This is a book I’ve been saving the whole season, saving until the end because I knew I’d love it and I wanted to savor it. I’m not alone in loving it — it has four stars, it’s on the SLJ Mothership’s year end list, and it’s fantasy, and there’s action, and there are pirates, and it’s atmospheric and beautiful, and there are magical reading powers, and that cover is so wow, and and AND! What can I say? Sometimes you feel like possibly a book was designed, down to a molecular level, to be a You Book. This is one of those times for me. But now that I’ve actually read it, and sat with it for a bit, I’m going to do my best and try to have a balanced take for our Printzly purposes.
Magical Realism is hot: It’s the label attached to last year’s Printz winner Bone Gap, and it’s been popping up all over the YA and MG scene for the past few years. This year, again, offers us a handful of books in the genre. I’ve read three so far that deserve to be in the awards speculation pool, and today I’m going to talk about two of them (the last one is a late fall pub so we’ll wait on that).
Magical Realism is realistic literature with fantastical or magical elements, but it’s something more, because that bare bones definition also covers a significant chunk of fantasy. If you extend the definition, two additional points are worth noting: first, the setting; and second, the way the magic is received. The top-billed magical realists are Latin American — Jorge Luis Borges, Gabriel García Márquez, Laura Esquivel, Isabel Allende — and their settings are Argentina, Colombia, Mexico, Chile. And in their books, the magic is not something apart — compare this to, say, Stiefvater’s Raven Boys quartet, where they all know the magic is strange, and, well, magical. Instead, in magical realist texts, the magic heightens the mundane and becomes an expression of emotion, rather than something characters step back and try to understand.
One of the two titles I’m discussing today reads to me like classic magical realism — no surprise, as it bears a dedication to Gabriel Garcia Marquez and is a Brazilian work, originally published in Portuguese and now translated into English. The second straddles the fantasy/magical realism line, but feels closer in its roots to magical realism than fantasy, so I’m going with the label.
Alright, enough introduction, and on to the books.
Despite the title, this is probably more like take 4. This is somehow a hard review to write. I keep slipping away from the book itself and into all the things that surround this book: the importance of representation and mirrors in YA lit; the long history of binary systems in human thought and the way interstitial anything creates anxiety (there may be a thesis in my past about cross-dressing in Shakespeare and Marlowe and how actually social transgressions are usually more condemned than sexual transgressions, and as a result of that thesis I may have read a lot about binaries and sexuality and gender at various points in my life). The earlier draft went into #weneeddiversebooks and gatekeepers, collection development, the fact that the author of this book is a cis-het white male, and a host of other things.
But none of that is really getting at the purpose here, which is to assess a book as a literary object. Which is not to say that none of it has bearing — but when I hit 1,000 words and was still on the issues around the text, I decided to start over. So here we go again: Symptoms of Being Human — Printz worthy or not? [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.
This is the kind of book that can’t be discussed deeply without spoiling it. Big spoilers ahead; watch out.
If you could forget the most painful memories of your life, would you? Maybe you’ve seen this scenario play out in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but Adam Silvera’s debut novel asks much harder questions than Charlie Kaufman’s 2004 film. Personality is largely shaped by the collection of memories we carry around. If you forget certain parts of your life, will you change and will you be happier? Equally heartbreaking and fascinating, More Happy Than Not explores how forgetting can change people, and how the loss of key memories would affect a teen who was still in the process of identity formation. Given the critical praise it’s received, this is a book that would have landed on our list anyway, but the buzz before it was even published was strongly positive and mostly centered on Adam Silvera as a unique new voice in YA lit. We all know that hype can really deflate one’s experience of a book, but that was not the case here.
This book really amazed me by being a story that is bigger and harder and rougher and rawer than I thought it would be. It’s been named for two year’s best lists, and garnered three starred reviews, so it’s not just me feeling amazed. Althea and Oliver is a debut book that went far darker than I expected, and did so intelligently and memorably. While it’s not a perfect read, the more I think about this one, the more impressed I am. [Read more…]
A few days ago on Twitter, Rachel Hartman (yes, you know, that Rachel Hartman, who brought us last year’s best debut — and one of last year’s best books, period), Seraphina, asked if we were doing a Morris shortlist roundup this year. The answer, sadly, was not really, because our Morris readership hasn’t been thorough enough. Out of that conversation came the following guest post, in which Rachel reviews Charm and Strange, the most Printz-buzzed of the Morris shortlist titles.
For those of you who don’t
stalk follow Rachel on any social media, a few salient biographical details and some links: In addition to Seraphina (which won the Morris Award last year AND a Printz Honor) and also the author of the forthcoming sequel (in March 2015. I KNOW) Shadow Scale. She can, as mentioned, be found on Twitter, where she procrastinates, talks about music and writing, frequently makes me laugh, and is a general source of things that are Good. But if you really want all the details, you should head over to her website and blog, this month featuring Morris shortlist authors and books — in fact, she’ll be posting an interview with Stephanie Kuehn later today! But enough of the introduction and on with the write-up.
I asked Karyn whether y’all would be doing any kind of Morris roundup this year. She told me time was tight, so probably not. I’ve only read Charm & Strange from this year’s Morris list, but I volunteered to review it because I’m on deadline. My procrastination knows no bounds.
There will be spoilers ahead — to my great relief, since this is a difficult book to discuss without spoiling — but let me try to give you the spoiler-free condensed version first. I loved Charm & Strange, and that’s saying a lot. I’m a fantasy person. It takes a very special real-world, “problem” novel to keep my attention at all, let alone make me love it. This is an intensely painful book to read, however. In terms of awards, I don’t know. I never predict anything correctly. You could certainly write a multi-page paper on this book — or on the psychology, philosophy, and metaphor contained therein — and yet I don’t think I could bear to re-read it. I’m not sure how it would hold up if I did, since so much hinges upon the reader and Win discovering the truth together. Once all the terrible truths are revealed, is that all there is — and is that enough?
Come with me under the fold, and let’s dig into this thing!
Nominate in haste, repent at leisure?
Well, not quite. But… I’m not entirely surprised no one, in effect, seconded this one.
Wild Awake is a debut, and while I don’t have a full sense of the year’s debut slate, from what I’ve read and from what I’ve passed over reading (there are so very many latest-hot-craze books among the debut titles), it’s a strong debut.
In fact, there are aspects that are outstanding. And then there are some aspects that strive, but don’t quite stick the landing.
One of the things I find frustrating about this blogging thing is the December blahs.
At this point in the game, I have a sense of what the year has brought us. I’m not a seer, so I don’t know what books will take the RealPrintz (and judging by last year, don’t listen even if I pretend I DO know), but I know what the top of the pile looks like.
But we’re still reading, and we’re still covering books we listed back in September as contenders. And some days, what we’re tasked with is coming up with a thousand or so words about a book that was quite good, and that doesn’t deserve to be dissected into shards, but that just isn’t a serious contender.
And yes, I acknowledge that sometimes, I say “not a contender” and what I really mean is, “here’s my argument against this one, but your mileage may vary.” This time, I really just mean they’re not contenders.