It’s been a strong year for graphic novels. Boxers & Saints is increasingly looking like a frontrunner, but there’s also Relish, March, 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?
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.
[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.
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.
I had hoped to post this before the NBA was announced, but fate (and also one very lively 6-year-old) intervened, and then intervened some more.
Regardless, here’s a verbatim transcript of my thinking when I finished Boxers & Saints:
I read the two volumes back to back in the intended order, and I’m looking at them together in this post — but of course, that’s the crux of the question: I can go ahead and tell you all the reasons Boxers & Saints, as a single entity, deserves recognition as one of the year’s absolute bests, and I might be 100% right — but those arguments mean nothing if the RealCommittee considers them as two individual texts.
The weather is getting colder, Starbucks broke out the red holiday cups , and Thanksgiving is just around the corner. But let’s go back to that happier—and warmer—time in late August when two novels about love were published: The Beginning of Everything and The Infinite Moment of Us. These two books aren’t on our long list, but in a year when contemporary realistic romance is ubiquitous, each of these novels has noteworthy qualities. Let’s snuggle up and discuss, shall we?
(By the way, you know we do spoilers here, right? Don’t say I didn’t warn you when I spill some major secrets.)
The Kingdom of Little Wounds, Susann Cokal
Candlewick Press, October 2013
Reviewed from ARC
I wanted to like this.
I mean, it’s huge, it’s about my favorite general period in history, it uses a fairy tale motif throughout, it’s got a stunning package, and people whose opinions I respect say this is an it book when it comes to literary books this year.
I really really wanted to like this.
The 5th Wave, Rick Yancey
Putnam Juvenile, May 2013
Reviewed from ARC
Apocalyptic scenario, isolated teen in the woods, romance against-the-odds… we’ve been down this desolate road before. Rick Yancey’s tough-girl protagonist is Cassie (short for Cassiopeia) who is determined to find her younger brother. The 5th Wave goes beyond the familiar premise as a richer and more satisfying doomsday novel. The action is coherent and genuinely thrilling and tense, and the multiple narrating voices with converging plot lines create an interesting structure.
Yancey previously received the Printz Honor for The Monstrumologist. This novel similarly uses horror and is the first in a projected series. Will The 5th Wave make Yancey a twice honored author?
To give you a metaphor in my native tongue: if this were a summer popcorn movie—which it one day may be—it would get two thumbs up, but once Oscar season rolled around, a Best Picture nomination for The 5th Wave would be a long shot.