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Someday My Printz Will Come
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National Book Award, Part Deux: The SHORT List!

NBA shortlistI didn’t want to hijack Sarah’s review of The Game of Love and Death, so this is a few days after the fact, meaning you’ve probably all seen the short list already.

Surprises? Delights?

Me, I’m surprised by the lack of X, and a little about Symphony for the City of the Dead, but two nonfiction would have been even more surprising; the list cut in half and lost half across the board (one of the younger titles, one of the nonfiction, three of the YA fiction).

In terms of housekeeping here, this pulls Nimona from the should we/shouldn’t we give it a post list to the definitely getting a post pile. I haven’t read The Thing About Jellyfish or (surprise!) Most Dangerous; does either fall enough into the 12-18 territory to be worth a look for our narrow purposes?

And finally, let’s rejoice, because this is an excellent NBA pool! I can’t wait to see what they choose. My money is on Challenger Deep.


The Game of Love and Death

gameloveThe Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough
Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic, April 2015
Reviewed from an ARC

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…]

Archivist Wasp Has A Sting You’ll Want to Savor

Archivist WaspArchivist Wasp, Nicole Kornher-Stace
Big Mouth House, May 2015
Reviewed from final e-book

I love this book. Can I just get that out there right up front?

Which is not to say I love its chances, but I’m still going to wax eloquent (or wax, anyway) in praise of its strengths.

This is a weird book from a small press. I’m not even sure if it’s widely available in bookstores, because in the past I’ve had trouble finding Small Beer stuff in brick and mortar shops. I bought the e-copy because it was on my radar as a fantasy novel (which is my primary non-YA reading indulgence); I wasn’t actually thinking about YA or awards at all. And then I read it, and I was just blown away.

[Read more…]

Double Trouble

princess xme being meI am Princess X by Cherie Priest
Scholastic, May 2015
Reviewed from a final copy

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…]

Saint Anything

Saint Anything coverSaint 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…]