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Someday My Printz Will Come
Inside Someday My Printz Will Come

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?

You know nothing, Mim Malone: Mosquitoland

Mosquitoland coverMosquitoland, David Arnold
Viking, March 2015
Reviewed from final copy

There are major spoilers ahead so if you don’t want to know major plot points for Mosquitoland proceed with caution.

At a certain point in one’s reading life, first person narration immediately triggers suspicion of an unreliable narrator. It’s not a terrible starting point because when do people ever tell stories without bias? The conventional wisdom is that everyone is the hero in their own story and this is definitely true of Mim Malone, our unreliable, letter-writing, narrator who runs away from the titular Mosquitoland (her new home in Mississippi) to rescue her ailing mother in Ohio. Mim is smart enough that we can believe in her ability to make the journey and navigate the various practical obstacles, but broken enough for us to question her emotional stability and judgment. Her voice is clear and distinct in David Arnold’s quirky road trip odyssey.

This is his debut novel and landed on our list after earning three stars. Amid the buzz however, there’s been criticism aimed at Mim’s understanding and use of her “one-sixteenth” Cherokee heritage. On her blog, American Indians in Children’s Literature, Debbie Reese has written extensively about this issue; I encourage you to check out her posts including one in which David Arnold responds to the criticism. Since that conversation has been so thoroughly and thoughtfully covered, let’s look at some of the other criteria to determine the possibility of seeing Mosquitoland earn a special sticker this winter.

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The Walls Around Us (are pretty darn impressive)

The Walls Around Us coverThe Walls Around Us, Nova Ren Suma
Algonquin Books for Young Readers, March 2015
Reviewed from final e-copy

Finally! In The Walls Around Us, Suma has delivered the book I wanted back when I first read Imaginary Girls. It’s got the good stuff I knew to expect — her wordsmithing really is excellent (my notes use the effusive words “lush” and “sensual”), she slides between fantasy and reality with a slippery grace — and those qualities works together perfectly with the complicated plot and seriously broken characters.

In short, I was blown away by this one.

However, within a few weeks of finishing the book I felt this vague sense of distaste and wasn’t really singing its praises very loudly, because we have here a book that is excellently written but (much like The Tightrope Walkers) not entirely likeable.

I blame Violet. I hated her with a depth characters can’t often evoke, because she’s written that well.

The again, and luckily, likeability isn’t at all an issue for the Printz, while good writing is, which makes this one a serious contender.

[Read more…]

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…]

Haunting Historicals: Razorhurst

RazorhurstRazorhurst, Justine Larbalestier
Soho Teen, March 2015
Reviewed from final e-copy

This seems to be a divisive book. It picked up four stars right out of the gate, but in conversation with readers (mostly librarians), I’ve found the majority didn’t love it, although not necessarily for reasons that matter for Printz. It’s a genre-blender — well-researched historical fiction but also an I-see-ghosts tale (that is a genre now, right? At least, I-see-paranormal-stuff seems to be one). In some ways, it’s urban historical fantasy, a niche I rather enjoy and that allows for some fun to be had with a genre (historical fiction) that sometimes gets bogged down in balancing fact and fiction. It’s a good book that defies easy description, and yet it seems to be hanging out low on the buzz meter.

On the whole, I think the haters are wrong and this deserved all its stars, although there are a few issues. Let’s tease them out.

[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…]

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…]

Kicking Things Off (and a LIST)

1484545713_a6477d339e_zLabor Day has come and gone. School begins today for NYC. And the awards are only 4 months away.

In other words, we’re back in action!

If you’re stumbling upon us for the first time, remember: we know nothing (Jon Snow). But we’re going to have a blast speculating the &*#$ out of the 2016 Printz Award*, and we’d love to have you join in.

Need more info on who we are and what we’re about? Please poke through the archives and the about sections.

Those of you who have been with us all along really only want one thing: The List.

So here it is.

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Pyrite Redux: Days of Future Past

Next up in our countdown to the Pyrite: a conversation on science fiction, dystopias, big ideas, rancid politics, and the girls who have just about had enough — girls who chart the world’s meltdown. Taking a look at a dirty and distressing near future, we’ve got A.S. King’s Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future paired with Alaya Dawn Johnson’s Love is the Drug. [Read more…]

Pyrite Redux: What Doesn’t Kill You…

Today, let’s revisit two of our Pyrite 11 that both have at their cores events that forever change their protagonists. I am, of course, talking about Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun and Andrew Smith’s 100 Sideways Miles.

[Read more…]