Maybe here is a good time to say, I love Brenna Yovanoff. I love her writing, her dark and delicious fantasies. This fifth title is more along the lines of magical realism than straight out fantasy. The slow and sweet Waverly/Marshall relationship notwithstanding, Yovanoff takes an unflinching look at aggression and dysfunction in high school, and the results are dark — not so much with the creepy factor, but it’s decidedly a dark take on the high school experience. Places has garnered three starred reviews, and it’s easy to lay out why: strong characterization, important themes, and a delicate mix of genres. Does this have staying power once RealCommittee gets to the table, though? [Read more…]
Philip Reeve is underappreciated in the US. The Mortal Engines quartet was brilliant science fiction — pacy, philosophical, and heart-breaking. And then it was gone, apparently out of print. The prequel trilogy starring the incomparable Fever Crumb also failed to get as much traction as it deserved. Hopefully, the upcoming film of Mortal Engines will signal a rebirth of interest, and hopefully that will mean good things for Reeve’s latest, the unusual Railhead.
Here’s a title with three stars, coming at us from a small press. We’ve got realistic fiction — more Canadian fiction, actually (yeah, OK, I recognize that this is not actually a genre). Moore is an adult novelist visiting the YA landscape for the first time with an emotional, powerful look at love, friendships, family. And magic potions, there are also magic potions here. (Though no actual magic; it’s realistic fiction.)
This is ambitious storytelling with a lot of strengths. We see strong characterizations and complicated relationships. Flannery’s friendship with Amber, her crush on Tyrone, her relationship with Miranda are all nuanced, changing things. Flannery’s first person voice is memorable — in part because of Moore’s decision to forgo quotation marks to denote dialogue. Everything we read is filtered through Flannery’s eyes, and we cannot forget it. We see every interaction through her, and she fills in our understanding of the story with flashbacks. Reading without any indicators of time in the narration (could be present, could be a narrated flashback) or if someone has started speaking is be tricky, but it’s overall a quick adjustment as a reader. In return, we gain an intimacy and immediacy to Flannery’s experience that is authentically teenlike.
Flannery is caught up with Tyrone, but this isn’t a love story, really. It’s more an examination of the many forms of love we find in life. We see so much of the Miranda/Flannery relationship — the ups and downs of these few months take us on a journey that feels connected to but apart from the crush Flannery nurtures for Tyrone. And the Flannery/Amber relationship, with its flaws and fractures, is a third leg. I’m imagining a three-legged stool as a metaphor for this plot, and all three legs equally supports the story and gives it shape.
There are a few story strands that fade out rather than get resolved — although you could argue that the entire reading experience is so slice-of-life (and tied to Flannery’s perspective) that that’s just verisimilitude and thus an artistic choice. Slightly trickier: the bullying scene is a jump out of the rest of the novel, and the friendship origin stories of Flannery/Amber and Flannery/Tyrone are jumbly and too similar (or maybe an error). If the two friendships are both rooted in being babies at the hospital at the very same time and on the very same day, well, why these similarities? And if it’s an uncaught error, it’s a distracting one.
The emotional impact of the title is undeniably big — this is why it’s got three stars. It’s a successful examination of many kinds of relationships, and the closeness we feel with Flannery is the result of Moore’s thoughtful writing and storytelling choices. So, depending on RealCommittee’s makeup, this title could be getting close scrutiny at the table. However, I have to confess that I’m not sure I’d nominate this one (for me, the small negatives were just distracting enough that I couldn’t relax and enjoy the journey). But this isn’t all about me — maybe you connected so well with Flannery you disagree? Let’s keep talking!
There are some fun parallels between the two novels we’re discussing today. Both are debut novels from Ivy-league educated women with impressive resumes in other careers. Both books came out in June and have narrators who are teenage girls struggling to find their place in the world. They are also both strong contenders for the Morris Award. Compared to some of the current Someday favorites, these two probably won’t emerge as Printz contenders this year but there’s enough potential in each that we may see these authors in the conversation in years to come.
I’m going to cheat a little today, and deviate from our attempts to review in roughly calendar order.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about middle grade and YA and all ages and the fine line between the Newbery and the Printz.
We’ve had books on all ends snag awards, yes, but these are generally outliers (see: Navigating Early, Last Stop on Market Street, This One Summer). Generally, the Printz list is solidly YA, the Newbery middle grade, and the Caldecott goes to a picture book for ages 4-7. But here’s the thing: books aren’t nearly this clearcut in their appeal. And as always, we have a handful of books this year that seem tailor-made to defy easy age and award bracketing. Today I’m going to look at three of them (with an honorable mention of a fourth): Matt Phelan’s Snow White, Shaun Tan’s The Singing Bones, and Kelly Barnhill’s The Girl Who Drank Down the Moon. These aren’t the only potential line-blurrers: Joy’s Thanksgiving call for reader nominations raised Wolf Hollow (my honorable mention) and Some Kind of Happiness as possibilities, and the nonfiction this year is almost all on the cusp — and that’s just the ones I can name off the top of my head. But these three are the ones I see as having the most consensus as crossover books we might want to talk about, whether or not they actually have the legs to go the distance.
Oh, friends, I may not be the person to write this review — not least because I haven’t technically finished reading this quite short book. I mean, I’ve read most of it, and what I’ve missed, I have skimmed through as I was trying to get ready for this semi-late review. If I just waited to post until tomorrow morning, I’d have it all done and feel slightly more legit about this. But…if I’m being honest, finishing isn’t going to get me where I need to be to make a solid call on this one. Hartnett is a past honoree, and Golden Boys has four well earned stars — the writing is lovely, full of well-integrated motifs and gorgeous imagery.
I know, I know, I sound like the most ungrateful reviewer around, not appreciating all this bounty! We’ve talked before about preferences and baggage, and the difference between reading for yourself, reading for a collection, and reading for committee (all so different!). I am always someone who wants a lot of plot in my plot, who would prefer that characters run around — and maybe swing a vorpal sword while they run. But I recognize that’s not always what I will get in my reads. Case in point here! [Read more…]
Magical Realism is hot: It’s the label attached to last year’s Printz winner Bone Gap, and it’s been popping up all over the YA and MG scene for the past few years. This year, again, offers us a handful of books in the genre. I’ve read three so far that deserve to be in the awards speculation pool, and today I’m going to talk about two of them (the last one is a late fall pub so we’ll wait on that).
Magical Realism is realistic literature with fantastical or magical elements, but it’s something more, because that bare bones definition also covers a significant chunk of fantasy. If you extend the definition, two additional points are worth noting: first, the setting; and second, the way the magic is received. The top-billed magical realists are Latin American — Jorge Luis Borges, Gabriel García Márquez, Laura Esquivel, Isabel Allende — and their settings are Argentina, Colombia, Mexico, Chile. And in their books, the magic is not something apart — compare this to, say, Stiefvater’s Raven Boys quartet, where they all know the magic is strange, and, well, magical. Instead, in magical realist texts, the magic heightens the mundane and becomes an expression of emotion, rather than something characters step back and try to understand.
One of the two titles I’m discussing today reads to me like classic magical realism — no surprise, as it bears a dedication to Gabriel Garcia Marquez and is a Brazilian work, originally published in Portuguese and now translated into English. The second straddles the fantasy/magical realism line, but feels closer in its roots to magical realism than fantasy, so I’m going with the label.
Alright, enough introduction, and on to the books.
Not a roundup, not a Best Of list, not a bird OR a plane, it’s a review! With three stars and a shout out in the comments of our original list, this is historical fiction with a twist — a Hamlet-infused ghosty twist. This is not the only Shakespeare inspired fiction that we’ve looked at this year, and it’s certainly not the only historical fiction. What makes this a standout title? [Read more…]
With only six weeks left in 2016—an almost universally recognized dumpster fire of a year—the best of lists will release in a steady stream. We take the lists seriously because they can help us identify books that are beginning to have a strong consensus opinion, as well as books that may become a dark horse.
SLJ editors discussed a selection of favorites from their Best of 2016 list in a fun live stream (which you can view here and on KidLit TV). The full list will go live on SLJ’s website next week but you can download a PDF of all 66 titles now.