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Someday My Printz Will Come
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Double Lives of Artists

Double LifeI’ve been calling this post “double life/art ladies,” which doesn’t quite flow off the tongue as a post title, but does hint at what these two have in common — two intense teenage girls who prefer a hidden or secret life so that they can make their art. And both of these titles have a lot to say about the power of creation, especially for people who might otherwise feel powerless. As luck would have it, though, they’re also pretty different, too — one is magical realism while the other is straight up realistic fiction.

galleryGallery of Unfinished Girls by Lauren Karcz
June 2017, HarperTeen

Reviewed from an eBook

This is an ambitious novel, asking big questions and pulling two worlds together to tell a single story. There are many good parts — it’s especially strong when exploring the weirdness and uncertainty in ‘the spaces between words,’ and the way friendships, sisterhood — all relationships work. The thoughtful and rich focus on women’s and girl’s relationships was evocative and interesting, and those are the parts that will linger with me the longest.

This is a powerful premise and has many elements that should add up to something really cool. It’s a story about transitions, about changes, about the way beginnings and endings work and feel in our lives. It even uses magical realism to make these ideas coalesce into something more, something with weight and pull. Sometimes, though the actual implementation gets in the way of these lofty goals. So while the novel is sometimes evocative and often emotional, it’s also plagued with unnecessary detail, bogged down by a slow start, and Mercedes’s voice sometimes comes across as over the top.

Mercedes’s uncertainty over Victoria, about her art, is so relatable and feels real. Her relationship with Angela, too, is well developed, and I’m always going to be happy to read books where lady feelings and lady relationships are centered. Karcz explores the messy tangle of emotions that undergird and complicate friendships, and while it didn’t always untangle these emotions, I valued the exploration. And some of Mercedes’s relationships with secondary characters feel unexplored — Tall John, Gretchen, Edie, a little too.

It doesn’t always seem like a strength when the story moves away from these concerns. The magical realism adds to the development of the novel’s ideas about what it means to be an artist, about how art can be transformative to an artist. But the stuff on the Estate feels like it’s competing with the real life side of Mercedes’s experience, rather than enhancing it; the two sides of the story compete instead of working together.

This was an ambitious novel — especially considering it’s a first novel — but I’m not convinced it will go far at the table.

elizaEliza and her Monsters by Francesca Zappia
May 2017, Greenwillow Books
Reviewed from an ARC

With three stars, Eliza is a book I go back and forth on. I love a lot about it: the fandom love and fervor, the respect for people who grapple with mental health, the honesty about the relentless drudgery that is high school, the first person narration that is somehow both self absorbed and self aware.

Zappia gives her characters a number of ways to engage with each other — there are text-based private messages, written notes, FaceTimey chats, and sometimes even f2f talking. The intense fandom friendships that can develop around a great thing, the best thing, Your Thing have their own rhythm (every Friday is Dog Days, Rainmaker posted a new fanfic and now that’s the conversation, LadyConstellation continued the story for the week, time to read and talk).

Zappia really understands fandom, respects the ways fans connect, and the fierceness of that connection. Eliza’s parents spend a lot of time questioning her friendships, and as a result, the text is allowed to interrogate what it means to be a friend, what connection looks like, especially for widely dispersed, tightly connected communities. There’s such respect for the camaraderie of fandom within the text. It’s partly because the character banter is so sparkly and funny, the inside jokes are so chummy. There are also elements of a meta-ish story within a story, with Eliza’s version of MS, Wallace’s version of MS, and the ways the fans — which include Eliza and Wallace — interact over MS.

I think this boils down to being a Mary-Poppins-for-me kind of book, really: practically perfect in every way — until I give it a good, grimlet Printz gaze. I suspect under a closer more scrutinous reread, some of the sparkle would dust off, and the characters wouldn’t be quite so shiny. The off-page characters have really fun dialogue, but we never get much of a sense of internal life for them. Eliza’s f2f people can sometimes be a bit one-note. Eliza’s emotional journey was somewhat uneven, too; the big reveal happens so late in the game that the work she’s doing with the therapist reads as rote and routine rather than an active, healing process.

Possibly most fatally for Printz talk (?) is that the Monstrous Sea elements never really add up to a truly meta story within a story. The art and the excerpts are really fun, but I’m not sure they add much weight to the story. (I mean, I’d totally read Monstrous Sea, if it were really a thing.) (Will it be a thing?) I hope this doesn’t read as too harsh a review, because this was a charming read, the romance was very sweet, and I enjoyed absolutely every second of it.

So that’s my double whammy take on these ladies living double lives, making art. What do you all think? (Or shall we begin writing and drawing Monstrous Sea in the comments?)

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About Sarah Couri

Sarah Couri is a librarian at Grace Church School's High School Division, and has served on a number of YALSA committees, including Quick Picks, Great Graphic Novels, and (most pertinently!) the 2011 Printz Committee. Her opinions do not reflect the attitudes or opinions of SLJ, GCS, YALSA, or any other institutions with which she is affiliated. Find her on Twitter @scouri or e-mail her at scouri35 at gmail dot com.

Comments

  1. I agree with you on Eliza and Her Monsters. The book on the surface is good and teens like it but when I held it up to the light if just didn’t work for me. I think the biggest flaw is the aspect you mentioned last, that a book about a webcomic should really allow that webcomic to speak…even the art that we were given didn’t add anything or much to the story so I was left not caring at all about Monstrous Sea. That, I fear, is the fatal flaw.

  2. Interestingly I made sure that my committee covered The Gallery of Unfinished Girls for a presentation on new books at work but I never considered it a Printz contender. I’m not sure if I do now based on your review but maybe I’ll go and give it a closer look myself soon.

    Eliza and Her Monsters is a really interesting book and I’m liking it more with distance from it. As a person with friends I only know online or through Twitter I loved the thought and respect that this story gave to online friendships and they way they play out (they’re key to Eliza’s life and it’s never a choice of online or in person friends). When I first read the book I didn’t understand Eliza’s paralysis or panic after she was outed. But then I had a weird moment of Twitter fame and I felt a lot more sympathetic after sort of seeing the other side of the viewer/creator dynamic.

    My issues with the story: first I think it was entirely too long. There’s a lot of interesting stuff and I think it’s important to have the setup before things start changing for Eliza but there was too much packed into the end. I also hated the way her dynamic with Wallace shifted toward the end. The entire transcribing/publishing Monstrous Sea felt very sketchy and like a big character shift. Aside from that I am still not sure about the accuracy of how it was handled although I admit that’s probably more a personal issue.

    I loved the Monstrous Sea excerpts (I know not everyone did) but I wanted more of them. At times they were more compelling than Eliza’s own story and, as you said, they never felt cohesive. It always felt like Eliza (and Zappia) was holding something back because she knew so much about Monstrous Sea she assumed her readers would too. With so much of the story referencing the webcomic and fandom it would have been nice to see more than piecemeal bits here and there. It also reminded me of the fanfic pieces in Fangirl–it’s been a while since I read that one but I feel like they may have made more sense integrated into Cath’s own story.

    I’ve been recommending Eliza and Her Monsters to a lot of my (online) friends but I don’t see it going the distance in Actual Printz discussions.

    • Sarah Couri says:

      The Monstrous Sea excerpts were really interesting to me, Emma! They often felt like the ephemeral extras you might find in the margins or the ends of chapters (especially in manga, almost doodles with funny asides from the author) — which did make it feel fan-fictiony and fun. I think it was meant to add to that fandom aspect of the novel. But yes, we agree that they needed to do a little more work in service of the overall story, especially because the representation of fandom was already so well established.

      And yes, there was a lot of care given to her online life, and I totally agree that her panic/paralysis at her online outing makes sense. I was irritated by her parent’s overall cluelessness, though. I, too, did not grow up with internet fun and a digital social life (not even in high school because I am ooolllllllllddddddddd), but I understand both the joys and vulnerabilities that people can encounter online; I have them in a very small way because I am a human alive right now. Why couldn’t they? Why this failure to extrapolate? Like, have they not read this? (OK, maybe that is expecting too much of parents, to assume that their kids might be making millions of dollars online…)

      • Yes! I was very frustrated by how clueless the parents were although I can see how they might not immediately think Eliza is a millionaire or whatever. I don’t know if it’s a weakness in the novel but one of the saddest things for me was the family aspect because it seemed obvious early on that everyone was *trying* to connect with Eliza but it just wasn’t working. One of the best moments was when Eliza realizes that Sully and Church not only have been paying attention to her life but also might want to be a bigger part of it.

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