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Someday My Printz Will Come
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How It Went Down

20517379 How It Went DownHow It Went Down, Kekla Magoon
Henry Holt and Co. (BYR), October 2014
Reviewed from final copy

For many, the second half of 2014 will be remembered as the time when police violence against black communities sparked outrage, protest, and calls for change. This is a timely and sorrowful moment for How It Went Down to arrive as a novel about the shooting death of a black teen by a white man. Thankfully, Kekla Magoon handles the plot and characters with delicacy and enough nuance that the book may become a helpful way for some teens to begin to process their frustration and confusion.

It’s important to note though, that How It Went Down is deliberately evocative of the death of Trayvon Martin, even though it’s possible to draw some parallels to Michael Brown’s death. It’s also important to note that Magoon doesn’t just recreate the plot beats of Trayvon Martin death; she’s not interested in a “ripped-from-the-headlines” kind of storytelling. She’s asking a lot of questions. How does a community cope with loss? When that loss is indicative of a larger social justice issue, how does that individual’s life become mythologized and/or demonized? How does tragedy connect and divide the people closest to it?
[Read more...]

Drugged by Love?

Love Is the Drug cover Drugged by Love?Love Is the Drug, Alaya Dawn Johnson
Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic, September 2014
Reviewed from ARC

So, I think I made it pretty clear last year that I really like Alaya Dawn Johnson’s style. She’s smart and she writes books that appeal to me as a reader. But if you dismiss this as just another fangirl review, you’ll be missing out, because despite the flaws (and there are flaws — fannish and blind are not synonyms) this is one seriously notable book.

[Read more...]

Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future

glory Glory OBriens History of the Future

Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A. S. King
Little, Brown, October 2014
Reviewed from an ARC

OK, can I confess something? When I’ve tried to describe Glory O’Brien, I’ve started to feel like maybe I’m Stefon because there’s a lot going on here. A LOT: bat drinking, dystopias, politics, graduation, a dead mom, warring families, reclusive fathers, feminism, slutshaming, art, hippies, and STDs. Like, where are the Furbies and the screaming babies in Mozart wigs?

Which is not to say I’m not taking this review seriously (Stefon is always deadly serious anyway, right?) — with six starred reviews, with three placements on year’s best lists, A.S. King’s newest is getting a lot of love. Only, while I loved the wild ride of this read at first pass, as I’m writing this review now, it’s not entirely working. The things I loved are still there, but I have some problems and questions that are making me think twice as I write.  [Read more...]

I’ll Give You the Sun

20820994 Ill Give You the SunI’ll Give You the Sun, Jandy Nelson
Dial Books for Young Readers, September 2014
Reviewed from digital galley and final copy

A lot of things make me cry. A great book, a sad movie, and occasionally, a really moving commercial*. I have a long list and I’m really honest about being particularly susceptible. But I’m also really honest when I know I’m being manipulated in a cheap or shallow way.

The last lines of I’ll Give You the Sun made me ugly cry and it was glorious catharsis. No tricks or unearned tears here. I won’t spoil the direct quote because you really should experience it in context, but I will say that in those sentences Jandy Nelson pulls all of the book’s themes together; those last words contain the entire novel.
[Read more...]

The Story of Owen

owen The Story of Owen

The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim by E. K. Johnston
Published by Carolrhoda Lab, March 2014
Reviewed from final copy

You know we’re not going to get out of here without a Trogdor reference, right? I mean, that’s not in any way the point or even relevant, but it’s still burninating me up inside. Much like the countryside and all those peasants. Which doesn’t get us to the three stars, the three best of year lists (so far), or the placement on the Morris shortlist. The Story of Owen may not have thatched-roof cottages, but it is mostly full of fantastic fantasticness. [Read more...]

Roundup: Books That Pass the Bechdel Test

Paper Airplanes 198x300 Roundup: Books That Pass the Bechdel TestWildlife cover 198x300 Roundup: Books That Pass the Bechdel Test

For years in my teens and early twenties, I read chick-lit like it was going out of style. I didn’t mind the label or the candy colored covers or the many many headless women — I was young, and not in love, and these books filled a hunger. I now scorn the love triangle in EVERY. DAMN. BOOK, especially in genre, but I understand why it holds appeal. But I’ve also developed a real appreciation for a different kind of love story, the kind about friendship with no romantic overtones but which is just as rich and deep as any romantic love story.

“It’s like being in love, discovering your best friend,” as Elizabeth Wein put it in Code Name Verity.

And in September, two lovely examples of exactly this kind of love story came out.

[Read more...]

Why We Took the Car

Why We Took the Car cover Why We Took the CarWhy We Took the Car, Wolfgang Herrndorf (translated by Tim Mohr)
Scholastic, January 2014
Reviewed from finished ebook

I initially came across this one on Jen‘s fabulous spreadsheet. Two stars doesn’t make it a must read, but I still haven’t quite recovered from The White Bicycle. It’s one thing to not have read a Printz winner/honoree personally, and a common thing, it seems, for me to disagree with the winner, but for a book to be so far off the radar that I hadn’t heard of it was really surprising and a cause for chagrin. So I try to pay attention to 1 and 2 star titles that are utterly unfamiliar, in hopes of never being that surprised again.

This is one of those unfamiliar 1-2 star books. [Read more...]

Roundup: Boarding School Blues

17797364 Roundup: Boarding School Blues20601687 Roundup: Boarding School BluesThis morning, we’re looking at two novels set in boarding schools; And We Stay is Jenny Hubbard’s follow up to her 2012 Morris Award Finalist, Paper Covers Rock, and debut author Chelsey Philpot is inspired by classic literature in Even in Paradise.*

Both novels feature a young woman with a traumatic past who, in her junior year, transfers to a boarding school in New England amidst whispered rumors and speculation. Ostensibly, these stories are quite similar.

But… not really. [Read more...]

A Time to Dance

atimetodance 281x387 217x300 A Time to DanceA Time to Dance, Padma Venkatraman
Nancy Paulsen Books (Penguin), May 2014
Reviewed from ARC

Joy referenced the #weneeddiversebooks movement a few posts back, when she talked about two black ballerinas, one fictional and one actual. In some ways, A Time to Dance could have been included in that post: it’s a book about a dancer who is also a person of color. But in other, critical ways, this entirely different, and not only because it’s a novel in verse and getting way more critical acclaim.

This isn’t perfect, but it definitely beats out those other dance books we’ve seen this year and the other novel in verse I’ve read so far (with the caveats that Brown Girl Dreaming is next to read, and I don’t consider How I Discovered Poetry a novel).

[Read more...]

Threatened

 ThreatenedThreatened by Eliot Schrefer
Scholastic, February 2014
Reviewed from an ARC

The art of reading for Printz is an interesting one; the pile adds and drops titles throughout the course of the year. With two stars and some buzz, Threatened was a back-and-forther for me — sometimes in the pile, sometimes to the side, sometimes near the top, sometimes moved to the bottom. But when it got shortlisted for the NBA, it came back to the top of the pile with a vengeance. We wondered if anyone would speak up for it…no one had much to say then. Maybe you’ve been saving your comments for a longer post? [Read more...]