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Archivist Wasp Has A Sting You’ll Want to Savor

Archivist WaspArchivist Wasp, Nicole Kornher-Stace
Big Mouth House, May 2015
Reviewed from final e-book

I love this book. Can I just get that out there right up front?

Which is not to say I love its chances, but I’m still going to wax eloquent (or wax, anyway) in praise of its strengths.

This is a weird book from a small press. I’m not even sure if it’s widely available in bookstores, because in the past I’ve had trouble finding Small Beer stuff in brick and mortar shops. I bought the e-copy because it was on my radar as a fantasy novel (which is my primary non-YA reading indulgence); I wasn’t actually thinking about YA or awards at all. And then I read it, and I was just blown away.

[Read more…]

Double Trouble

princess xme being meI am Princess X by Cherie Priest
Scholastic, May 2015
Reviewed from a final copy

Me Being Me is Exactly as Insane as You Being You by Todd Hasaak-Lowy
Simon & Schuster, April 2015
Reviewed from an ARC

And hey! It’s a twofer Friday to balance out our start to the week. We’ve got two books that incorporate some unusual elements in their storytelling: one’s a blend of text and comics, and the other’s told entirely in lists. Both authors made deliberate choices about how to tell the stories, and while neither book is perfect, they’re interesting and worth the conversation. Both contemporary, both use humor effectively, both debuts (of a sort — they’re both authors new to YA) but they go in different directions. [Read more…]

Saint Anything

Saint Anything coverSaint Anything, Sarah Dessen
Viking, May 2015
Reviewed from final copy

Truth time: I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that Saint Anything is the first Sarah Dessen novel I’ve read; I didn’t read YA when I was actually in that demographic and she was never on my syllabi as an education or library student. Although I had always heard good things about Dessen, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book. The cover is gorgeous but vague and the title’s significance is unclear even after reading the jacket copy. However, a few things became clear after reading this novel: first, the title and cover couldn’t be more perfect for the story contained within (high fives all around, book team); second, reading Sarah Dessen when I was a teen would have made me happy; and finally, I had so many feels while reading that at one point, I had to get up and walk away from the book because I wanted a really beautiful moment to sink in.

Although reviews have been mostly positive, it has only received one star (from Publishers Weekly). We had Saint Anything on our radar thanks to reader Cecilia, who mentioned it in response to our final post last season. If you’ve read my reviews before (::cough:: Eleanor & Park ::cough:: I’ll Give You the Sun) you know how I feel about romance and relationships in YA lit. Falling in love when you’re a teen is serious stuff and it takes a skilled writer to capture that experience authentically. So why isn’t it a given that we look at YA stories about romance with the same critical lens as other “serious” books? That’s a whole conversation for another day (or the comments). For now, let’s talk Saint Anything.

[Read more…]

Boys Will Be… Knitters and Lovers and Funny, Oh My

Simon VS the Homo Sapiens Agenda coverBoys Don't Knit coverSimon VS the Homo Sapiens Agenda, Becky Albertalli
Balzer + Bray, April 2015
Reviewed from ARC

Boys Don’t Knit, T.S. Easton
Feiwel and Friends, March 2015
Reviewed from final copy

It’s a twofer Monday, today, with two delightfully warm, funny, and frankly tender tales of boys grappling with what it means to be a boy, and also what it means to fall for someone.

[Read more…]

Challenger Deep

challenger1Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman
HarperCollins, April 2015
Reviewed from a final copy

Six starred reviews. One of the titles on the NBA longlist. This is a deeply personal story, one that has authenticity and hope. Although I’m still frantically reading 2015 titles, this is the book that has me excited at this point in the year. Challenger Deep has a lot of critical love, obviously, but it’s got a lot of general buzz as well — and a combination like that can be powerful at the table. 

The biggest challenge: it takes a certain amount of patience to push through the initial confusion of the beginning. The way Caden’s worlds collide and mix up with his dreams, you need to put the work in at the start in order to make it to the end. But this is a read that rewards patience and tenacity because the way the stories intertwine enrich the reading experience as a whole. The split worlds actually are (for me) the greatest strength of the novel; they comment on each other, reflect and refract each other, eventually coming to a merging point.

Shusterman’s language in moving between these worlds, too, is masterful. At crucial points in the text, Caden’s first person narration switches to second person, pulling us in as readers, binding us even more tightly to Caden. Shusterman is using his story not just to talk about a character who is mentally ill; he’s showing us, he’s bringing us along for the ride. We are next to Caden, addressed directly by Caden — the reader is subtly but powerfully tied to Caden’s story and to Caden’s perspective.

As a narrator, Caden is funny and charming despite his unreliability. (Hmmm. That’s not the perfect word, but I can’t think of a better one, so I’m going to leave it there. Maybe you all have a suggestion?) On his family’s trip, he describes his car sickness: “One step short of vomiting. Which, I suppose, makes me like everyone else in Vegas.” Heh. Sounds like a wry teenage boy right there. His voice is what can pull readers through the initial confusion of the split worlds. His utter relatability allows us as readers to go along for the ride, navigating his symptoms; we can’t help but actively try to connect with him.

The other characters don’t stand out quite as much; this is most definitely Caden’s story. His parents take up a parental amount of space (they are humanized and interesting, certainly sympathetic, but are not really the focus; this is YA, after all). The figures on the boat in the trench are well balanced; they start out seeming larger than life (and seem in some ways to be extensions of Caden himself), and end up corresponding to people in Caden’s hospital world. Even with these multiple roles, though, Caden voice and experiences dominate the story.

The writing is really beautiful, full of details and descriptions. “I push past the stars into that dark light, and you can’t imagine how it feels. Velvet and licorice caressing every sense; it melts into a liquid you plunge through; it evaporates into air that you breath.” There’s specificity and sensuality in it. It’s quotable and clear, both moving the story along and helping readers appreciate Caden and Caden’s perspective.

The text includes line drawings. They work to illuminate particular moments in the story, and add movement and emotion. The swirling, disconnected lines can be intense. They’re a fantastic way to see inside Caden’s head — another way to connect with our central figure.

But the big question we’re supposed to be figuring out here: do we think this will take a medal? I think it could. In a way, I almost wonder if coming up against the titles Joy reviewed a while ago could be to its advantage. I’ve certainly got more to read before my year is over, but this is one strong contender. What do you all say?