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Someday My Printz Will Come
Inside Someday My Printz Will Come

Tales from Mother Russia

screen-shot-2016-12-31-at-12-56-45-pmWe’re back from a few days of rest, travel, and so much family, with yet another double post — always, as the year draws to a close, the double posts, because the good books just keep piling up. Today’s books in many ways have nothing in common — one historical fiction, absolutely realistic despite some stylistic flourishes that point to fairy tales, and the other contemporary fantasy. One is set in Russia and Sweden and England and a few points in between; the other in only a few square blocks of Brooklyn. One stretches over years, even decades when the framing narrative is considered, and the other takes place over three nights — although they are long nights, it’s true.

So what ties these two — Vassa in the Night and Blood Red Snow White — together? They share a mythologized love of Russia. They grow from Russian fairy tales, in one case because the protagonist has written a collection and in the other because everybody’s favorite wicked witch, Baba Yaga, is running a murderous convenience store that entraps our intrepid heroine.

Neither of these is a portrait of the true Russia, but both of them demonstrate the deep love affair people have with Russia, the fabled Mother Country, regardless of actual Russia, the political and geographic entity making front page news.

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The Lie Tree

The Lie Tree coverOh, The Lie Tree. For so long — since January, in fact, when I was lucky enough to get my hands on an ARC — I’ve been holding this up as an exemplar of great writing. Along with The Passion of Dolssa this has consistently held top billing in my head. It’s brilliant and unconventional; the writing is excellent; the themes unexpected: religion and science and feminism, oh my, with a lovely side of what it means to grow up.

And look, I still stand by this one as an excellent book. But after re-reading, I find I also have some questions. Let’s dig in!

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It Begins…

PW coverToday, we interrupt our usual 3 review posts per week schedule to do our first list look.

Because yes, it’s November, and yes, we’re in the rapid dash to the end of the year, and yes, the Best of lists have begun with PW’s, which landed last week.

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More Lists!

Screen Shot 2015-11-25 at 10.09.42 AMLater today Joy will be posting about the pretty amazing A Song for Ella Gray, David Almond’s third (third! Does the man not sleep?) book out this year.

In the meantime, I wanted to say a few words about the awesome SLJ Best Books list.

Sometimes I forget to highlight it, because you’re here, and we’re lucky enough to be part of the SLJ blog network, which means you probably already know all the SLJ newsy goodness.

BUT.

It’s a fantastic list and I always like comparing editor lists to the books we’re looking at and seeing where the differences lie. And there are some differences…

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A Thousand Praises for A Thousand Nights

a thousand nightsA Thousand Nights, E.K. Johnston
Hyperion, October 2015
Reviewed from ARC

I already told you this is a great year for fantasy, and I’m back to today to continue building the case.

And this is probably the one that most deserves the Printz, because for all the brilliance of The Scorpion Rules, the originality of Archivist Wasp, the many delights and flourishes of Bone Gap, this is the most literary of the year’s amazing genre bumper crop. It may also be the most overlooked and least buzzed of the bunch, making this a proper dark horse contender.

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All the Rage

A few thoughts.

One: I planned to cover two books tonight, linked by the fact that they both feature girls who have been harmed by their worlds but who won’t go down without a fight, and who both, through perseverance and pain, succeed. But it diminished both texts and I especially didn’t want to risk obscuring All the Rage, which is an important and powerful book.

Two: Sometimes the worst thing about reading with the kind of critical lens required for the Printz is that that level of scrutiny often ends up meaning we read books more than once. Admittedly, there are times when this is a gift. Rereading can be a luxury, allowing us to read for craft and detail rather than just to booktalk, and often a second read reveals new layers. On the flip side, there are also times when a close second read means we need to confront the things that are less than perfect about a book, taking a top book down a few pegs or leaving us (me) torn between a critical/blog charge and a personal and/or professional desire to promote powerful, meaningful books.

I’ve read All the Rage twice now, and I’m still struggling with the tension between what matters about this book and what matters for award season. [Read more…]

Printzbery Part 2, This Time on Wheels

Roller Girl coverYesterday we gave you a twofold twofer: two titles with potential for both Printz and Newbery.

Today we’re back with another, Roller Girl, in what looks like it might be a weeklong series.

Let’s get to it!

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Drugged by Love?

Love Is the Drug, Alaya Dawn Johnson
Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic, September 2014
Reviewed from ARC

So, I think I made it pretty clear last year that I really like Alaya Dawn Johnson’s style. She’s smart and she writes books that appeal to me as a reader. But if you dismiss this as just another fangirl review, you’ll be missing out, because despite the flaws (and there are flaws — fannish and blind are not synonyms) this is one seriously notable book.

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Fangirl — Finally!

Fangirl - Rainbow RowellWhy isn’t Fangirl getting more Printz buzz? It’s earned five stars and has appeared on a couple best of 2013 lists.

Is the subject too niche? Are readers putting all their support behind Eleanor & Park?

Whitney Winn of Youth Services Corner did a useful roundup of Mock Printz lists. While E&P appeared on all nineteen of the lists included in her data, Fangirl was on just five.

Am I taking crazy pills?

I lurve E&P. You know I do. But Fangirl is the stronger book. It’s richer thematically, has better characterizations, a more complex story, and a fascinating structure. If only one of Rowell’s novels is recognized by the Real Committee this year, it should be Fangirl.
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Sex & Violence

Sex & ViolenceSex & Violence, Carrie Mesrobian
Carolrhoda LAB, October 2013
Reviewed from ARC

Time for a true confession: of the five 2014 Morris Award nominated titles, I’ve read only one. All of the books had been on my to-read list before becoming Morris finalists, but we all know what happens with to-read lists and then you’ve only read one of the books. Fortunately for me, that book was Carrie Mesrobian’s Sex & ViolenceIt’s challenging and smart work from a promising writer—truly deserving of the Morris nod (and I really regret not being able to judge it against the rest of the field).

Mesrobian has a clear thesis in Sex & Violence; it’s mostly there in the title, but she’s also interested in how an already emotionally detached young person copes with PTSD. The latter is really the meat of the book and what makes it work: after a violent attack in his boarding school’s shower leaves him without a spleen, Evan begins to question his sexual history and actions which led to the assault. Mesrobian puts the reader directly in his head by writing in first person, but Evan is never entirely honest with himself, making him an impenetrable narrator. It’s only in his letters to Collette where he reveals anything true about himself, because it’s as he writes these letters that he begins to understand who he is. Evan’s voice is consistent and pitch perfect; this kind of assured writing is worth the price of admission.
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