Maybe here is a good time to say, I love Brenna Yovanoff. I love her writing, her dark and delicious fantasies. This fifth title is more along the lines of magical realism than straight out fantasy. The slow and sweet Waverly/Marshall relationship notwithstanding, Yovanoff takes an unflinching look at aggression and dysfunction in high school, and the results are dark — not so much with the creepy factor, but it’s decidedly a dark take on the high school experience. Places has garnered three starred reviews, and it’s easy to lay out why: strong characterization, important themes, and a delicate mix of genres. Does this have staying power once RealCommittee gets to the table, though? [Read more…]
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.
Here’s a novel that is exactly what its title indicates it will be: a song for Ella Grey. David Almond’s lyrical novel—his third (!) to come out this year—is about the desperate first love of one’s youth that can inspire for a lifetime. The surprise of this song is that the singer isn’t Orpheus; it’s Claire, Ella’s best friend. It’s about love, obsession, magic, and loss. In a year when Almond already has a six-star novel, it’s not likely that Ella Grey could ever have been more than a dark horse contender unless the critical praise matched or exceeded its predecessor. More than that though, Ella Grey is strange and rare, a book that will leave readers in a daze trying to understand what they’ve just experienced.
We’re called “Someday My Printz Will Come” for a reason; we kiss a lot of frogs. Which is necessary if we want to read widely — and we do, because that gives us the best sense of the year. The Printz is, after all, an award for literary excellence in the publication year — wider readership means we are assessing the books against as many of the competition as possible.
We can’t cover every book we collectively read — if you’re interested in seeing those lists, find us on Goodreads — and there are plenty of books we are happy to skip. But we wanted to take a moment to give out a few honorable mentions to some books that aren’t quite frogs, but they aren’t princes, or Printzs, either.
So, in brief, a roundup of some titles we don’t think need a lengthy discussion but did deserve some acknowledgement. The following books fall into one of two categories — either we read them and loved them, but sadly believe they have no chance when it comes to the Printz, OR they landed on our list for reasons of stars (we do our best to lay eyes on everything with three or more stars) or buzz, but we just can’t see them going the distance.
This morning, we’re looking at two novels set in boarding schools; And We Stay is Jenny Hubbard’s follow up to her 2012 Morris Award Finalist, Paper Covers Rock, and debut author Chelsey Philpot is inspired by classic literature in Even in Paradise.*
Both novels feature a young woman with a traumatic past who, in her junior year, transfers to a boarding school in New England amidst whispered rumors and speculation. Ostensibly, these stories are quite similar.
But… not really. [Read more…]
For the first formal writeup of the season, I thought I’d tackle the first likely contender I read (I read this one in late 2013, so I was early).
Also, I know lots of people are itching to talk about it.
First, pedigree: this one made our longlist in a whopping 4 categories. Buzz (although some of that was manufactured by the smart marketing people who knew they had something worth pushing); previous winner (The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, 2009 Printz Honor book); stars (five of them); and interest (Frankie was one of my committee’s picks, and I also love love love Lockhart’s smart, sly Ruby Oliver books, which seem fluffy on the outside and are actually protein and pathos packed when you dig in.)
Now, I like intricately plotted books that work seamlessly when I read them but leave me thinking about the author’s skill in putting all the bits together once I’ve finished reading. I also like mysteries and unreliable narrators.
In other words, We Were Liars was made for me — but that’s not what makes it a worthy contender.
I don’t mean fiction that is literature, I mean Literary in the postmodern, smugly self-aware, consciously playing with literature and language sense.
Somewhere along the way, I lost all patience with this style of writing. Especially the self-aware bit.
So those of you who have already read Jenny Hubbard’s Paper Covers Rock will not be surprised that I had some difficulty with the novel.
I’ve tried. Oh, how I’ve tried. For two months, this is the book I’ve been reading between and in the midst of other, less aggravating books. I want to like it: it’s a boy’s boarding school story, and I often love that designation (A Separate Peace was a long time favorite). It’s short, and I’ve had the kind of fall where short books are a joy because I get to read them fast, so I can usually finish them before the flaws catch up to me. It’s got the tantalizing possibility of a teacher-student love story, which has held an icky sort of fascination since I came of age singing “Don’t Stand so Close to Me.”