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).
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?