For our final review of the season, squashed in at the 11th hour, we bring you a quick and dirty final roundup to shed a little bit of love on some books that we never got to discuss at length but that we still think deserve a little attention.
We’ve got another round up here and this time, it’s all about the complexities and frustrations and amazing moments related to gender, sex, identity, hook ups, heartbreak, and true love. And who couldn’t use a little love at this time of year, amirite? Well, to be honest, these three books aren’t all about wuv (twue wuv); they are more about all the messy parts — the hook ups and doomed romances, the figuring yourself out, and the murder mysteries you might find yourself investigating from your family’s vintage record store. Although I’m not convinced that these titles are in the running for Printz medals, I’m excited to share these books here; they have some really great moments. [Read more…]
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…]
Whenever I review a book, I try to remind myself of my personal quirks as a reader. A major one I have is that it usually takes me approximately four-to-eight pages before I feel firmly oriented in a story. This is true regardless of the author’s skill; I don’t know why, but my brain just takes longer to situate itself within a new narrative. And this particular quirk can put me at a disadvantage when I’m reading short fiction. I admit all of this up front so that it’s clear that I’m not the ideal reader for Denise Lewis Patrick’s slim collection of short stories; however, it’s the universal theme of human connection, woven through each page that gave me a way into this book.
Time for a true confession: of the five 2014 Morris Award nominated titles, I’ve read only one. All of the books had been on my to-read list before becoming Morris finalists, but we all know what happens with to-read lists and then you’ve only read one of the books. Fortunately for me, that book was Carrie Mesrobian’s Sex & Violence. It’s challenging and smart work from a promising writer—truly deserving of the Morris nod (and I really regret not being able to judge it against the rest of the field).
Mesrobian has a clear thesis in Sex & Violence; it’s mostly there in the title, but she’s also interested in how an already emotionally detached young person copes with PTSD. The latter is really the meat of the book and what makes it work: after a violent attack in his boarding school’s shower leaves him without a spleen, Evan begins to question his sexual history and actions which led to the assault. Mesrobian puts the reader directly in his head by writing in first person, but Evan is never entirely honest with himself, making him an impenetrable narrator. It’s only in his letters to Collette where he reveals anything true about himself, because it’s as he writes these letters that he begins to understand who he is. Evan’s voice is consistent and pitch perfect; this kind of assured writing is worth the price of admission.
No Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller, Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, with artwork by R. Gregory Christie
Carolrhoda Lab, an imprint of Carolrhoda Books, February 2012
Reviewed from final copy (courtesy of my public library)
Vaunda Nelson, author of the Coretta Scott King Award-winning Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal, has produced a truly significant work of documentary fiction in No Crystal Stair. It is particularly noteworthy in the categories of accuracy, story, theme, and illustration, but is shaky in terms of voice and style. Voice is especially important to me — a dealbreaker, in fact — so while I can see it as a nominee, I doubt it will make the Final Five when it comes time to vote.
First, the good (and there is a lot of good here):
Blythe Woolston’s debut (The Freak Observer) won the Morris. Her sophomore effort is getting some buzz (especially from Kelly over at Stacked), although it didn’t do so well on the star collecting. Then again, my research shows zero stars for The Freak Observer, and the Morris is nothing to sneer at.
The premise is a bit high concept: teen survivors of a MRSA infection on an epic, not entirely planned road trip (the Booklist reviewer referenced “nearly Kerouacian moments,” which is a lovely way of pointing to sometimes episodic moments that are pregnant with potential meaning but might just be the result of the vagaries of life. Then again, I’ve never really seen the charms of On the Road). There is a lot here that works, and a lot to respect from a literary perspective; the concept might be high but the execution is often tight.