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Previous Winners, Part Two

Lightning image by Flickr user Jan-Joost Verhoef; CC BY 2.0

Lightning image by Flickr user Jan-Joost Verhoef; CC BY 2.0

And here is part two of our previous winners posts!

Again, we’re looking at past winners, honorees, and generally lauded authors who have a new book out this year, and again we’re wondering if lighting can strike twice (or, if you’re Marcus Sedgwick, four times).

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Landscape with Invisible Hand

Landscape with Invisible HandLandscape with Invisible Hand, M.T. Anderson
Candlewick, September 2017
Reviewed from ARC; five stars

It’s not fun to lose, and as readers, we don’t usually take pleasure in witnessing our protagonists suffer and fail at every challenge they face. Yet we also know that failure, yes failure, can be highly instructive and valuable. In Landscape with Invisible Hand, Adam does nothing but fail in the short vignettes that make up M.T. Anderson’s latest novel. It’s science-fiction satire that goes down easy but has a clear agenda. Anderson’s a previous Printz honoree, for both Octavian Nothing books, and he’s a consistently great writer, even if he isn’t winning all the awards every time out. Landscape doesn’t have the momentum of American Street or The Hate U Give but that doesn’t mean it can’t surprise us in February.

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Midnight

Midnight at the ElectricI’ve been dragging my feet with this one. I have plenty of excuses: the holiday weekend, my son’s (minor) surgery, major new unit coming up at school that I need to plan for. But those are just hot air; I have managed to write up books under far less ideal circumstances. Really it was that the posts where I point out flaws in widely acclaimed books are my least favorite to write.

And yet I keep doing it! So once more into the fray, my friends.

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The Pearl Thief

The Pearl ThiefI’ve been avoiding this review like the plague. I scrubbed my bathtub this afternoon in an attempt to not write this post, in fact, and I don’t know what my hang up is, really, except that this is not Code Name Verity but it is about Julie and so I have many feelings that have nothing to do with the book in front of me or with literary excellence and have only to do with the fact that I’m a little in love with a brash, fearless, fictional girl who died too young. So, baggage. On the upside, I’ve read The Pearl Thief twice now, and for me at least, it improves upon acquaintance. I think the first time it was the baggage at work; I wasn’t entirely reading The Pearl Thief so much as I was mining it for Julie. The second time, I read it for exactly what it was — a fascinating set piece, a tidy little mystery, a crafty study of class and race* and gender. And the formation of a young woman who, ok, is someday soon going to be the astounding protagonist of Code Name Verity but who is actually a fantastic character before that, and who can carry a book even for a reader who didn’t know what was coming down the pike.

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Fish out of water

A lot of young adult literature is about teens in unfamiliar situations and places. Sometimes the differences they experience are socio-economic, sometimes they’re cultural, and sometimes they’re magical. Fish out of water tales are usually easily relatable, regardless of the specificity, because most people can remember how they felt the first time they encountered something that was wholly outside of their lived experience up to that point.

Two February books—American Street and Piecing Me Together—have black teen girls narrating their lives in first person. Both have received lots of critical praise with five and four stars, respectively. More significantly, and the reason why they’re paired together, both books are by black women writing deeply emotional stories that their voices imbue with authenticity and integrity.

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Haunted Places

haunted placesWe are working on getting through books in the maximally efficient way, which sometimes means more fanciful pairings, and other times means groups that play with each other in interesting ways as we discuss them. Today we have the second option, a trio of books that mingle together in engaging ways as we consider the set. We have three books that are on the young side, and all involve a heavy sense of place, where the characters are as much shaped by their surroundings as they are by their own histories. Hence, haunted places.

(As always, this is not really how RealCommittee approaches their discussions, since they try to talk about each book individually.) [Read more…]

Retold Epics, Part 2: Bull

Bull coverFull disclosure: Yvain and Bull were meant to be one post, only then Sarah had a LOT to say about Yvain, which meant it got its own post, leaving poor Bull all alone. Like Yvain, it’s a retelling that plays with form. Unlike Yvain, it’s a straight up critical darling — 5 stars! Sarah argues that Yvain should be a contender. Should Bull?

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Scythe

scythe-9781442472426_hrSometimes the world really does save the best for last. Because people? Scythe is amazing. I keep thinking about it. I unabashedly loved reading it in that can’t put it down way, but I also absolutely love it as a contender. It jumped the queue right into my top 5, and as the second to last 2016 YA book I read, that means it jumped a whole lotta books.

Basically, Shusterman took his commercial chops and mashed that with the thoughtful, nuanced writing he displayed so wonderfully with Challenger Deep, and the result is a near perfect combo.

 

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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.

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A romantic rendezvous

romance-roundupActually, this is a romantic roundup, but rendezvous sounded catchier. In the context of Printz reviewing, romance has actually fared well in recent years with both the RealCommittee and the Pyrite Committee (aka: all of us). I’ll Give You the Sun was the Real and Pyrite winner in 2015, and in 2014 Eleanor & Park was a Real and Pyrite honor.

This context is important because it’s proof that professional readers are recognizing straight-up romances that are also literary. Today, Sarah and I are looking at three books that may (or may not) have what it takes to bring love back to the winner’s circle.

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