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Pyrite Redux: Worlds in Flux

Our final three redux books are three of my own top books this year. They vary in length, in genre, in style, and more — indeed, in many ways I can’t imagine three more distinct titles. And yet, they have something essential in common (other than my appreciation, that is): all three are about moments of change and lives in transition, from Elena and Cat’s Prince and the Pauper/Vladimir Propp adventure to Windy and Rose’s quiet summer of seismic change to Marilyn Nelson’s personal journey that is a microcosm of change happening in the macrocosm of America during that same decade — whew! Big changes indeed, each one rendered beautifully.

So let’s look at them in diminishing length order (which may — may! — be inverse to just how much each of these deserves the gold).

Egg & Spoon has made a quiet splash this year; it was a late publication, it occupies an odd maybe YA – maybe children’s space in the public perception, and it’s huge and meandering. It’s also marvelous, in the most literal sense: Baba Yaga, the Firebird, the Tsar’s palace, the Ice Dragon: each is a marvel encoding more. This is a story about identity and about the very nature of change. It’s about the ethos of a country that cannot survive without change but which may also lose itself in this change — so, you know, just a light weekend read. The star here is the language, as discussed in our write up and in Heavy Medal’s. The prose is just gorgeous, full stop. When we discussed it last week at our Mock Printz, there was a lot of love. And also a quiet sort of “do we have to say this” mutter about the last third or so, when things get a bit anticlimactic. I could argue this is a less enjoyable but appropriate change in pace, but I’ll hold my thoughts until someone takes me up on entering into the debate.

Switching gears entirely, This One Summer is this year’s best loved graphic novel. Sarah’s write up really helped me appreciate the nuances and layers her, because this is a complex book in deceptively simple form. The art has come in for praise, from the cool palette at odds with the summer setting but so perfect for the emotional tenor to the full page spreads that allow the reader a moment to breathe. It’s beautiful and painful, and the art carries the story as much as the text does. Thematically, too, this is rich territory: what it means to be a woman, to grow up, to navigate a personal sense of self against the complex and mixed messages of society, all of it unstated but clear in every panel. And on a smaller scale, it’s a portrait of friendship in flux, starting to crumble, and families divided. I’d tell you what flaws I’ve heard discussed, but I haven’t heard any, except maybe a sense of emptiness for readers — but that’s the point, I think, and while it’s not a pleasant after taste, it’s very deliberately evoked.

Finally, the shortest book of the Pyrite nominations, and the one that I truly think is this year’s finest work of literature: How I Discovered Poetry is as close to perfect as I can imagine. 50 poems, snapshots of moments and emotions, charting a fascinating personal story and also the story of change in race relations in America: this is a huge book. But like the tight, restrained sonnets, where each word, each beat does exactly what it needs to and no more, each poem does exactly what it needs to and no more. I liked this when I wrote about it in September, but I love it now. I keep thinking about it. I continue to marvel at Nelson’s control over her form, at her ability to say so much with such economy. I continue to find new things to appreciate; when discussing the unrhymed sonnet, as opposed to the more familiar Shakespearean or even Petrarchian forms, I realized that this modern take of a classic form embodied exactly the kind of tensions that surrounded and shaped Nelson’s childhood. The only complaint was one in the comments here — the finger pointing at the South as the source of all racial slurs. But whether this is true or false is immaterial; these poems chart the poets reality, and clearly in her world, that was the belief. We may not agree, but that doesn’t make it incorrect.

So what do you think? Did we save the best for last? We vote tomorrow, so discuss away!

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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.

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