Karyn started out the week gushing about what a banner year for fantasy it is. I’m a little closer to Joy’s wavelength because I’ve got some (historical) realistic fiction to cover in this post. Joy also talked about SIGNIFICANCE (well, MESSAGE) in her post. I think that Quintero’s offering, while SIGNIFICANT, elegantly unites a specific setting and time period with a powerful coming of age story. Is that enough of a merit to name it as a contender, though? [Read more…]
So way back a few weeks ago, Karyn mentioned that she found Tightrope Walkers too dark and oppressive to really sit with. I immediately began to wonder, what did I miss? Why didn’t the darkness affect me? Was I fooled by the book, to find hints of hope throughout, and find moments of compelling beauty in the darkness?
I’m pretty sure I found the book that answers my question. Did I miss too much? Nah, I’m good. This is a dark book. This is a book that pushes and prods and then slaps you around. It’s oppressive, it’s unrelenting, it’s brutal, and then it ends in despair. What I’m saying is, Tightrope Walkers was a walk on a riverbank in the springtime with birds chirping and woodland creatures frolicking, and this is…sure not. [Read more…]
Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club by Phillip Hoose
Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, May 2015
Reviewed from final copy
We’ve got two nonfiction reads. They’re both short, they’ve both received a lot of stars, and they’re both bringing new material to teen collections (IE, they’re full of SIGNIFICANCE, which may not be Printzly, but is still exciting and interesting to talk about). Will either one go the distance? [Read more…]
We’ve spent the week looking at Printzbery books: the stuff that falls on the young end here, but is still eligible and worth the conversation. But here for our Friday read, I’ve got a totally different direction to take: two memoirs with distinctive voices: two very different reads. Ironically, the only thing they may have in common? They’re not really for younger teens at all. It’s hard to say that either one will definitely take a medal when all is said and done, but as different as they are, they’re worth considering. [Read more…]
Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
HarperTeen, May 2015
Reviewed from final copy
I’ve been considering this a graphic novel roundup — we’re short on time, you may have heard? — but now that I’m sitting down to write it, I’m finding myself with a lot to say about Nimona. I can’t guarantee that we’ll have a chance to circle back around to March 2 and Ms Marvel 2 and 3. (It would be the M cubed post, unless we’re able to fit in EVEN MORE GNs. And with the year going as quickly as this one is, don’t underestimate our ability to add and add and add! I mean, I am not convinced that any of those sequel Ms will go the distance at Printz table conversation, but I want to live in a world where Kamala Khan is considered for Printz candidate alongside John Lewis, OK?) [Read more…]
Last week, I spent my time talking about unusual formats. This week, I’m not dealing with an unsual format — just straight up prose here, folks — but this title does have a unique feel. It’s like a fairy tale — it feels like a fairy tale, and uses some elements of a fairy tale — but it’s heavier than a fairy tale because it’s also an emotional/philosophical examination of what it means to be human, of what it means to love, to choose to love even though we will also, always, every time, lose. It’s really a beautiful read. Game has 4 stars and some buzz as well (there were people talking about it here last January). [Read more…]
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…]
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?
The Tightrope Walkers by David Almond
Candlewick, March 2015
Reviewed from an ARC
Oh, I am conflicted about this one. This is gorgeous, gorgeous writing — even the first line pulls you in and lets you know that you’re in for something unusual here (“I was born in a hovel on the banks of the Tyne, as so many of us were back then.”) With a careful balance of themes, metaphors, and images (tightrope walking, but also literally happening, the cane of Miss O’Kane, generational hopes and disappointments), this is meticulously crafted. It’s also got unsettling violence, and the ways it uses this element has got me asking hard questions. [Read more…]
Audacity by Melanie Crowder
Penguin/Philomel, January 2015
Reviewed from ARC
I have a copy all marked up with post its; Audacity is full of lovely language, creatively placed text (srsly, such nice design), and strong recurring images, and I want to put lots of quotes in for oooh-ing and aww-ing purposes. However, I GUESS we are here for a slightly more substantive discussion. So let’s get started. With three stars and some buzz floating around, this historical fiction in verse is eye-catching and discussion-worthy — but will it go the distance at the table? [Read more…]