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We Are Okay

We Are OkayWe Are Okay, Nina LaCour
Dutton Books for Young Readers, February 2017
Reviewed from ARC
Four stars

I almost didn’t finish We Are Okay. Not because it’s bad–in fact, it’s quite beautiful–but because reading it required a lot of emotional labor. When fiction pokes at pieces of your heart that you thought you had protected and hidden away, it requires strength and stamina to push through when all you actually want to do is bury the book at the bottom of your to-read pile.

All of this is to say that I had a deeply emotional experience reading Nina LaCour’s novel. Critics, myself included, tend to separate heart from head in their professional reviews. Here though, LaCour’s ability to access and communicate so many raw and complicated feelings is extraordinary and so relevant to any discussion of this book. I couldn’t have cried through the last 40 pages of We Are Okay without LaCour’s precise and detailed sentence-level writing. This is a small book densely packed with complicated people, feelings, unimaginable loss, heartbreak, and so much love.

Spoilers ahead. If you haven’t read the book (and you really should) consider yourself warned.

[Read more…]

The Careful Undressing of Love

The Careful Undressing of Love, cover image

This book. THIS BOOK.

 

Sometimes you pick up a book because you should; it got some stars (or, in this case, failed to get some stars), some people liked the authors other books, you’re sitting around portioning out the books and it’s your turn to take something off the pile. I read a lot of should books — that’s being a youth services librarian, basically — and mostly I am glad, because it makes me better at my job, and mostly the books are good, because lots of books are good, if you give them chance, but mostly they aren’t great.

And then, every now and again, you read a should book and it knocks your socks off. Like, across town lines off. You’ll never see those socks again, and you don’t care, because you’ve just fallen a little bit in love and that’s all that matters.

[Read more…]

Still Life With Tornado

still-life-with-tornadoOh, A.S. King! Every year, a new novel. Every year, a bold move to expand what we think of as a novel. I’m not sure if I’m a King fan, but I find myself drawn to her books year after year because I trust them to be engrossing reading experiences, even if I have an Alice-in-Wonderland feeling the entire time, unsure of what’s real and what’s hallucinatory, unsure where I stand or how to even approach thinking about what’s in front of me.

This year’s offering is pure King — but it’s also accessible in a way we haven’t seen since Ask the Passengers. And I’d argue it’s better than King’s Printz honor-winning Please Excuse Vera Dietz. In short, this one is a true contender.

[Read more…]

Last Licks

There are so many great books, and every year we’re reading until the 11th hour to get in as many as possible. This year, between last minute reads and beloved books that didn’t seem like true contenders but deserve a shout-out, we find ourselves down to the final days before the YMAs with quite a pile left.

So here you have our last licks — not counting our three remaining biggies (Still Life with Tornado, The Reader, and Scythe), this post concludes our 2016 pile of books we still have something to say about. Whew! Nearly there.

[Read more…]

Exit, Pursued by a Bear

exitExit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston
Dutton, March 2016
Reviewed from a final copy

I’m not for sure where I’m landing in this review, so I guess I’ll have to write it and see where I end up. Ha, I guess I’m flying right now, and I’m hoping this review (or you all, in the comments) will catch me. I definitely loved this book, and feel like it’s continuing my tough lady reading streak this year. With four starred reviews, I know I’m not alone in that love. Johnston is a past Morris honoree, too, so I have no doubt RealCommittee is taking a careful look at this title. Exit is emotional and compelling, it has strong characters, often funny dialogue, and as a story it balances uncertainty and resolution very delicately and deftly. [Read more…]

The Radiant Road

The Radiant Road coverThe Radiant Road, Katherine Catmull
Dutton, January 2016
Reviewed from final e-book

I mentioned last week that each of us has to assess excellence for ourselves, as well as coming to consensus when it comes time to pick a winner (or, for us, Pyrite winner).

For me, excellence is deeply tied to language. I was an English major; I’ve been know to read poetry for fun. I love puns. It doesn’t have to be highfalutin’, but show me real skill manipulating language and I’m likely to be lined up reaching for that book with both hands.

So no surprise, my second book this season once again is one that hits it out of the park when it comes to pure old-fashioned word-smithing.

[Read more…]

Life, Life, and Masturbation: The Alex Crow

The Alex CrowThe Alex Crow, Andrew Smith
Dutton, March 2015
Reviewed from ARC and ebook editions

Last year, Andrew Smith wrote a book that had: weird science, boys who talk about masturbation, an incredibly strong voice, and strange animals created by the aforementioned weird science.

Love it or hate it, we couldn’t stop talking about it.

So why is The Alex Crow, which could also be described as a book with weird science, boys who talk about masturbation, an incredibly strong voice, and strange animals created by the aforementioned weird science, making so little ripple?

Backlash against Smith’s problematic writing of women? (It’s not better here, exactly, but used as part of the absurdism and thus ameliorated.) The fact that he JUST received a Printz honor? A less astounding package?

Or does The Alex Crow suffer because it feels like it’s not original, even though the thing that makes it seem less original is the same author’s work?

[Read more…]

Pyrite Redux: We’re All Stories in the End

At last Saturday’s Mock Printz, a Hudson Valley Library Associate book club regular, Susannah Goldstein, aptly called 2014 “the year of storytelling.” It was a dead-on observation that applies to so many 2014 books. Storytelling is certainly a theme that’s resonated with me this year. One major question books like How It Went Down and The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone ask is: who gets to tell your story after your gone? I’ll Give You the Sun and 100 Sideways Miles are both interested in individuals as authors of their own stories. Let’s take a second look at two books that also explore story and storytellers: Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith and Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero. [Read more…]

Grasshopper Jungle

This book. This book! I loved it. Also I hated it. It has amazing characters, and then it has crimes against female characters. It’s A Tale of Two Cities for me on this one — this book contains multitudes and also contradictions galore. It probably deserves an award, except when it doesn’t.

There’s a reason I’ve been dragging my feet on writing this review. Actually, reasons. Lots of them. This is an extraordinarily impressive book. Except when it isn’t. ARGH!

[Read more…]

Belzhar

Belzhar, Meg Wolitzer
Dutton, September 2014
Reviewed from ARC

There’s always some weird dance of anticipation and dread when an author you respect as an author for adult readers dips into the YA world. Happily, Meg Wolitzer is very clear eyed about YA and about why she writes YA — it’s not to jump on the glory train (and isn’t it funny that YA is the glory train? That never stops being strange to me), and it’s not to say something to teens, although of course things are said. No, it’s about the feelings, and about capturing them on the page so that the rest of us can revisit those heady emotions.

And Belzhar is a perfect tempest of teen emotion, even if it’s not always a perfect piece of writing. [Read more…]