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Someday My Printz Will Come
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More on the Awards

InDarkness More on the Awards

In Darkness, with its Printzly bling on display!

Apologies for the radio silence! Almost as soon as the YMAs were over, it was time for an annual conference on education and technology, and I’m afraid I switched gears 100% from my book self to my tech self, and the blog was the poorer for it.

We will be taking a brief hiatus soon (and actually, readers, how long that will be is something we’d like some input on, but not today), but the past week was just a question of poorly planning for a conference that has significant impact on mine and Sarah’s lives.

With the excuses out of the way, and the high emotions hopefully down to a simmer…

A huge thank you to the RealCommittee, who read and read and read all year! As a YA librarian, as a reader, and as someone who has served on that committee (and unpaid, volunteer position, glory notwithstanding), I truly appreciate how hard they worked and how thoughtfully they deliberated. We wouldn’t be here without them!

Now, how ’bout that Printz award??

Here’s our score:

Readership: 4/5 (Oh, The White Bicycle, how you came out of nowhere! Also noteworthy is that I appear to be hogging the best books to myself when it comes to reviews. Next year, I will be a better sharer.)

Heart books: 1/5 (Plus the Morris for Seraphina, so it feels as good as 2/5)

Head books: 1.5/5 (I’m giving myself .5 for In Darkness, which I at least mentioned in my head list.)

Pyrite awards: .5/5 (Our Pyrite winner only took an honor in the RealPrintz, which I think means we can’t take full credit for getting it. And not one of our Pyrite Honor titles made it, which surprised me — I thought the groupthink would be more accurate than the bloggerthink of our predictions.)

Prediction books: 2/5 (Right? We called a wildcard, and The White Bicycle is certainly that.)

When I tally it all up, I’m reasonably satisfied from the heart end — the two titles I most wanted to see recognized this year, from both the head and the heart, were Code Name Verity and Seraphina, and both were recognized even if not both for the Printz. And although I’m sad for Railsea, since I think some award love was its only chance to be more widely read, I’m not surprised or even disappointed by its failure to medal.

And 2 out of 5 predictions, even if one of the two was a bet-hedging sort of prediction, is a sight better than last year. By next year, look for us to — no, who am I kidding? It’s all just guesses. Educated, considered guesses, but still.

So let’s look at what we said about the books that did win/honor, and see if we saw the qualities the committee recognized.

The honor books:

Aristotle and Dante: So very very relieved we managed to cover this one, even if it was at the very 11th hour! I said, “I finished this filled with admiration and respect for the writing.” Of course, I then went on to say, “while I don’t think it will make the top 5 for RealPrintz, I do believe this is a book the committee must have discussed (or be discussing, possibly right now!) — it is a quiet but noteworthy book.” So while I didn’t think it would go the distance, I did think it had shortlist written all over it, and now I find myself wanting to reread it, to see how it holds up and deepens on a more thoughtful and thorough scrutiny.

Code Name Verity: I said, “this is, for my money, the runaway best written book of the year. And yes, I loved it, but that’s not actually the point at all. The point is that this is a masterwork of writing, full of literary flourishes, tightly plotted, rich in character, well-grounded in reality, haunting in setting, and just hitting it out of the park on so many levels. It deserves the Printz.” And while the RealCommittee consensus might not have given it the gold, I don’t think anyone doubts just how amazing this book is (well, except maybe Mark) or that it deserved some award bling.

Dodger: I read, and enjoyed, Dodger quite a lot but I have a lot of emotions about Terry Pratchett and his writing — I’ve been reading and loving his books since age 12, and introducing him when he spoke at NYPL a little over a decade ago remains a highlight of my professional and personal life. Also, Nation‘s honor was my RealCommittee year. Which is why I haven’t reviewed Dodger on record, but Sophie did, and said, “I realize it’s not perfect — certainly not with regard to accuracy, which we’ll get to in a moment — but it is almost perfectly put together, and is certainly enough of an exemplar of voice, style and thematic development that I hope the 2013 RealCommittee will take a serious look (or maybe a second look) at it.” She then went on to champion it specifically for the silver, rather than the gold, and she was spot on.

The White Bicycle: We haven’t seen it. In fact, it look like pretty much no one has seen it. However, I have to also confess that between the cover and the rather awful flap copy, even if this had passed my desk, I probably would have passed on it, because really, we do judge books by their covers. I’m so glad that first RealCommittee reader took a chance, and I’m looking forward to it. But I also think this is a book that begs some clarification of the eligibility statement, which says a book must have a US edition in the eligibility period. In this case, it’s a Canadian publisher with, so far as I know, no US presence other than simultaneous, but limited, distribution. It’s in the catalogs of the major jobbers, but not actually available anywhere as far as I can tell, although hopefully it will be now. I don’t begrudge the book the award, and I think it’s wonderful to see a smaller press title get some recognition, but I do think there is a problem when no one can get their hands on the title that took the silver in the most prestigious award for YA literature. Even the review journals missed it (that Booklist review is online only, dated Jan. 7, and written by the RealCommittee’s Booklist Consultant, so I am guessing that Booklist came to it via committee buzz — by early January, things would be shaping up enough through online conversation and straw polling that whether or not anyone was sure it would honor, it would have been clear that consensus said it was a serious contender, and therefore worth reviewing — I’m speculating, of course, but the evidence seems pretty clear).

The Winner:

In Darkness: This was another 11th hour review, and another one I’m so glad I read before the buzz. And if I’m being honest, this is the real reason this post has taken a week, conference attendance notwithstanding.

At the time (ahem, last week), I said, “This is a beautiful, harrowing piece of writing,” but I then went on to ask some questions of accuracy. And I’m still troubled by those questions.

I think that from a writing perspective this definitely earned its place at the top, but I can’t quite let go of my discomfort, tied into questions of cultural appropriation and accuracy in depicting Haiti (as a land of darkness and Voudou — the questions raised by The New York Times won’t leave me) and L’Ouverture. Yes, the author acknowledges openly that he has made changes to history, but literacy and its connections to power and freedom are such powerful motifs here –literary motifs, an explicit part of the quality of writing that makes the book deserving — that I do still find it problematic that L’Ouverture’s illiteracy in the novel prior to the ceremony and his twinning with Shorty is fiction.

Because in the novel, the sudden literacy is pivotal. But it’s made up. Which then makes the whole depiction of L’Ouverture an issue for me — accuracy is the obvious Printz criteria to look at here, but my deeper discomfort is that concern about respect. Do the inaccuracies make this a disrespectful book? Does disrespecting the source of the tale count as a literary critique? I find myself wishing I had a reader who knew more about Haiti or was Haitian with whom to discuss this. I’d like to get past my discomfort, but it’s like a toothache, persistent and uncomfortable and in need of outside assistance.

So that’s my response, a week late and fraught with anxiety. Am I the product of too many diversity trainings? Am I being uptight and ridiculous, or does anyone share my discomfort? More importantly, what place does this response have in a conversation about literary merit?

And what did you think of these books, or are we all well into 2013 and totally over the 2012 books already?

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About Karyn Silverman

Karyn Silverman is the High School Librarian and Educational Technology Department Chair at LREI, Little Red School House & Elisabeth Irwin High School (say that ten times fast!). Karyn has served on YALSA’s Quick Picks and Best Books committees and was a member of the 2009 Printz committee. She has reviewed for Kirkus and School Library Journal. She has a lot of opinions about almost everything (except current events, because she’s too busy reading YA literature to follow the news). Said opinions do not reflect the attitudes or opinions of SLJ, LREI, YALSA or any other institutions with which she is affiliated. Find her on Twitter @InfoWitch or e-mail her at karynsilverman at gmail dot com.

Comments

  1. Lucas says:

    Thanks for airing these questions, Karyn. Reading this and re-reading the Times review have given me a lot to think about.

    I think the strongest aspect of the criticism is that Lake is sometimes loose with facts in a way that might be seen as convenient or careless. I’m not saying that’s necessarily the case with L’Ouverture’s sudden literacy. But, looked at alongside other points of inaccuracy (unmentioned in the author’s note) and that L’Ouverture’s story in the novel is (as far as I can tell) fairly true to history and not obviously a wild reimagining, that choice looks a little dubious, at least.

    Personally, I’m less convinced by the notion that the novel is disrespectful or amounts to exploitative cultural appropriation. Lake’s story of course focuses on some of the darker aspects of Haitian society but in a way that is consistently empathetic and non-reductive. The complexity of Haiti is inherent in the way the story is told, and is presented pretty well, I think, in specific incidents in Shorty’s story. And, to me, the alterations to L’Ouverture’s history do not demean him or the people of Haiti.

    That’s how I’m feeling about it at the moment. With more reading and airing of thoughts I might change my mind. Like you, I’m eager to see more input from people who have a deeper knowledge of Haiti.

    [For those interested, here are the author's note (http://www.in-darkness.org/about-nick-lake) and the Times article (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/12/books/review/in-darkness-by-nick-lake.html).]

  2. Awww, breaking *my* radio silence finally to say THANK YOU, people, for the chunk of pyrite for CNV! I have been lurking on this list all year and trying desperately to keep up with the reading (and failing miserably). I don’t know how any of you do it.

    I also want to thank you for the fabulous discussion of CNV on this blog, which I LOVED. I don’t know if you realize how liberating it is for me to read a discussion full of spoilers, where everybody actually TALKS about the book instead of just pussyfooting around the various issues and speaking in code. Some really intriguing points were raised. I am a firm believer in the metaphoric death of the author and have to sit on my hands, sometimes, to stop myself offering up an interpretation of something or other that even I hadn’t thought of earlier.

    THANKS, GUYS! *blows kisses*

  3. J Curry says:

    I’m not sure why but my small Midwestern library had a copy of of THE WHITE BYCYCLE in its collection, so I have had a chance to read it (first on the hold list — score!). I agree that it has kind of a boring cover but do not judge it by its cover! It’s a great book and, of all the books out there about kids with Aspergers, this is by far the best one I’ve read since THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHTTIME. And it’s right up there with CURIOUS INCIDENT and may even be better, as a YA novel.

    I think what makes the book outstanding is the voice and the author’s skill at telling the story from the main character’s very distinctive point of view. You are really inside Taylor’s head, understanding the world as she sees it. The story is right on target with one of the main developmental tasks of adolescence, which is establishing independence, very tricky for our mc since she sees the world in such a different way and has an (understandably) overprotective mother. The spiky mother/daughter relationship is also very well done.

    All of this, and humor, too!

    I would like to thank the 2013 Printz Award Committee for calling this book to our attention. It looks like we would have all missed it otherwise. I hope others will take the time to seek it out. It’s really worth reading, and you will want to share it with teens in your community.

  4. Beth says:

    I was pretty surprised that the actual winners were so far off from the predictions! I’m finding that my top YA are more likely to end up in SLJ’s Battle of the Kids’ Books than on the Printz list. I’m really happy Terry Pratchett got an Honor. (And I didn’t realize you were on the 2009 Printz committee! I think that committee made the best selections ever – Jellicoe Road! Terry Pratchett! M.T. Anderson! Margo Lanagan!)

  5. Jonathan Hunt says:

    I’m happy to hear from somebody who’s read–and liked–THE WHITE BICYCLE, and I look forward to reading it, too. CODE NAME VERITY and DODGER were top five books for me so I’m quite pleased with them. I was surprised by both ARISTOTLE AND DANTE and IN DARKNESS, but I did like them when I read them, and after the the initial surprise has worn off, I’m warming up to both of them as award winners.

    No nonfiction? It reminds me of the 2004 Printz committee. AN AMERICAN PLAGUE by Jim Murphy was a National Book Award finalist, Newbery Honor, and Sibert Medal–the Printz committee was virtually the only one that didn’t toss some love its way. So no BOMB or MOONBIRD or TITANIC . . .

    • Mark Flowers says:

      I can’t even discuss how disappointed I am about the lack of nonfiction.

      As for the rest of the titles, the only one that truly surprised me was ARISTOTLE. WHITE BICYCLE didn’t surprise me because I expected there to be a title I hadn’t heard of. I (sort of, not really at all) predicted IN DARKNESS on my blog. Despite my misgiving, I knew CNV was a shoo-in. And though I wouldn’t personally have pushed for it, am delighted to see Pratchett’s book up there. I though it had its problems, but it was probably one of the most enjoyable reads I had this year.

      Need need need to read THE WHITE BICYCLE, and still deeply mulling Karyn’s objections to IN DARKNESS, so I won’t say any more for now.

  6. Nick Lake says:

    I don’t know if it’s my place to comment in general on questions of accuracy – other than to say, it’s a novel, and not a history; it’s not intended to provide a course on Haiti; it also represents the views and opinions of certain rather biased characters which are necessarily subjective. But I do feel moved to respond to this idea of Toussaint having been taught to read and write as a child, which is presented as fact in the SLJ review too – and which, despite appearing in a few short online biographies notable lacking in citations, probably isn’t true. Certainly it isn’t supported by the (few) extant sources.

    Toussaint wrote in his own memoirs, while in prison in France, that at the start of the revolution “I was four and fifty years of age; I could neither read nor write”. A fairly unequivocal statement – and he goes on to say that he paid a Portuguese man to teach him, which directly contradicts the idea of his childhood education. CLR James in the Black Jacobins, still one of the most significant books on the subject, calls Toussaint “barely literate”, and notes that for much of his military career, he dictated his letters to secretaries, suggesting that at that point he didn’t know how to write. This is echoed in Madison Smartt Bell and Jacques de Cauna’s biographies, which both make the point that between 1778 and 1781, Toussaint’s letters were even signed by someone else, giving the impression that he couldn’t write his own name. In addition, both James and Bell note that the few surviving letters in Toussaint’s own hand, from later in his career and his imprisonment, are written in phonetic rather than orthographically correct French; hardly suggestive of profound education.

    In contrast, the main source for the idea that Toussaint received some kind of education is the Notes on the Memoirs written by his son Isaac, in which Isaac says that his father learned “a little Latin and mathematics” as a child, under the auspices of his master.

    Of course, Toussaint may have had a motive for claiming to have been illiterate till a late age. His overriding imperative in his memoirs (written for Napoleon’s benefit) is to show his continued loyalty to France, to insist that he only intended to free the slaves of the island, not secede from France. As such it may have been convenient to him to represent himself as a person chosen by fate, and not someone who actively decided to rebel; this notion of being uneducated might have helped with that. On the other hand, it’s not like Isaac is entirely reliable either: educated in France among the Parisian intelligentsia, he had a powerful interest in exaggerating his father’s intellectual credentials.

    Anyway. In the case of In Darkness, I chose to take Toussaint’s own word for it, rather than someone else’s. He said he couldn’t read and write, so that is how I proceeded in the novel. We can’t actually know for certain one way or another.

    As a side note, I think there’s an interesting question of historiography here. That being: why do we like to think that Toussaint was educated as a child, despite his own direct contradiction of this fact, and only very shaky evidence in support of it? (I mean, we don’t even know for certain who his father was, let alone how he spent his childhood.) It may be very cynical of me but I wonder whether we prefer to believe that Toussaint was given his education – and thus the seeds of the revolution – by a kindly old colonist master, rather than that he seized these things for himself.

    It’s interesting to read the very first biography of Toussaint by the English cleric Beard. Beard was a Christian abolitionist, and the tone of his biography is one of defence and celebration of Toussaint. But even he makes the (entirely unsubstantiated) assertion that Toussaint’s ability to draw maps must have owed to an education in classical geometry, and that his tactical brilliance must have owed to a familiarity with the great Greek and Roman generals.

    It’s almost as if Europe felt threatened by the idea that a slave might have achieved these things all on his own…

  7. “it’s a novel, not a history” – THANK YOU NICK LAKE! This is so important, so true, and yet whenever fiction touches on the past, the author is held that much more accountable for truth. A very fine line to tread. So many congratulations for this well-deserved award, and looking forward to meeting you at ALA!

  8. Karyn Silverman says:

    Nick, Thank you for sharing these thoughts, which do help me get past my discomfort quite a bit. Thank you also for writing this painful but fantasic book. And congratulations on the gold! Can I make a plea that pretty much your entire comment be added to the backmatter verbatim in susequent editions of In Darkness? I think this is important for all readers of In Darkness to read.

  9. Ibi Zoboi says:

    I’m currently poring over the pages of Nick Lake’s IN DARKNESS for the second time. I am Haitian and I’m in the Writing for Children Program at Vermont College of Fine Arts. I have some serious issues with this novel. I had not heard of this book until just a few weeks before it won the Printz Award. I couldn’t wait to read it and was so glad that someone was delving into the 1.12.10 tragic event and connecting it to Haiti’s larger history. But as I continued to read, with highlighter & pencil in hand marking all the blatant stereotypes and accuracies, I was sorely disappointed. Some of the passages in the book reminded of me Frances Temple’s (RIP) TASTE OF SALT, one of my favorite YA novels. While this is a work of fiction, I truly believe that authors for young-readers who are writing outside their culture are duty-bound to conduct in-depth research, not just on historical facts, but cultural perceptions as well. There were so many nuances within Haitian culture that were overlooked in the “Now” sections of the novel–colorism in Haiti, perceptions of Vodou, and the residents of Site Soley. There were so many blanket stereotypes that sounded more like the author’s point-of-view. I plan to post a lengthy and more detailed review for the Haitians, young and old, who may want to read this book. But, yes, it is very well written in terms of voice and pacing.

    • Karyn Silverman says:

      Thanks for this perspective, Ibi. Will you link your longer review here when you write it? Thanks!

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