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Someday My Printz Will Come
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Saint Anything

Saint AnythingSaint Anything, Sarah Dessen
Viking, May 2015
Reviewed from final copy

Truth time: I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that Saint Anything is the first Sarah Dessen novel I’ve read; I didn’t read YA when I was actually in that demographic and she was never on my syllabi as an education or library student. Although I had always heard good things about Dessen, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book. The cover is gorgeous but vague and the title’s significance is unclear even after reading the jacket copy. However, a few things became clear after reading this novel: first, the title and cover couldn’t be more perfect for the story contained within (high fives all around, book team); second, reading Sarah Dessen when I was a teen would have made me happy; and finally, I had so many feels while reading that at one point, I had to get up and walk away from the book because I wanted a really beautiful moment to sink in.

Although reviews have been mostly positive, it has only received one star (from Publishers Weekly). We had Saint Anything on our radar thanks to reader Cecilia, who mentioned it in response to our final post last season. If you’ve read my reviews before (::cough:: Eleanor & Park ::cough:: I’ll Give You the Sun) you know how I feel about romance and relationships in YA lit. Falling in love when you’re a teen is serious stuff and it takes a skilled writer to capture that experience authentically. So why isn’t it a given that we look at YA stories about romance with the same critical lens as other “serious” books? That’s a whole conversation for another day (or the comments). For now, let’s talk Saint Anything.

[Read more…]

Boys Will Be… Knitters and Lovers and Funny, Oh My

Simon VS the Homo Sapiens Agenda coverBoys Don't Knit coverSimon VS the Homo Sapiens Agenda, Becky Albertalli
Balzer + Bray, April 2015
Reviewed from ARC

Boys Don’t Knit, T.S. Easton
Feiwel and Friends, March 2015
Reviewed from final copy

It’s a twofer Monday, today, with two delightfully warm, funny, and frankly tender tales of boys grappling with what it means to be a boy, and also what it means to fall for someone.

[Read more…]

Challenger Deep

challenger1Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman
HarperCollins, April 2015
Reviewed from a final copy

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



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…]

Fiction Roundup: Depressed Teens Edition

All the Bright Places, Jennifer Niven
Knopf Books for Young Readers, January 2015
Reviewed from final copy

I Was Here, Gayle Forman
Viking, January 2015
Reviewed from ARC

Hey folks, a friendly reminder that we do spoilers here so if you don’t want to know major plot points for either of these novels, consider yourself warned.

In young adult literature mental illness is an ISSUE (note the all caps) that comes with a responsibility to the intended audience. Misinformation is potentially harmful, as is romanticizing or sugarcoating facts.* Yet an author also has a responsibility to the story that they want to tell, their characters, and to themselves as artists. This doesn’t mean that accuracy and literary merit are mutually exclusive options—after all, accuracy is one of the Printz criteria—but they can be competing interests, especially in novels written with a young audience in mind. Can literary quality outweigh problematic messaging?

Today we’re looking at two novels about depression, both published in January. All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven has earned four stars and gathered a lot of early buzz; Gayle Forman’s I Was Here has two stars and hasn’t been in the awards conversation per se despite treading the same ground.
[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…]

So how about that NBA longlist?

NBA Young People's Literature longlist - book cover thumbnails

10 books.

6 YA, 2 nebulous, and only 2 middle grade.

7 of the recognized titles already on our own initial list.

I’m pretty happy with this NBA longlist, I must say! [Read more…]

The Boy in the Black Suit

The Boy in the Black Suit coverThe Boy in the Black Suit, Jason Reynolds
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, January 2015
Reviewed from final copy

Sometimes people who are grieving can find comfort in structured routines. Matt Miller, the titular boy of The Boy in the Black Suit, doesn’t just adopt a routine; he gets a job at a local funeral home where he will witness other people’s grief every day. Quietly sitting in on the services and observing the mourners helps Matt feel like the pain he’s felt following the death of his mother is the same as everyone else’s. It gives him a sense of normalcy when everything in his life has changed. He’s a regular fixture at the funeral home where he meets, of course, someone who challenges everything he thinks he knows about mourning, and that someone is a girl who will change his life.

[Read more…]

Life, Life, and Masturbation: The Alex Crow

The Alex CrowThe Alex Crow, Andrew Smith
Dutton, March 2015
Reviewed from ARC and ebook editions

Last year, Andrew Smith wrote a book that had: weird science, boys who talk about masturbation, an incredibly strong voice, and strange animals created by the aforementioned weird science.

Love it or hate it, we couldn’t stop talking about it.

So why is The Alex Crow, which could also be described as a book with weird science, boys who talk about masturbation, an incredibly strong voice, and strange animals created by the aforementioned weird science, making so little ripple?

Backlash against Smith’s problematic writing of women? (It’s not better here, exactly, but used as part of the absurdism and thus ameliorated.) The fact that he JUST received a Printz honor? A less astounding package?

Or does The Alex Crow suffer because it feels like it’s not original, even though the thing that makes it seem less original is the same author’s work?

[Read more…]

We’re Out! But before We Go, let’s talk Printz 2016

number 2 number 0 Phase 10 Dice Red number 1 Bingo Ball Number 6

letter S letter P letter E letter C letter U
letter L letter A Hangman Red Letter T letter I letter o letter N

letter B Brick letter e Letter Bead letter G Foam Play Mat Letter I letter n letter S exclamation mark

Well, another season has come and gone, and emotions have ebbed and flowed and so many pages have been read!

Before we disappear back into our regular lives, we wanted to say thank you for reading with us, disagreeing with us, and generally raising the bar on the conversation in every comment. We will miss you all for these next several months! We’ll still be on Goodreads and Twitter, so look for us there.

And again, thank you to the RealCommittee, who work so much harder and with so little visibility. They have given us another great slate of titles and continue to work tirelessly to promote innovative, exciting, beautiful writing (and any number of other descriptors I am not articulating at this moment). We do this in fun, but they do it in earnest, and they deserve a round of applause, a week-long nap, and many many kudos.

So much for reflection. Let’s look to the future. I predict that the 2016 Printz winner will be… [Read more…]