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Previous Winners, Part Two

Lightning image by Flickr user Jan-Joost Verhoef; CC BY 2.0

Lightning image by Flickr user Jan-Joost Verhoef; CC BY 2.0

And here is part two of our previous winners posts!

Again, we’re looking at past winners, honorees, and generally lauded authors who have a new book out this year, and again we’re wondering if lighting can strike twice (or, if you’re Marcus Sedgwick, four times).

Genuine Fraud coverGenuine Fraud, E. Lockhart
Delacorte, September 2017
Reviewed from ARC; 5 stars

This books survives or dies on the table based on whether anyone has read (or seen) The Talented Mr. Ripley. It’s a nailbiter of a read, and Lockhart — who always has exquisite writing and excels at tone and style — excels at the sentence level here. It’s also a gender-swapped and contemporary, but otherwise hardly changed (barring the reverse chronology) update of Highsmith’s classic. If you know the original, this retelling might leave you cold, or at least not top tenning this one; if you don’t, my anecdotal survey indicates this will knock your socks off. The average RealCommittee member is a well-read adult and thus probably does know the original, so I think this won’t ultimately garner another nod for Lockhart — but if you haven’t read it yet, buckle your seatbelt and dive in, there’s a reason for the five stars. —Karyn

Beck coverBeck, Mal Peet and Meg Rosoff
Candlewick, April 2017
Reviewed from ARC; 3 stars

Folks, I don’t know what to make of this one. The late Mal Peet’s final book, completed by Meg Rosoff, is clearly be award fodder: Peet received the Carnegie, and while he never won the Printz, his YA titles — the Faustino trilogy, Tamar, and (especially) Life: An Exploded Diagram all received plenty of stars and any of them would have been worthy Printz recipients. Meanwhile, Rosoff won the Printz for the (still astounding) how i live now, and while her later books have never achieved the same success (and her public statements have drawn ire and outrage, which has diminished her star power), she’s a fascinating and complex writer. But this is a weird, not YA-friendly, book, and I think it will leave most readers cold. Even if it finds a champion or two on the RealCommittee (and it should — weird and not appealing to teens have never stopped books before, although usually we’re talking either/or), I can’t see this reaching consensus: it’s an uneasy, disturbing read, violent to a degree that may strike readers as gratuitous, and it’s a book about a biracial boy explicitly about the experience of being othered by his dark skin, written by two white authors. The writing is excellent — there’s rich use of dialect, a palpable sense of place as Beck journeys, and rich, complex characterization sketched in with the deftest of details — but it’s hard to enjoy, because it’s bleak and depressing, which makes it easier for readers to move slowly and pay attention to every flaw (witness my self-questioning about Neighborhood Girls). On the other hand, three reviewers recognized the quality of the writing enough to give it stars, and a truly careful reader might hate it and yet still admire the craft. I know I really want to hear what others thought, and haven’t found anyone who’s read this, so speak up if you have. —Karyn

Saint Death coverSaint Death, Marcus Sedgwick
Roaring Brook Press, April 2017
“Reviewed” from final copy; 2 stars

Sedgwick is a three time winner (one gold, two silvers), and while I sometimes strongly dislike what he does, there’s no denying that he is endlessly inventive, frequently brilliant, and catnip for many readers; even when I quibble with the quantity of rabbits, I am struck by his skill and the craft on display in his every book. Is this yet another win? Well, I can’t say, because — confession time — I couldn’t do it. I’ve started this three times and I just can’t; it’s been a depressing year, the opening is depressing, and no matter how I try to trick myself into being ready to read this one, I keep stalling out within 50 pages. So if you could do it, and did, won’t you assess Saint Death‘s chances in the comments? Because right now I’m not sure if it’s me or the book causing the block. —Karyn

Disappeared coverDisappeared by Francisco X. Stork
Scholastic, September 2017
Reviewed from final ebook; 4 stars

Stork is a highly decorated YA writer, with tons of different awards won over the years. This year’s Disappeared has received four starred reviews, and has a story that covers tough topics and feels timely. RealCommittee is, I would guess, looking closely at this title, but I don’t think overall that he’ll walk away with a Printz medal this year. There’s a lot happening here, but often, the plot moves through convenience; characters “sense” or “feel” their way to the next plot beat. While Stork utilizes the present tense, alternating viewpoints to help keep the plot moving, the characterization is not always strong enough to feel real. We are getting fast-paced crime fiction here, but with much of the action occurring off the page, the tension is sometimes too low to sustain reader interest. The open ending, too, is an awkward fit; instead of feeling like a thought-provoking choice, it was too ambiguous and felt anticlimactic. For these reasons, I don’t see this getting a medal come ALA. —Sarah



  1. The only book on this list which I’ve read is Genuine Fraud and I think it is brilliant…telling a story backwards. Guess I’d better read The Talented Mr. Ripley.

    • Karyn Silverman says:

      More corroboration for my point: it’s such a better book when you don’t know the original! Which means the average teen reader will love this, but a lot of adult readers are less enthusiastic, making recognition less than likely.

  2. I love E. Lockhart, but I do not love her latest novels, and especially Genuine Fraud which I couldn’t bring myself to finish. She can do so much better than this regurgitated version of The Talented Mr. Ripley!

    As for the “Saint Death,” I think it’s good, but it is so relentlessly bleak, and it doesn’t get any better in that respect when you get closer to the ending. I admire Sedgwick, but I can’t cheer for this novel. Too dark.

  3. I don’t know much about The Talented Mr. Ripley (really only enough to have an idea that it was similar to Genuine Fraud) but I didn’t like the reverse chronology! I didn’t think it added to the story or to the enjoyment, which felt to me like it would have been plenty exciting enough without the trickery. But I have given it to students because I knew some of them would love it.

  4. I’m in the not familiar with Ripley camp and this was in my top five of the year. I thought the reverse chronology made this book because it allowed the reader to sympathize with the villain which is incredibly important in the development of said villain. Sure you can do that in flashbacks or POV but doing it in reverse is not only Printz bait but it added to Jules’ development. I am really crossing my fingers that the RC considers this one the way Lockhart made the reader sympathize with Jules so much that we didn’t care about the misdeeds is genius. For example, I sympathize with Cersei Lannister but she needs to die but Jules…

    • Karyn Silverman says:

      Interesting — as I learned more and more about Jules I sympathized with her less and less, just found her kind of horrifying. The reverse chronology meant that I started with sympathy for her which dissolved as the story wound backwards, leaving me feeling slightly icky that I had ever been on her side. And I didn’t think she was well-developed as anything but a sociopathic grifter — and maybe that’s worth some recognition except, again, that for me that development (and the plot) were just a reworked classic so it’s much less impressive — the template Lockhart follows did a lot of the heavy lifting.

  5. I went into this knowing the Mr. Ripley connection but even without knowing the story a lot I felt like the outcome was fairly clearly broadcast and still managed to do some interesting things–largely thanks to the reverse chronology. While this book didn’t wow me quite as much as We Were Liars I enjoyed the way Lockhart played with origin stories and the mythic male superhero and subverted those tropes in her heroine. Is this excellent handling of theme and voice enough for a Printz win? Maybe not in such a good YA year but you never know.

    I read Saint Death (and again gave it the starred review it got in SLJ) and I was impressed with everything Sedgwick takes on and executes within the novel. If you read nothing of the book, I’d still recommend looking up the related posts on his blog. The intent won’t factor into RC discussions of course but Sedgwick’s methodology and motivations are fascinating. While there’s no arguing that this book is miserably sad it was completely engrossing. I even missed my subway stop while reading it. In addition to being a timely story, Saint Death offers a fascinating commentary on the drug trade, immigration, and the arbitrary nature of luck. If it were any other author I might be more skeptical of its Printz potential but given Sedgwick’s history with the award I can’t help but consider this one a contender. It was the first Printz contender I encountered this year and now so close to the actual Printz I still think it could go the distance.

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