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Previous Winners, Part Two

Lightning image by Flickr user Jan-Joost Verhoef; CC BY 2.0

Lightning image by Flickr user Jan-Joost Verhoef; CC BY 2.0

And here is part two of our previous winners posts!

Again, we’re looking at past winners, honorees, and generally lauded authors who have a new book out this year, and again we’re wondering if lighting can strike twice (or, if you’re Marcus Sedgwick, four times).

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Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers

Before we get into Vincent and Theo, I want to acknowledge that the National Book Awards were announced on Wednesday evening and the winner for Young People’s Literature was Robin Benway’s Far From the Tree. I’ll be covering that one later in the season and I’ve been intrigued since before it was longlisted for the NBA. I’m adopted and periodically grumble about the lack of contemporary YA fiction with adopted protagonists. While I’m excited for the representation I’m also cautiously optimistic, as one usually is when faced with your identity as written by someone else. If you’ve already read Far From the Tree and have thoughts about its NBA win, let us know in the comments!

Okay, now back to those Van Gogh boys. I’ll confess that I can’t think about Vincent Van Gogh without hearing Don McLean sing “starry, starry niiiight…” or seeing Tony Curran’s eyes well up with tears in his brilliant portrayal of Van Gogh on Doctor Who. He is one of the most famous painters of all time and we all think we know who he was; brilliant, depressed, and unappreciated in his time. Deborah Heiligman challenges the conventional wisdom and offers a thesis of her own about Vincent: the story of Vincent is incomplete without the story of his brother, Theo.

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Funny Girls

Covers

Today is going to be one of those ALL THE BOOKS posts, loosely linked by being by and about women and featuring humor. Which is a pretty loose thread, but let’s roll with it. As is often the case with these roundups, we don’t think any of these are books that are likely to go the distance — but all are books we could see someone else championing, and that could easily be on the table for the RealCommittee, which means the conversation is open and a strong advocate might be all that’s needed. Perhaps one of you will champion one of these in the comments and be that advocate? We’re getting close to Pyrite nomination time, so now is definitely the moment to make a case.

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Gem & Dixie

gem&dixieI had originally paired this read with another book (one that is now to be reviewed later) which happened to include sisters, but it was too fanciful and too light of a connection. I had even mentally titled that post “Hello, seestra,”  which delighted me, but as this week’s schedule fell apart, that title just seemed too flip, too light for this thoughtful read. So  instead we have a single book to examine, one with three starred reviews, and a place on the PW year-end list. This is absolutely and centrally a book about sisters, about how sisters sometimes can complete each other and still grow apart. It’s also about how families give us a place, and that place shapes our very selves. And it’s also a book that, despite being about the hard and harrowing ways our families can fail us, is a tender read.

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Haunted by the past

We’ve got two solid contenders up next, both realistic fiction, both with characters haunted by the past. It’s not entirely fair to pair titles up like this, and it’s not really how RC talks about books at the table — they are trying to consider the strengths and weaknesses of each title individually, after all. But we have a blog schedule to keep and a lot of books to cover, so while it’s not exactly legit, this is done in the spirit of “make it work,” and thus we get these two books and two haunted characters, working through past violence and trauma.

And while I keep using this word, haunted, I want to be clear: these are realistic titles and not in any way supernatural. But they both depict people shaped by, tortured by, painful pasts. They’re both first person narration, and they’re both thematically ambitious titles, talking about major social issues through the lens of their protagonists’ experiences. [Read more…]