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Someday My Printz Will Come
Inside Someday My Printz Will Come

Belzhar

Belzhar cover 192x300 BelzharBelzhar, Meg Wolitzer
Dutton, September 2014
Reviewed from ARC

There’s always some weird dance of anticipation and dread when an author you respect as an author for adult readers dips into the YA world. Happily, Meg Wolitzer is very clear eyed about YA and about why she writes YA — it’s not to jump on the glory train (and isn’t it funny that YA is the glory train? That never stops being strange to me), and it’s not to say something to teens, although of course things are said. No, it’s about the feelings, and about capturing them on the page so that the rest of us can revisit those heady emotions.

And Belzhar is a perfect tempest of teen emotion, even if it’s not always a perfect piece of writing. [Read more...]

Tin Stars and Clear Days

Nostalgia and the Printz process don’t really go hand-in-hand. But those old school feelings really can color reading experiences. We have to do a lot of work to recognize them and move past them in order to assess a book more objectively. The first time you read someone, you might have been a young, impressionable librarian (Karyn is not the only one dating herself this week, ahem). Or an author’s earlier work could have defined an entire field and, you know, won the very first Printz award. What I’m saying is your (OK, be honest: my) baggage might make it hard to realize that the particular book you’re holding isn’t what you’re expecting. But, as always in Printz discussion, it’s important to focus on the book in hand, not previous works.  [Read more...]

Two Girls Staring at the Ceiling

Two Girls 232x300 Two Girls Staring at the CeilingTwo Girls Staring at the Ceiling, Lucy Frank
Schwartz & Wade, August 2014
Reviewed from final copy

I’m old.

This year, it has really come home to me that I have been doing this for a while, with the following exchanges:

Me: Oooh, a new one from Cecil Castellucci!
Joy: You mean the LA Review of Books editor?

Me: Oh! David Almond has two books out this year? We need to read those.
Joy: …I’ve heard of him.

Me: There’s a new Lucy Frank! I loved I Am An Artichoke!
Joy: <<Blank face>>

Ok, so I’m maybe exaggerating a bit, but Lucy Frank, whose name is impressed upon me as a YA author, whose early books I booktalked quite often in my salad days at New York Public Library, is one of many authors who elicit a sort of Pavlovian “I should read that” response, because I was reading their work in my formative years vis á vis YA literature.

Be wary of nostalgia reading, friends. It can lead you in the wrong direction. [Read more...]

A Creature of Moonlight

creature A Creature of Moonlight

A Creature of Moonlight by Rebecca Hahn
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, May 2014
Reviewed from ARC

This is a book that, I’m pretty sure, was written just for me. I love fantasy, I love courtly politics, I love dragons and willful ladies. Somehow, though, even though my review is due, I have to confess that I’m only about half way through. (Sometimes, reading in short bursts on the subway is not my friend, even though it makes for nice visuals.) [Read more...]

Noggin

Noggin18051349 Noggin, John Corey Whaley
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, April 2014
Reviewed from ARC

I need to be up front about something. I loved Where Things Come Back. I know it wasn’t a favorite ’round these parts, but I was impressed with the nuance and ambition in its debut author’s writing. John Corey Whaley’s Printz-winning novel made me think and feel and had me excited to read more from him.

Enter Noggin.

The high-concept plot (cryogenically frozen heads!) and the teenage angst (he’s back from the dead wants his girlfriend back too!), oh, how they intrigued and beguiled me. And oh, how I kept waiting for Noggin to deliver on the promise of its authorship. [Read more...]

Children of the King

cotk Children of the King

Children of the King, Sonya Hartnett
Candlewick, March 2014
Reviewed from ARC

Luxuriant prose, complicated and resonant themes, contemplative characters — Hartnett’s historical fiction is actually a bit of a genre-blender with thin fantasy elements woven in. Traditionally, the Printz committee rewards books that mix genres — but RealCommittee choices also tend to skew older, and Children of the King has been pegged by publisher and reviewers as a middle grade title. It’s happened before — David Almond comes immediately to mind; Hartnett’s rich descriptions and haunting strains of magic woven into the plot invite that comparison. [Read more...]

The Undertaking of Lily Chen

17934370 The Undertaking of Lily ChenThe Undertaking of Lily Chen, Danica Novgorodoff
First Second, March 2014
Reviewed from final copy

I almost didn’t write this review. Not for a lack of quality in Danica Novgorodoff’s graphic novel–it has quality bursting out of the pages. No, I almost abandoned this one because of that pesky eligibility question. It’s an issue I raised last year when I reviewed Lucy Knisley’s Relishanother book that was technically an adult pub. But, there was enough ambiguity in the publisher-defined age-range that I thought it was worth a discussion. I’m going to sound like a broken record, but I think the same principle applies for the delightfully morbid love story that is The Undertaking of Lily Chen. Yeah, technically it’s an adult pub, but if I ran the world (or, at the very least, the Printz committee) I would put this book forward for discussion.
[Read more...]

The Winner’s Curse

9780374384678 The Winners CurseThe Winner’s Curse, Marie Rutkoski
Macmillan, March 2014
Reviewed from final copy

Not gonna lie. I loved this book. I loved from the pretty dress cover — I know! But I’m a sucker — to the thoroughly unexpected world. I loved the lack of easy answers and the fact that there is more to come. I loved Kestrel’s brilliance and her stupidity, and Arin’s conflicting desires for freedom and to be a good man, in a world where both are not an option. So much love, really.

But my love does not literary merit confer, sadly, so let’s see if there’s a case to be made.

[Read more...]

I Remember Beirut

beirut I Remember BeirutI Remember Beirut, Zeina Abirached
Graphic Universe, August 2014
Reviewed from final copy

I’m struggling to remain even semi-impartial here. This is a book that I loved reading. But when I put it on the list, I was pretty sure I was doing it because of personal reasons, not so much because I was ready to nominate and defend it as a contender. And now that I’m writing up this review, well, I’m fairly muddled. AS USUAL.

[Read more...]

The Impossible Knife of Memory

18079527 The Impossible Knife of MemoryThe Impossible Knife of Memory, Laurie Halse Anderson
Viking, January 2014
Reviewed from final copy

Addiction, depression, PTSD; these weighty problems are the main focus of Laurie Halse Anderson’s The Impossible Knife of Memory, recently longlisted for the National Book Award. There’s definitely some great writing here that is worth talking about; Anderson’s ability to sustain an intense narrative in one character’s voice is admirable. But that’s just one element out of many criteria that the RealCommittee will look at if this book is up for discussion. Any book with four stars by a former Printz honor winner is certainly going to have some attention but ultimately I found this book moving, yet flawed.
[Read more...]