Maybe here is a good time to say, I love Brenna Yovanoff. I love her writing, her dark and delicious fantasies. This fifth title is more along the lines of magical realism than straight out fantasy. The slow and sweet Waverly/Marshall relationship notwithstanding, Yovanoff takes an unflinching look at aggression and dysfunction in high school, and the results are dark — not so much with the creepy factor, but it’s decidedly a dark take on the high school experience. Places has garnered three starred reviews, and it’s easy to lay out why: strong characterization, important themes, and a delicate mix of genres. Does this have staying power once RealCommittee gets to the table, though? [Read more…]
Here’s a title with three stars, coming at us from a small press. We’ve got realistic fiction — more Canadian fiction, actually (yeah, OK, I recognize that this is not actually a genre). Moore is an adult novelist visiting the YA landscape for the first time with an emotional, powerful look at love, friendships, family. And magic potions, there are also magic potions here. (Though no actual magic; it’s realistic fiction.)
This is ambitious storytelling with a lot of strengths. We see strong characterizations and complicated relationships. Flannery’s friendship with Amber, her crush on Tyrone, her relationship with Miranda are all nuanced, changing things. Flannery’s first person voice is memorable — in part because of Moore’s decision to forgo quotation marks to denote dialogue. Everything we read is filtered through Flannery’s eyes, and we cannot forget it. We see every interaction through her, and she fills in our understanding of the story with flashbacks. Reading without any indicators of time in the narration (could be present, could be a narrated flashback) or if someone has started speaking is be tricky, but it’s overall a quick adjustment as a reader. In return, we gain an intimacy and immediacy to Flannery’s experience that is authentically teenlike.
Flannery is caught up with Tyrone, but this isn’t a love story, really. It’s more an examination of the many forms of love we find in life. We see so much of the Miranda/Flannery relationship — the ups and downs of these few months take us on a journey that feels connected to but apart from the crush Flannery nurtures for Tyrone. And the Flannery/Amber relationship, with its flaws and fractures, is a third leg. I’m imagining a three-legged stool as a metaphor for this plot, and all three legs equally supports the story and gives it shape.
There are a few story strands that fade out rather than get resolved — although you could argue that the entire reading experience is so slice-of-life (and tied to Flannery’s perspective) that that’s just verisimilitude and thus an artistic choice. Slightly trickier: the bullying scene is a jump out of the rest of the novel, and the friendship origin stories of Flannery/Amber and Flannery/Tyrone are jumbly and too similar (or maybe an error). If the two friendships are both rooted in being babies at the hospital at the very same time and on the very same day, well, why these similarities? And if it’s an uncaught error, it’s a distracting one.
The emotional impact of the title is undeniably big — this is why it’s got three stars. It’s a successful examination of many kinds of relationships, and the closeness we feel with Flannery is the result of Moore’s thoughtful writing and storytelling choices. So, depending on RealCommittee’s makeup, this title could be getting close scrutiny at the table. However, I have to confess that I’m not sure I’d nominate this one (for me, the small negatives were just distracting enough that I couldn’t relax and enjoy the journey). But this isn’t all about me — maybe you connected so well with Flannery you disagree? Let’s keep talking!
Oh, friends, I may not be the person to write this review — not least because I haven’t technically finished reading this quite short book. I mean, I’ve read most of it, and what I’ve missed, I have skimmed through as I was trying to get ready for this semi-late review. If I just waited to post until tomorrow morning, I’d have it all done and feel slightly more legit about this. But…if I’m being honest, finishing isn’t going to get me where I need to be to make a solid call on this one. Hartnett is a past honoree, and Golden Boys has four well earned stars — the writing is lovely, full of well-integrated motifs and gorgeous imagery.
I know, I know, I sound like the most ungrateful reviewer around, not appreciating all this bounty! We’ve talked before about preferences and baggage, and the difference between reading for yourself, reading for a collection, and reading for committee (all so different!). I am always someone who wants a lot of plot in my plot, who would prefer that characters run around — and maybe swing a vorpal sword while they run. But I recognize that’s not always what I will get in my reads. Case in point here! [Read more…]
Not a roundup, not a Best Of list, not a bird OR a plane, it’s a review! With three stars and a shout out in the comments of our original list, this is historical fiction with a twist — a Hamlet-infused ghosty twist. This is not the only Shakespeare inspired fiction that we’ve looked at this year, and it’s certainly not the only historical fiction. What makes this a standout title? [Read more…]
Joy just wrote about authenticity and the way a You Read can find you at just the right time and be the book you need. I don’t need to tell you all about that, you already know; that’s why you read blogs about books, and talk about books, and tell other people about books. She also talked about how sometimes a personal reaction to a You Read can make it tricky to really assess a book — it’s like the positive version of baggage. So I have two reads here that have an awful lot in common — they’re both fictional takes on a novel-length college admissions essay, but they go in wildly different directions, feel like totally different reads, and I’m having completely different reactions to them. These differing reactions are (I suspect) a lot more about me than the books. Which is of course the opposite of what Real Committee members are supposed to be doing (or even what we’re supposed to be doing here at the blog).
A small housekeeping note: I’m jumping a little out of line with this post, because we’re working our way chronologically through the year (more or less), and one of these is actually a summer book. Apologies to purists, but they’re too intriguingly similar and dissimilar to not connect. [Read more…]
Here’s my first nonfiction title of the year, coming to us from back in February! We’ve got four stars, some love in the comments of our original list post — and who doesn’t love history? (I mean, maybe not the peasants burninating in the countryside at the time, probably. They might have argued that history sucked.) Turner’s title is an intriguing example of narrative nonfiction. With so few sources, with so little to really go on historically speaking, Turner manages to fill in with a lot of details, related research, and intelligent guesswork. She paints a vivid picture adding in details to set the scene — blacking teeth, Samurai training, armor, and other aspects of life in feudal Japan. [Read more…]
Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton
Viking, March 2016
Reviewed from a final copy
OK, I’m a day late with this review because, well, I wanted to talk about this book and then I wasn’t sure if I ought to talk about this book, but I just wanted to keep thinking about this book and it was distracting me from the other books I was considering writing up this week. And basically, if we’re going to move past this week and get this review up, we’re just going to have to push our way through this review all together.
To actually talk about Rebel: this is a title with three stars. We didn’t include it in our original official nomination list. It’s a debut title, and it’s also the start of a new series (and series books and the Printz don’t always work well together, although Morris has had some love for that). All of this may mean I’ll be talking to myself here. But I’ve got things to work out, and a blog, and, uh, I’m all out of bubblegum. Or something. [Read more…]
This is a three star title, and had some conversation in the comments of our initial list post. Of course, I’m unable to say definitively whether or not it’s at the table for RealCommittee, but I’m always intrigued by religious themed (or even slightly religious flavored) fiction for teens. I ought to specify here, this isn’t inspirational fiction, or really even Christian fiction, although it is partially fiction about one Christian’s experience; it’s more a contemplative study about living with religion (at least as far as Dill is concerned). In addition, this is a snapshot of teens living in a small town setting (hey, since I also reviewed Exit, is this an official trend? j/k) which is not always something that makes it into my reading pile. So I’m pretty pumped to talk about this title, and I wonder how far it will go at the table. [Read more…]
Can I rave for a minute? What a title! And what a cover, too. Medina manages to blend a lot of elements beautifully and smoothly. With four stars and a place on the NBA longlist, this read has a lot going for it. And a lot of people rooting for it — there’s a lot of love from all of us here; it was mentioned as an early frontrunner in the comments. But the sparkles of a disco ball can be very forgiving; in the harsh light of the Printz criteria, how well does it stand up to all the love? [Read more…]