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Someday My Printz Will Come
Inside Someday My Printz Will Come

Morris Nominations

YALSA’s Morris Award (technically the William C. Morris Debut Award) is a great showcase of strong new voices in the YA literature field. Often there are a few books we have had on our speculation list that end up being Morris finalists, because good writing is good writing. And, of course, sometimes the best writing is a debut — from Looking for Alaska, 10 (TEN!) years ago (before the Morris, but still a debut) to Seraphina just two years ago.

But the thing is that the Morris pool is a LOT smaller. And often crowded with schools of commercial clone fish, against which the more original and/or literary novels tend to really shine. And we all know that a big fish in a small pond often becomes a small fish when the body of water is bigger.

The Printz is a pretty big body of water.Two of the five Morris semi-finalists have been our list from the start of the year. Joy really liked The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, and Sarah was a fan, albeit with reservations, of The Story of Owen, Dragonslayer of Trondheim (admission: I still haven’t read either). A third, Gabi: A Girl in Pieces, was a later addition to our list. Scar Boys sort of hovered in neither fish nor fowl territory — it has been on the pile of books to read all along, but it wasn’t quite getting much buzz so it kept getting pushed lower than other books that seemed more urgent. And Carnival at Bray came out of left field, because there’s always one…

Because there is sometimes that overlap between debuts and winners — remember Where Things Come Back, three years ago? — we like to look at the Morris shortlist with Printz glasses firmly in place. So let’s see how Gabi, Carnival, and Scar Boys fare when we give them that kind of a read.

Gabi: A Girl in Pieces, Isabel Quintero
Cinco Puntos Press, October 2014
Reviewed from final copy

Gabi definitely wins the popularity vote, at least as far as critics and librarians go. It was cheerleading from you all that brought it to our attention initially, and then it snagged four starred reviews and made at least three year-end reviews based on the last big data collection I did.

And I really respect the people who are raving about this book.

I really respect this book, too. I think it’s bold and has a fantastic voice and it’s really important. But important is not the same as Printz worthy, and a strong debut that fulfills the Morris criteria may not live up to the Printz expectations.

Which about sums up how I would classify this one: a great Morris, but an unlikely Printz.

My first peeve is mild from a writing perspective — no glossary. I don’t speak Spanish. True to Gabi’s character, she peppers her journal with Spanish, especially when she is recording things her mother has said. The context sometimes gives the non-Spanish-speaking reader the gist of the statement, and occasionally the actual meaning, but sometimes the words are just there without quite enough context. Given that these are also conversations that are important (that word again, I know) — about women and body image and expectations — this was frustrating. By itself, looked at as part of the writing, I don’t think this is a fair reason to knock the book down — again, the voice is great and this is a consistent and accurate detail for the voice. But the lack of a backmatter glossary does strike me as a significant design flaw, and it’s really a shame.

My second issue is a bigger one. This book is just crowded. Two pregnant teens, an addict dad and a pregnant/single mom, rape, coming out — yes, all of this is life, it’s all going on around us, but the way in which Gabi is this still point amidst a veritable playbook of teen issues seemed artificial. It was too much like a telenovela, a point Gabi makes, but I’m not sure calling out the flaw in the text mitigates it sufficiently. It meant that the emotional beats don’t always get a chance to finish reverberating.

(On a related complaint, I found the father’s death very predictable and a little too obviously foreshadowed, and then the balance of grief and coming to terms didn’t totally gel for me. However, I am a woman who lost her father as a teen, and sometimes my own baggage gets in my way, so I’ll grant that this may be a me issue and not a book issue.)

But, again, the VOICE. This really truly reads like a diary 95% of the time (there’s the occasional infodumpish passage, and the slightly too perfect recall of conversations, but nowhere near the degree usually found in diary narratives, and a little cheating is probably unavoidable to make it work as a novel). The voice is fantastic, and one we don’t hear enough. I completely believe Gabi’s growing understanding of herself as a woman and specifically herself as a woman in the particular context of her Mexican-American identity and community. For the voice alone, this definitely deserves the Morris recognition, but I just don’t believe the voice counterbalances the plot issues enough to make this a real contender for the Printz.

 

The Carnival at Bray, Jessie Ann Foley
Elephant Rock Productions, Inc., October 2014
Reviewed from final copy

A dark dark horse from a small small press, this is one I am glad to have brought to my attention, but I’m going to say straight out that while there are things I admire, I don’t think this has even a long shot at the Printz.

In a word, this is overwritten. No. That’s not quite the right word. It reads weirdly piecemeal, as if several short stories that were surrounding the same ideas but not actually about the same characters were revised into a single whole. I don’t know that that is what happened, and I don’t mean to say that I think it’s what happened, but the way sections stand alone, and some elements (the unpleasant sexual encounter with Paul) are mostly dropped, and the way some sections — Rome — seem written from a different perspective all added up to give me an impression of a patchwork rather than a whole cloth. The language is beautiful but it’s too much for Maggie to carry in a story that seems rooted in her perspective; whose voice is this? That’s what makes me think overwritten, even though technically I recognize that that isn’t quite right.

Tied into that is a sense of Maggie as unknowable. She never comes entirely together; she has no friends and no interests except what she copies from Kevin, and I never felt I truly knew who she was or how her pieces add up. There were moments where I liked her and felt for her, but she wasn’t fully dimensional. I think this is because the authorial voice overshadows her and is both clearly from her limited perspective and yet clearly not her voice or head space; it creates distance.

And the epilogue: she’s lost until true love saves her. She is not her mother because she can commit. I’m not sure I buy this ending for this book; it’s a journey of Maggie becoming her own woman, and then it isn’t. Or maybe it’s a romance, since it ends on that note, except it really isn’t. Sometimes this is a meditative, poetic coming of age, until it’s a madcap adventure closest in tone to 13 Little Blue Envelopes, and then it’s a fairy tale romance.

Now that I’ve told you all the issues, here’s the thing — the writing is achingly lovely at times. The evocation of place is great. The sense of that moment in history is surprisingly effective. Foley is an author I want to watch to see what she does next, which makes her a perfect Morris finalist; she’s also given us a deeply flawed but promising book, which makes her not a Printz contender.

 

coverThe Scar Boys, Len Vlahos
Egmont, January 2014
Reviewed from ARC

The Scar Boys gets props for originality, no question. I’m going to keep this short though because I didn’t finish this one, and skimmed most of it. Harry Jones, narrator and guitarist for the titular band, is smart and sharp; he’s also sympathetic without ever asking for sympathy. In general, his voice is engaging, consistent, and authentic. Despite these positives—which I don’t want to downnplay because they’re legitimate strengths—the book is weighed down by a contrived framing device.

It’s 1987 and Harry is writing his college admissions essay. In several places, he addresses that unknown reader directly. It’s not immediately clear that the novel is Harry’s admissions essay until he addresses the admissions officer in the text. Design plays a part here because the essay is in a typewriter font, while the first chapter is in a conventional serif font. I appreciate the matching of the typeface to the content, but once there’s a switch it’s not unreasonable to assume that you’re reading something different. In the last chapter, Harry concludes his essay but at that point the idea that the novel has been his essay is just a tad unbelievable.

More importantly though, the “essay” structure guides too much of the novel’s style and tone. Vlahos does far too much telling here. Harry tells us how he and Johnny become best friends, but we don’t see the bond between them grow. Even when he’s narrating an event in detail—auditions for a new band member, for example—the format demands a nostalgic, almost passive tone. This story, which is compelling and full of potential, would have been better served by a voice unhindered by the constraints of college essay style.

As I’ve only read one other Morris nominee this year, it’s hard to assess this book in comparison, but in the context of the Printz it’s certainly a longshot. —Joy Piedmont

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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, as long as all the things are books. 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. I agree that GABI is “a great Morris, but an unlikely Printz”, though I wouldn’t mind being surprised. But I don’t have the same issue with a lack of glossary or insta-translation for the Spanish. I found this a pretty clear and welcome centering of a particular teen reader–one for whom this mixture of languages better represents the way they actually talk and comprehend the world. This post by Ashley Hope Pérez comes to mind: http://foreveryoungadult.com/2013/10/02/heck-ya-diversity-glossed-encounters/

    Looking at the Printz P&P, they don’t even seem to require a book to be written in English at all to be eligible. (If I’m missing something, please correct me–it was a cursory glance.)

    • Thanks, Kate, for the link to my post. I think Kelly and others have raised most of the important issues here, but framing the absence of a glossary in this novel as a “design flaw” surfaces a serious gap in understanding–not just about ways of positioning Latin@ experience in YA, but about how teens (Latin@ or otherwise) relate to the world and to the various forms of diversity and hybridity that it contains.

  2. I think a glossary in the back of Gabi: A Girl In Pieces would mark it too much as a book made for non-Spanish-speakers, and give it a “for school” educational note. I would like a Spanish-speaking Latina high-school student to be able to pick the book up and have that feeling like Quintero (or Gabi) wrote it just for her.

    • Karyn Silverman says:

      I hear you. We discussed it at our local Mock event yesterday and I raised this as a design issue (although really the plot issues had already taken it pretty much off the table, after a lovefest). We had a conversation about whether that would damage it, and the Georgia Nicholson self-aware glossary came up. Maybe it wouldn’t work. Maybe the editors considered a glossary and dismissed it. I can only note that as a non-Spanish-reading reader I had a definite sense that some of the conversations, especially with Gabi’s mother, had levels I wasn’t quite getting, and that saddened me because I didn’t want to miss anything.
      (Also, most of the teen readers I’ve known ignore backmatter unless they feel a need to look for it, so I wonder if the glossary would seem school-bookish or would just be ignored by the bilingual readers, and also maybe open the book up to readers who need a little handholding reading a book with words in a language they don’t know.)

      • “I had a definite sense that some of the conversations, especially with Gabi’s mother, had levels I wasn’t quite getting, and that saddened me because I didn’t want to miss anything.”

        You don’t think readers of nondominant cultures have EVER felt that way when reading a “universal” story about white people and been told they need to buck up and deal with it?

      • I’m intrigued by the self-aware glossary idea! The sort of thing I can buy some teenaged narrators really getting into.

  3. I took Spanish in high school so I often wonder how the inclusion of Spanish phrases work for non-speakers. Even with my background I found a lot of the phrases went over my head. It didn’t totally ruin the reading, but I did wonder if I had missed something key.

    I enjoyed this book but kept waiting to really love it–something that never happened partly, I think, for the telenovela feel that you mentioned. So much of this story felt like it was checking off various markers for plot or character. I also can’t help but think that Gabi came across as very young which has also been a lingering issue for me.

  4. Oddly, because I am usually pretty aware of language usage, I didn’t notice the Spanish words (untranslated) in Gabi. What I honestly think will keep this book from being considered for a Printz is that it is clearly written for females. All of my male readers have been left cold by this book and have nothing good or bad to say about it. They cannot relate to it at all. What I liked the best about this book was the unique voice of the narrator. It is a shoe-in for Pura Belpra Award and I think it will win the Morris but I predict it will be passed over by the Printz committee, as it should be if half the population can’t relate to it.

    • I would argue that aiming for a specific audience should not limit this book’s chances. There are, probably, some boys out there who would enjoy this book, and even if there aren’t, that’s irrelevant. Every book’s going to leave some people cold, whether they are sorted along gendered lines or not.

    • You know, I’ve never heard “half the population can’t relate to it” about a book with a male main character.

    • “Half the population can’t relate to it” is the same comment that could be made for the entire Western Canon of Literature. Hell, even more than half can’t relate since it’s about white males having adventures and crises. I guess the fact that most of the Western Canon is about the white male main character and the belief books are somehow gendered means that a book featuring a Mexican American female main character has less merit or value feels extremely condescending to teen male readers. Whether or not they “relate” to it doesn’t matter. I didn’t relate to 99% of what I had to read in high school. That doesn’t come into play when it comes to awards like the Printz in the first place. It doesn’t matter who the audience is; what matters is its literary merit. While I don’t think Gabi has the Printz potential, suggesting that because boys don’t relate to it means it’s less than is pretty offensive to all readers. Books don’t have gender.

      To the post itself, I think the idea this needs a glossary to be effective ruins the story being what it is. More, I think it’s kind of offensive to teen readers who wouldn’t think twice about it. Those who don’t know what a word means know how to look it up or how to use context for it.

      I live in rural Wisconsin and my town’s population IN rural Wisconsin is 40% Hispanic. Even teens who don’t speak Spanish are growing up around it. I don’t think it’s necessary to call it out as something different — we already KNOW Gabi is herself “different” from the majority of the US. A glossary of Spanish terms only further pushes her story to the periphery, as it suggests you need a guide to attempt to relate to her. That isn’t the case at all.

      • Karyn Silverman says:

        See my comment above; I know that I missed things and still maintain that a good editor could have worked it in without offending anyone. And if I were on the RealPrintz and this book got that far, I would have raised this as a design flaw. (Presumably I would have been shouted down based on reaction here, but from a Printz perspective, if I have to go explicitly outside the book to Google to understand the book, it can be argued as a flaw, even if not a major one). (The funny thing is that I led with the glossary note because I did think this was a great book and was trying to bury the lede, so to speak, of panning the soapy plot. Which is the thing that really takes this out of serious contention).

        • GABI is published by Cinco Puntos, which specializes in multicultural and bilingual books. I don’t know if making a glossary is something that would be a priority to their editors unless the book specifically called for it. I’m not sure it’s a design flaw; I think it’s purposeful and intentional.

          • Karyn Silverman says:

            The Cincos Puntos purpose is a good point, and one I wasn’t thinking about. I have a longer statement to come (after the offspring’s bedtime at earliest) but basically, the glossary question was ever only a minor issue and I realize that I was speaking from a thoughtless place, which I try very hard not to do. I wanted a book this good to be readable by as wide an audience as possible, and I said something that offended a lot of people and I apologize.

            I still stand by my other issues; we are reading with a really narrow lens, and I think Gabi wins for voice and setting but struggles with story/plot. I would love a Morris win for it (although I haven’t read all the shortlist) and a double Morris-Belpre nod would be even better.

        • Rene Saldana, Jr. says:

          Consider, perhaps, that the exclusion of this glossary is an intentional and purposeful decision on the part of the writer and the editors at Cinco Puntos Press. Even an artistic one. The story is about an outsider (in so many ways), made to feel deeply that she is on the outskirts of life, that she doesn’t belong, the decision to make non-Spanish speaking (that is to say, largely dominant or white) readers themselves feel at a loss, then, is a thematic one. These editors at Cinco Puntos have made this same decision on at least one other occasion with Ben Saenz’s LAST NIGHT I SANG TO THE MONSTER; the first half of the book, the narrator is out of it, high, and broken, an so Saenz mimics this dissonance in his writing; when the narrator begins to get his bearings, the language becomes more lyrical. It was not a mistake to leave you out on their parts. They got the desired effect; unfortunately, folks in the know would think this enough to knock her our of the running.

  5. I’m not sure you stated that “Gabi” shouldn’t qualify for the Printz enough times. Maybe peppering it with some Spanish would make everyone understand your point.

  6. Karyn Silverman says:

    As to the 50% of the population issue, I just want to direct everyone back to the P&P; popularity is NOT a criteria and thus potential readership is a moot point. One reader, no readers; if it’s pubbed YA and it has the literary excellence, it’s a serious contender, even if not a single teen will read it.

  7. I just included GABI in a lecture on worldbuilding because of the fluid flipping from English to Spanish and back again. I think the untranslated Spanish contributes not only to Gabi’s unique voice (much lauded here) but it also captures the sound of Gabi’s world. To my mind, translating the Spanish in the text would have felt clunky and artificial, provided only (and obviously) for the benefit of non-Spanish speaking people. And I agree that a glossary would have made it felt “school book-ish.” I don’t speak Spanish, so I’m sure I missed some things on first read, but I don’t see the untranslated Spanish as a flaw as much as an extra layer of richness that will resonate for Spanish speakers immediately.

    As for the comment above about the book being only for “females” I don’t even know how to respond to that.

    • I agree. It is the first book I have EVER read that reminds me of the people and the world I have known my entire life. Asking for a glossary is hegemony, plain and simple. Utterly unsurprising, but problematic and microaggressive all the same.

      • This is the problem I have with the way people review or look at books that are already considered “Other.” As for the telenovela aspect, I quite enjoy that. It’s one of my favorite things about JANE THE VIRGIN, and different than the drama in books like Sarah Dessen’s summer romances how?

  8. I used to be a Spanish teacher and consider myself rather comfortable with the Spanish in GABI. But I did have to look up one thing – the part about her mom smacking her with her flip-flop, as that had a cultural/euphemistic connotation I didn’t quite get being a white lady and all – but a 2 second Google search cleared that up. I have no idea why in the hell this kind of thing is labeled “inaccessible” but John Green can blather about mathematical infinities and labyrinths of suffering and that is apparently no sweat for our theoretical readers? They can swallow that but can’t be arsed to do a translation search?

    GABI is a brilliant book. Full stop.

  9. Just chiming in on two of the same points that have been generating the most conversation here (and on Twitter):

    1. The idea that Gabi’s lack of glossary is a design flaw. Disagree.

    Dinging Gabi for including Spanish vocabulary that not all readers will understand is the same as dinging another book for including English vocabulary that not all readers will understand. While those of us who aren’t bilingual very likely missed some nuances, A) we got the gist from the context and B) we always have the option to look those words and phrases up, the same way we’d look up English words or phrases that we don’t understand.

    2. The idea that Gabi is flawed because she isn’t “relatable” to half the population. Disagree.

    For one thing, as Karyn pointed out above, “relatability” isn’t part of the Printz criteria. For another, I find the idea that Gabi is a story “clearly written for females” troubling—a book about a male protagonist dealing with similar issues would NEVER be brushed aside as “clearly written for males”.

  10. Geez. Sorry for the typos in my above comment. Typing too fast.

    I wonder if we should rethink certain expectations like the need for translation of languages other than English within the text or in a glossary. It’s true that a lot of these books are being published for an English-speaking market, but not everyone speaks only one language; GABI was written and published specifically for a particular bilingual population, no? Is it too much to ask of non-Spanish-speaking YA readers that they gather meaning from context or perhaps consult translation software? (Or simply accept that there are some shades of meaning that will escape them?) It’s been a while since I read it, but I don’t think the Spanish in Junot Diaz’s OSCAR WAO is translated, nor is it italicized (another expectation/convention hilariously skewered in this video by Daniel José Older: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=24gCI3Ur7FM). And yes, OSCAR is an adult book, but one that is read by many young adults. At what point is it okay to expect readers to work things out for themselves?

    I heard Sarah Park Dahlen (http://minerva.stkate.edu/people.nsf/homepages/sparkspeak) at Hamline University last year, and she told us a story about a book written by a Korean (apologies; I don’t remember the name of the book or the author. I think it was a picture book). She said that this book was loved by everyone at the publishing house, but it was especially adored by Koreans at the publishing house, who thought it was hilarious and “so Korean!” But the fact that non-Koreans could understand the book on only one level didn’t detract from the overall power of the book, it only added depth and meaning for Koreans who understood the book on a whole different level. And isn’t that what we’re talking about here? Spanish speakers will understand GABI in a way that I can’t (glossary or no glossary), but should that be a mark against it?

  11. I appreciate the fact that Karyn acknowledged that the point about the glossary was “speaking from a thoughtless place,” and this stream of comments provides really rich opportunities for revisiting the assumptions we bring to literature. What I’m really excited by is how many folks–and not just the bilingual crew–get the many whys behind not including a glossary. Even in the few years since my post against glossaries for Forever YA, there’s been a real change. The comments then were very mixed, and most of the anti-glossary camp there was commenting in the last year or so. http://foreveryoungadult.com/2013/10/02/heck-ya-diversity-glossed-encounters/

  12. I think most people have brought up everything I’d say already in relation to GABI, so I’ll only add a few points.

    Cinco Puntos, GABI’s publisher, noted on twitter in regard to not including a glossary: “It’s an editorial (and political) decision, not a design flaw. We’re not into glossaries.” (https://twitter.com/5puntosbooks/status/559440968773296128)

    Regarding the description of GABI as a telenovela, I think this is really important. For Karyn Silverman, this made GABI less Printz-worthy, but for a Latina reader like Zoraida, it made the book enjoyable. This speaks to the different ways that different cultures view different types of storytelling. Having a telenovela-like format might make GABI less of a Printz contender because the Printz simply may not recognize that type of storytelling as award-worthy (I’m not saying this is true; it would be great if the Printz recognized a non-white, non-mainstream-American type of storytelling as award-worthy), but it might also make GABI even more high quality to Latino readers. A telenovela method of storytelling shouldn’t necessarily remove any book from awards consideration, but we live in a dominant white Western European culture that undervalues that kind of storytelling. It has nothing to do with whether GABI is quality or not — it’s about the way the dominant culture interprets it.

    Lastly, I’ll just say that if, as a reader, you (Karyn or anyone) are aware that you’re missing something in a book, consider the possibility that you’re actually missing something, not that the *book* is missing something.

  13. Karyn Silverman says:

    Today has been a very thought-provoking day.

    First, for any discomfort or pain I caused anyone with my review, I am profoundly sorry.

    I take my charge as an educator very seriously, and I work with a widely diverse population (race, ethnicity, socio-economic position, language, political perspective, educational background, sexual and gender identity, and more). I have opted in to trainings and workshops on privilege, voice, and diversity; I’ve worked hard to face my own biases and shortcomings; and more than anything I have listened to others, especially my students. I try, every day, to be thoughtful and cognizant of all that I have learned. When I write here, I try to check my privilege in both senses — check if I am taking things for granted as a white person, and also check it at the door and move past my own perspective as much as any of us can. These are things I do because I believe that it is critical to appraise books as honestly and openly as we can, and because I believe that we should look at each book for what it is — and ideally, each book will be a different thing, and YA lit as a whole will support a multiplicity of readers and perspectives by embodying the diversity of the world we live in. I believe that reading can open doors and teach us things we can’t live, because they aren’t our experiences but they are experiences we should know. Gabi is a great example of a book that can do this, and I genuinely appreciate it. Gabi’s voice is candid and open and engaging and brings her to life. My desire for a glossary was, yes, vested in my own lack of Spanish, but also with thoughts of misunderstandings I witnessed between a Colombian co-worker and our largely Dominican patrons — some idioms don’t translate across countries even when all parties are speaking the same language — with thoughts of readers without the privilege of easy access to Google, and with thoughts of teens who would want to read Gabi’s story but would be overwhelmed by a sense of being shut out. I naively didn’t consider that by assuming the Latin@ readership would not be bothered by a glossary I might be committing a microaggression — I think of backmatter as a thing that exists for those who need it and can be ignored by those who don’t, and clearly that was an ignorant assumption; I did not understand that glossaries were a politicized inclusion and therefore that asking for one was by extension political. It was a personal desire for a deeper understanding of the relationship between Gabi and her mother, vested in my own perspective.

    So, again, apologies.

    Thank you to those who engaged thoughtfully with me. I appreciate that — it is so important to engage, to educate, to work for more understanding and not just assume the worst. I hope you will continue to read with us and engage in all the many conversations — the important ones and the ones that are just for fun — going forward.

  14. Karyn: Thank you for hosting this wonderful discussion. It’s a tough one to have and we appreciate everybody’s open-hearted approach to the topic.

    If you are in Chicago for the ALA MidWinter convention, please stop by to visit us in booth 4129. Thanks again, John

  15. YALSA’s portfolio of book and media awards helps strengthen library services for and with teens by identifying quality, age appropriate resources for librarians and library workers to share with the teens in their communities.

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