five minutes at a new school and everyone has sussed it out renders the entire premise problematic. Plus, with all these dedicated concerned adults around, are we really meant to believe no one has ever, say, called social services on Velveeta? (Clearly Travis’s old town was full of unconcerned adults, although you’d expect the parental deaths plus fighting plus presumably bad grades to have triggered something.)
All that said, this is genuinely touching, well written, and a moving tale of friendship and starting over after the bad stuff, with two really great protagonists, especially Velveeta (although she might be a little too Star Girl) and I think this is a powerful book for a middle school collection. The flaws are minor in any context other than award predicting, so do take a look at this relative sleeper, although I’d be surprised if it gets any nods next Monday and I’m disappointed it didn’t even get a BFYA nomination—maybe next year.
Next: checking titles off my Top 5 Books I didn’t get to, I picked up Kendare Blake’s Anna Dressed in Blood, which grabbed my attention and didn’t let it go until I finished it (the same day, because this is definitely a fast read). Totally engaging, and the package is a stunner: this new trend towards colored ink is wonderful; see also Legend and Linger). In this case, it’s dark red, easy on the eyes and perfect for the novel. The plot itself is nicely paced, the main character is likable, and the mythology is original enough (although the fact that Buffy gets mentioned overtly and is riffed on—character names Will Rosenberg and Chase, plus some other details—and yet the term Scooby Gang never appears seemed like a pop culture fail). In the end, this is commercial fare, well deserving of a Best Fiction nod–lots of appeal, solid quality—but not a contenda in any real way. It’s going to be great fun to booktalk, though, and makes a solid read-alike for Holly Black’s Curse Worker trilogy.
Finally, and I saved the best for last, in the sense of best meaning most deserving of discussion in these parts, I finally read Pete Hautman’s The Big Crunch. It’s refreshingly different in some ways, and utterly familiar in others. And it needs to be reread, because it seems almost dull and ploddy, but I suspect that that’s the very unusual narrative voice at work, and I think it’s deceptive.
So let’s talk about that voice, which is worth noting even if it doesn’t always succeed. The narrative switches between June (not, despite the flap copy, Jen, and that’s a pretty massive error and for a committee looking closely at design and accuracy would be an issue regardless of anything else at all about the book) and Wes, two ordinary-enough teenagers who fall in love. And when I say switches, I mean paragraph to paragraph sometimes. Early on the effect is to heighten the sense of inevitability: clearly they are going to fall for one another, but it’s teased out. Because this is not a love at first sight story, except–flaw alert–it kind of is, because once it gets going, they fall madly in love really fast. The third person/perspective shifting narrative is very dry and factual, a curious choice for a story about love, but the almost clinical recounting of events works: love is complex and strange and this allows that aspect of love to come through. Plus, props for originality.
But it also flattens character development to the point of nonexistent. I don’t know Wes or June, so it’s hard to cheer for them as a couple when both of them are ciphers. This, however, is where a reread might change things; there are some details given and others that emerge in dialogue, and I wonder if a fuller portrait would come through with closer scrutiny? Or maybe not, and it’s just a bit substance-free, but reviews are mostly positive and it did get a nomination for Best Fiction. So I’m not predicting this one but it might have been a contenda earlier in the game.
If any of these were particular favorites of yours and you want to plug their Printz-worthiness, we’d love to hear your thoughts!
Pub details: Bluefish, Candlewick Sept 2011, reviewed from final copy; Anna Dressed in Blood, Tor August 2011, reviewed from final copy; The Big Crunch, Scholastic Jan 2011, reviewed from final copy.