It’s been a strong year for graphic novels. Boxers & Saints is increasingly looking like a frontrunner, but there’s also Relish, March, Book One (don’t worry, we’re definitely covering this one as soon as we get a copy), and now the two titles that are up for discussion this morning: Delilah Dirk & The Turkish Lieutenant and The War within These Walls. Complete opposites in genre, style, and tone, but each have outstanding qualities that are certainly worth a closer look. Are these qualities enough to nab a Printz?
Let me start with a provocative question: Can a book be so literary that it fails at being a book?
Midwinterblood is full of the sorts of things I’ve hardly thought about since my days as an English major: tropes, motifs, archetypes, foreshadowing, even an ekphrastic device (ok, I had to look that one up, but it’s there; it’s a work in one medium commenting on a work in another medium, here prose commenting on a painting). It’s also told in reverse chronological order, as a series of short pieces that move back in time and seek to illuminate one another and some deeper thematic scope.
Sometimes it’s so full of these things that they seem to crush any cohesive narrative, but at the same time there’s a nimble literary magic happening here that has garnered five starred reviews* and make this one feel like a serious contender.
I’ve read Midwinterblood twice now. I’ve marveled, I’ve complained, I’ve taken extensive notes, and I still waver between work of art and stinking hot mess.
[Hey, listen. We do spoilers here, okay? Major spoilers, all the time. You've been warned.]
Just as I opened my laptop to write this review, it dawned on me that I first read Eleanor & Park over a year ago. Holding back tears that eventually spill into sobs is not a thing you forget easily. Especially when the thing that reduces you to a puddle of goo is, “Just three words long.”
I fell hard for this book. It felt like Rainbow Rowell had used my consciousness to write a novel I didn’t even know I had inside me; that’s how personal the experience was for me.
Before we delve into Rowell’s novel, let’s get back to the future for a moment. Since I read it as a digital galley last year, E & P has blown up. It’s a New York Times bestseller, has five starred reviews, and John Green has given the book a glowing recommendation in the New York Times Book Review. And if that isn’t impressive enough for you, Rowell’s other YA novel published this year, Fangirl, is also a critical success with five stars of its own. Most notable is that her novels appear together on SLJ‘s and the New York Times‘ best lists. (Eleanor & Park is also on the Horn Book’s Fanfare, Publishers Weekly’s Best Books, and Kirkus’ Best Teen Books.)
Where there is high praise though, backlash will follow. With E & P in particular it’s been difficult to avoid all critical commentary, but my completely non-empirical understanding is that race, historical context and accuracy have been among the issues raised. And then there are those who say that it’s just not that good.
For the record, I still love this book. That won’t go away, at least not any time soon. That doesn’t mean though that I can’t think critically about the work; time and revisiting the text—a re-read of the final copy and a listen of the audiobook—have certainly sharpened my reading and there is a lot to discuss.
We’re at the time of year when every day seems to bring us a new list — the past 24 hours alone saw Horn Book’s Fanfare, NPR’s (new! fun!) Book Concierge, and the Morris Award shortlist.
And while I’m not a data junkie, I like lists. I like cross-referencing, comparing, seeing how the end-of-year lists stack up against our longlist and my own personal favorites, and looking for weird correlations, like the way Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly are often on the same page.
So read on for what my quick and dirty look through a pile of lists tells me about the books of 2013, as always through our narrow lens of Printz speculation.
I love this book so very very much. I put it on our initial long list based on one read, and I knew there were some flaws in the pacing, but there was so much good — the world, the utterly unusual heroine, even the messed up but utterly inevitable romance.
(I don’t even like most romance these days — too many bad literary love triangles — but Canny and Ghislain made so much sense in the weird and wonderful context of the book that my anti-love bias was put to rest.)
I really really want to spend the rest of the post telling you all the reasons why this one deserves a Printz…
But I can’t.
I had hoped to post this before the NBA was announced, but fate (and also one very lively 6-year-old) intervened, and then intervened some more.
Regardless, here’s a verbatim transcript of my thinking when I finished Boxers & Saints:
I read the two volumes back to back in the intended order, and I’m looking at them together in this post — but of course, that’s the crux of the question: I can go ahead and tell you all the reasons Boxers & Saints, as a single entity, deserves recognition as one of the year’s absolute bests, and I might be 100% right — but those arguments mean nothing if the RealCommittee considers them as two individual texts.
I’ve got a short shortlist.
September Girls is on it.
Readers, we need you!
We’re working our way down the long list, and we’ve got a few roundups of some other books that we think are in the top, say, hundred books of the year but don’t quite have that thing that wins the gold. But we know there are gems we’ve missed or dismissed, and we need you to fill in those holes.
So if the book you think is the #1 book of the year in YA lit isn’t on our list, won’t you take this moment to write a really long comment talking about that book?
Rereading Paper Valentine, I saw a lot of Printz-worthy elements.
In fact, there’s a serious contender here.
Except for one small problem: it’s two stories jammed into one book, and only one of those two is contender material.
Two Boys Kissing, David Levithan
Alfred A. Knopf. August 2013
Reviewed from ARC
Sometimes a book packs such an emotional whammy that every other aspect becomes irrelevant to 99.9% of the readers.
Two Boys Kissing is seriously packing. [Read more...]