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Someday My Printz Will Come
Inside Someday My Printz Will Come

Roundup: In a worst case scenario

We’re about two weeks away from the YMA’s so it’s the perfect time to highlight some books that are flying under the awards radar. Both of the titles I’m looking at today have excellent character writing and deal with themes of violence and what people do in extreme circumstances. Neither book quite has what it takes for the Printz, but I was surprised that they didn’t show up on more best of the year lists. Thankfully, both are BFYA nominees so while I keep my fingers crossed, read on for why I think they deserve some kind of recognition.

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Death and Love: Sorrow’s Knot & The Coldest Girl in Coldtown

Today, I’m talking about two books that are in my personal top 10 of the year. And both revolve around death and love, two primal, powerful pieces of life.

And they’re both fantastic.

Other than that, they’re really different, and I suspect neither of them has much chance at a Printz nod, which is sort of a shame.

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Message or Masterpiece (Or, Does the Problem Novel Still Exist?)

Today we’re running a roundup of books that we think are worth discussing because they are in the top, say, 100 of the year. But they aren’t quite there, and we don’t think they’ll go the distance. And to make the post about more than just a series of short reviews, we’ve limited today’s roundup to books that have a lot to offer but seem to lose out on Printzliness in the name of message or purpose. Every time we discuss these books, we find ourselves focused on a central issue not of writing but of the world: an issue discussed in the books at hand but not really of them.

And as we discussed this, we found ourselves comparing these books to the problem novels of yesteryear, because like them, what the books are about seems to weigh more heavily then how they are written, even if the how is light years beyond the old chestnuts. And really, these books offer so much more than just the issues at their hearts — but we were struck by the ways that the social issue at the heart of the text stuck in our heads the longest, outweighing the literary elements. Is this about our own biases, seeing and holding on to the part that feels like a news soundbite — and therefore, easy to remember and the sort of thing that we are reminded of by the outside world on a sadly too frequent basis — or is it an issue in the writing?

Let’s see! [Read more...]

Yellowcake

yellowcake YellowcakeYellowcake, Margo Lanagan
Knopf Books for Young Readers, May 2013
Reviewed from Final Copy

Short stories aren’t always my favorite – collections can be so uneven sometimes; I’d rather spend time in a big long novel. But Margo Lanagan seems to be trying to convince me that I – even I! – can love a collection of short stories. Yellowcake is everything you’d expect – a generally strong collection of stories full of beautiful writing; disturbing images; colliding, twining themes. It’s s strong contender, although I’m not totally convinced it will take a medal in the end.

Let’s talk about what’s good here first. The language, of course (“Styx water is sharp and bites inside your nose.”): effective, unexpected, powerful. Her carefully crafted dialogue provides clues and insights into her characters (Gallantine’s very few, studiedly casual, deceptively mild lines gave me chills, for instance). Lanagan is an amazing writer, and she does her usual awesome job here, too. [Read more...]

Far Far Away: Once upon a time…

16030663 Far Far Away: Once upon a time... Far Far Away, Tom McNeal
Knopf Books for Young Readers, July 2013
Reviewed from Final Copy

It is perhaps the most polarizing title of the year. Love, hate, and debate about audience have all bubbled up around Tom McNeal’s Far Far Away. A National Book Award finalist, the novel also has five starred reviews and has made four of the year’s best lists; clearly, there is a lot of love for this book. But whenever I discuss Far Far Away with someone who didn’t like it, they don’t just dislike the book, it’s more like disdain.

I’m not one of those people but I’m not quite on the side of adoration either. McNeal’s most prominent theme is story—its power and our lives as stories are two variations that we see in the novel. McNeal’s use of storytelling (specifically, fairy tales) as a major theme is done well enough, but when analyzed with other elements of the novel such as voice, style, and characters, Far Far Away is a book made up of discrete notes that, when played together, make a dissonant sound.
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Graphic Novel Roundup: A Study in Contrasts

It’s been a strong year for graphic novels. Boxers & Saints is increasingly looking like a frontrunner, but there’s also RelishMarch, 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?

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Midwinterblood

Midwinterblood 200x300 MidwinterbloodMidwinterblood, Marcus Sedgwick
Roaring Brook Press, February 2013
Reviewed from final copy

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.

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Eleanor & Park: Love Will Tear Us Apart

9781250012579 Eleanor & Park: Love Will Tear Us ApartEleanor & Park, Rainbow Rowell
St. Martin’s Press, February 2013
Reviewed from Final Copy

[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.
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Best of…

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.

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Mortal Fire: Bright but Lacking Heat?

mortal fire 194x300 Mortal Fire: Bright but Lacking Heat?Mortal Fire, Elizabeth Knox
Frances Foster Books/Farrar Straus Giroux, June 2013
Reviewed from final copy

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.

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