Well, we all know THE FAULT IN OUR STARS is THE book of the year (so far!). When did we last have a contemporary, realistic fiction title with this much buzz and prepub excitement? It probably goes without saying, but if you are the one person who hasn’t read it yet, be sure to get to it before September. We might just launch with this one, since we know some folks are already spoiling for that fight!
Now, let’s talk about the books that you might not have read yet, but probably ought to if you want to play along. Finally, remember that any books with three or more stars is automatically a contenda, so if you’ve gotten to something we haven’t, do let us know in the comments what deserves to go the distance—or not.
Well, I’m sure this will come as a surprise, but the top of my list of what I’ve read that I think has contender possibilities is (are ya ready??) CODE NAME VERITY.
Yes, I like to keep you guessing.
The other book I’d like to revisit come September (I’m starting to think we need September theme music or something, since every other sentence around these parts is about September…) is Rachel Hartman’s SERAPHINA. I really enjoyed this one and like it more as I think on it: flawed, appealing main character, great world building, and some nice twisty plotting all very satisfying. I’m not sure it will go the distance, but it’s worth a closer look. Has anyone else read this yet? Thoughts?
From the auto-contender list, I (along with my local librarian’s book club) read BENEATH A METH MOON. We’ll be talking about it come September (cue theme music), and boy-howdy do I have an earful for you. I did find myself thinking about geography and demographics, and how those play out as regards emotional resonance of a contemporary story as I read this one, so would love to hear thoughts from those in the more central parts of the country. I’ve also read DOUBLE and am waiting to see if it picks up a third star. It’s a bit too neat for my taste, but I think YA mystery is awfully hard to pull off.
Finally, on the train home tonight I started KEEPING THE CASTLE (which Sarah has already finished and mentions below). YUM! It’s frothy and funny and really, humor is just so difficult. Plus, it’s a great fit for my Downton-obsessed students (10th grade) and fellow FitzOsborne fans.
Next up? Finishing KEEPING THE CASTLE, then on to AMELIA ANNE IS DEAD AND GONE.
FROI OF THE EXILES has all the good stuff you’d expect from Melina Marchetta—strong characterizations, emotionally compelling story telling, drama, love, bravery, sacrifice… but it’s the middle volume of a trilogy and I am having complicated feeeeelings about the stand-alone-ness. For a couple of reasons (the stand alone issue, but I’ve also got a few issues with the world building and story) I am putting this down as something to keep your eyes on, something we’ll discuss further in the fall, but I’m not ready to champion this title as a solid contender. However… you might disagree with me, and that would make for some excellent comment discussion!
THE OBSIDIAN BLADE: I’ll be honest, I’m only ¼ of the way through, and I think I need to give it more of a chance—word is, this one has three stars. I may have been cranky while reading it because I felt like the characters were uninteresting and only there to carry the plot. However, since I stopped reading so early, I feel like I need to give it more of a chance. Jamie has already sounded off about it, but this is a title with three stars—anyone want to fight about it?
THE FINAL FOUR: I love reading Paul Volponi! His fiction is smart and subtle and I always spend a lot of time thinking about his books, and his characters, afterwards. Set in the final minutes of an NCAA game’s overtime, the story moves back and forth in time, showing us the game’s action and the players’ histories. The writing is solid, but what really shines is the careful structure and varied format (he includes newspaper articles, interviews with players, etc). It’s early in the year, so I’m curious to see if this one has legs.
KEEPING THE CASTLE: A retelling/mash-up of Jane Austen’s Emma and Cinderella—so funny, so much fun! The literary allusions are well done, and the mixing of the two elements (comedy of manners and fairy tale) is really smooth. Although this is easily my favorite read so far, I’m not convinced that it will be a heavy hitter this year. Perhaps you disagree with my assessment? If so, let’s talk in the comments!
Next up: I need to go back and look at OBSIDIAN BLADE again, and I’ve got Tanita Davis’s HAPPY FAMILIES about ⅓ finished. Oh, and I’m ¾ of the way through AMELIA ANNE IS DEAD AND GONE, too. I’m also planning to take a look at Natasha Friend’s MY LIFE IN BLACK AND WHITE and ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL by Jesse Andrews.
BOY21, by Matthew Quick—full disclosure: Quick was my youngest sister’s most beloved English teacher in high school, so my feeeeeelings about his books are hard to separate from their quality. I will say that I loved this auto-contender story of two boys from disparate backgrounds, working through terrible pain in different ways, for whom basketball is a saving grace in more ways than one. Strong suits here are the dialogue, sense of place (Philadelphia & its more blue collar, economically depressed environs) and, of course, the excellent evocation of life on the court. I have some doubts about its contender likelihood, due to an emotionally satisfying but not really believable plot development at the very end, but it’s going to be a book we discuss in more depth, for sure.
THE DISENCHANTMENTS, by Nina LaCour—This auto-contender should have me written all over it: indie rock, road trip, long-term unrequited love. It’s full of my literary catnip! Which is why I’m perplexed by my overall “meh” reaction, and wonder if it was an “it’s not you, lovely book, it’s ME” thing, since my reading of it was interrupted by several other books. I will probably circle back to it, with a view towards character development & themes, especially, since I remember thinking at the time that the secondary characters (sisters Alexa and Meg) were more interesting and well-developed than Colby and Bev, and the themes (leaving the nest, letting go of long-cherished hopes of love) seemed a little thinly examined. I’m willing to be argued with and possibly convinced otherwise, though!
THERE IS NO DOG, by Meg Rosoff—Like CHIME and THE GIRL WHO CIRCUMNAVIGATED FAIRYLAND, this is a book where voice is everything, and if you don’t buy it, the book as a whole won’t work for you. I appreciate that Rosoff is paying homage to satiric greats such as Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams with this auto-contender—and really, if you’re going to write a book mocking all of creation, from a 3rd person omniscient perspective, those are THE inspirations to draw on. Sadly, the voice here feels his feels derivative, not like she’s bringing something new to the table. Again, I’m willing to be convinced, so marshal your arguments in the comments, please!
THE DROWNED CITIES, by Paolo Bacigalupi—I’m only on Chapter 5, but I predict this multiple star-earning companion to Bacigalupi’s 2011 Printz winning SHIP BREAKER will be a contender for the Pyrite Printz. Between a super-compelling setting, echoes of ecological and geopolitical problems we’re facing right now, and characters in various perilous situations that feel both real and epically mythic, this is a strong possibility. See, I can wrap up on a positive note!
Next up: PERSONAL EFFECTS, by E.M. Kokie, THE LIST, by Siobhan Vivian, IF ONLY, by Carole Geithner, and CATCH & RELEASE, by Blythe Woolston.