Can I rave for a minute? What a title! And what a cover, too. Medina manages to blend a lot of elements beautifully and smoothly. With four stars and a place on the NBA longlist, this read has a lot going for it. And a lot of people rooting for it — there’s a lot of love from all of us here; it was mentioned as an early frontrunner in the comments. But the sparkles of a disco ball can be very forgiving; in the harsh light of the Printz criteria, how well does it stand up to all the love? [Read more…]
Honor Girl, Maggie Thrash
Candlewick Press, September 2015
Reviewed from final copy
I was distracted while reading Honor Girl. The first two chapters orient the reader in the early days of the new millennium; there’s a list of celebrity crushes including Leonardo DiCaprio, Usher, and Justin Timberlake, our narrator is reading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (and later, Goblet of Fire), and her favorite band is The Backstreet Boys. I spent most of the book trying to figure out if I’m older or younger than Maggie Thrash (as it turns out, I’m older by just six months). Near the end of the book a date is shown which confirmed my suspicion, but I had to read it a second time just so that I could experience the book without my self-centered curiosity getting in the way.
I’m mentioning this at the top of the review because those little references tethered me to the material in good and bad ways. I’ve never attended an all-girls school or camp, nor have I ever gone to a sleepaway camp. But I remember where and who I was in the summer of 2000. Being able to contextualize Maggie Thrash’s memoir through my understanding of myself at that time allowed me to fully appreciate how she captures a few months in her life when everything and nothing changed. It’s beautiful and nostalgic.
In our first round of Pyrite voting a couple of you gave Honor Girl your first place slot. With three stars and solid content to back it up, it’s not a longshot for the RealPrintz but there are a few things that will probably keep this one from the winner’s circle.
OK, I know I’ve already said it’s been quite a year for historical fiction (and, you know, I stand by that), but we’ve had some amazing graphic novels to read this year, too. I don’t know if we’ll replicate This One Summer’s total dominance at the YMAs (OK, maybe I’m slightly overstating there!), but I did have a rave for Nimona, and I’ve got some more excitement for two other titles here. How far will they go? Well, I’d be happy (though surprised) to see one in the final five, and ready to argue hard for the other. [Read more…]
Symphony for the City of the Dead, M.T. Anderson
Candlewick Press, September 2015
Reviewed from ARC
One of my favorite books last year was Candace Fleming’s The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia. Despite having a ton of critical praise for its tight, thrilling narrative and thoughtful approach to complex history, it didn’t manage to snag a Printz (although it did win lots of other great awards). Symphony for the City of the Dead is, in many ways, a wonderful sequel to Fleming’s book. M.T. Anderson begins Symphony with Dmitri Shostakovich’s childhood, just before the end of the Romanov reign and the rise of Lenin. For the first half of the book he alternates between chronicles of Shostakovich’s life and the political and social upheaval in Russia beginning with the Bolsheviks and the revolution straight into World War II. The siege of Leningrad and the composition of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 7 are the main focus of the rest of the book. Anderson—a two-time Printz honoree—does very good work here but a few things in Symphony may keep the author from earning his third Printz.
Today, two historical fiction books I’d love to talk to about, both set during World War II (making this an apt post to publish on the first night of Hannukah).
One is a lovely novel in verse that I don’t think has gotten much attention — zero stars, no buzz — but I was deeply touched by it and want to shine a little reflected glory on it by sticking it in the conversation even if it’s so dark of a horse it’s nearly invisible.
The second is a critical darling and I just don’t seem to have read the book everyone is raving about, so I’m eager to hear what others see in this one.
So join me below the fold for Paper Hearts and The Emperor of Any Place.
Printzbery: could be one, could be the other, might even end up both.*
By popular demand: today we’re talking about all those maybe kidlit, maybe YA books from the first three quarters of the year.
On the table for the potential Printzbery*: Roller Girl; Echo; Goodbye, Stranger; The Hired Girl, Cuckoo Song, and Orbiting Jupiter.
Today, we’re tackling The Hired Girl and Echo and tomorrow we’ll bring you Roller Girl and Goodbye Stranger; Orbiting Jupiter we’ll cover as we get deeper into the back half of the year (along with anything we come across in the meantime). And Cuckoo Song? It’s on my serious contender list and I will argue that it reads up UP UP, so I plan to cover it either by itself or in tandem with another genre frontrunner, hopefully in the next week or so.
X: A Novel made the NBA longlist and is one of five YA novels to receive six stars this year. (For reference, the other titles are: Challenger Deep, The Tightrope Walkers, Goodbye Stranger, and The Boys Who Challenged Hitler. All except Goodbye Stranger were on our initial list, and we’re likely to review Rebecca Stead’s latest because of its crossover appeal.) The praise has been effusive for this fictional account of Malcolm X’s life as a teenager. Words such as, “powerful” and “important” have been used liberally and appropriately as X arrives at a time when the Black Lives Matter movement is a fixture in the national conversation and we strive to honestly examine race and racism in our country.
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…]
What an ingenious little (okay, big) book this is.
Maguire is at his best when he’s being sly and subverting tropes and expectations; he did it to genius effect in Wicked, which remains one of my favorite novels, and while his overall body of work is uneven, when his writing shines it’s positively lustrous.
This is him at his best.