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Someday My Printz Will Come
Inside Someday My Printz Will Come

Midwinterblood

Midwinterblood, Marcus Sedgwick
Roaring Brook Press, February 2013
Reviewed from final copy

Let me start with a provocative question: Can a book be so literary that it fails at being a book?

Midwinterblood is full of the sorts of things I’ve hardly thought about since my days as an English major: tropes, motifs, archetypes, foreshadowing, even an ekphrastic device (ok, I had to look that one up, but it’s there; it’s a work in one medium commenting on a work in another medium, here prose commenting on a painting). It’s also told in reverse chronological order, as a series of short pieces that move back in time and seek to illuminate one another and some deeper thematic scope.

Sometimes it’s so full of these things that they seem to crush any cohesive narrative, but at the same time there’s a nimble literary magic happening here that has garnered five starred reviews* and make this one feel like a serious contender.

I’ve read Midwinterblood twice now. I’ve marveled, I’ve complained, I’ve taken extensive notes, and I still waver between work of art and stinking hot mess.

[Read more…]

Eleanor & Park: Love Will Tear Us Apart

Cover art Eleanor & ParkEleanor & Park, Rainbow Rowell
St. Martin’s Press, February 2013
Reviewed from Final Copy

[Hey, listen. We do spoilers here, okay? Major spoilers, all the time. You’ve been warned.]

Just as I opened my laptop to write this review, it dawned on me that I first read Eleanor & Park over a year ago. Holding back tears that eventually spill into sobs is not a thing you forget easily. Especially when the thing that reduces you to a puddle of goo is, “Just three words long.”

I fell hard for this book. It felt like Rainbow Rowell had used my consciousness to write a novel I didn’t even know I had inside me; that’s how personal the experience was for me.

Before we delve into Rowell’s novel, let’s get back to the future for a moment. Since I read it as a digital galley last year, E & P has blown up. It’s a New York Times bestseller, has five starred reviews, and John Green has given the book a glowing recommendation in the New York Times Book Review. And if that isn’t impressive enough for you, Rowell’s other YA novel published this year, Fangirl, is also a critical success with five stars of its own. Most notable is that her novels appear together on SLJ‘s and the New York Times best lists. (Eleanor & Park is also on the Horn Book’s Fanfare, Publishers Weekly’s Best Books, and Kirkus’ Best Teen Books.)

Where there is high praise though, backlash will follow. With E & P in particular it’s been difficult to avoid all critical commentary, but my completely non-empirical understanding is that race, historical context and accuracy have been among the issues raised. And then there are those who say that it’s just not that good.

For the record, I still love this book. That won’t go away, at least not any time soon. That doesn’t mean though that I can’t think critically about the work; time and revisiting the text—a re-read of the final copy and a listen of the audiobook—have certainly sharpened my reading and there is a lot to discuss.
[Read more…]

Boxers & Saints — Or, What Defines “Book” Anyway?

I had hoped to post this before the NBA was announced, but fate (and also one very lively 6-year-old) intervened, and then intervened some more.

Regardless, here’s a verbatim transcript of my thinking when I finished Boxers & Saints:

Wow.

Also, hmmm.

I read the two volumes back to back in the intended order, and I’m looking at them together in this post — but of course, that’s the crux of the question: I can go ahead and tell you all the reasons Boxers & Saints, as a single entity, deserves recognition as one of the year’s absolute bests, and I might be 100% right — but those arguments mean nothing if the RealCommittee considers them as two individual texts.

[Read more…]

September Girls


September Girls, Bennett Madison
HarperTeen, May 2013
Reviewed from final copy and e-book

I’ve got a short shortlist.

September Girls is on it.

[Read more…]

Bomb

Guest blogger Joy Piedmont is back (and I think we’ll be taking advantage of her at least once more before the season is done!), covering another major nonfiction title of 2012.

Bomb: The Race to Build—and Steal—the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon, Steve Sheinkin
Flash Point, September 2012
Reviewed from final copy

When I say, “World War II espionage” which 2012 young adult title comes to mind?

Yeah, I know Code Name Verity is the big name in this conversation, but Bomb is a gripping spy story in its own right.

There are three main threads of Steve Sheinkin’s book: the American effort to build the atomic bomb, the Allies attempts to sabotage German advances towards the atomic bomb, and the Russians’ work to steal the plans for the atomic bomb. Sheinkin has taken something sprawling and complex and molded it into a nonfiction title that reads like an epic action movie. (Seriously, read the chapter on the destruction of the German heavy water plant in Vemork, Norway and tell me you don’t imagine this scene from Inception.)

Sheinkin nails action pacing and easily incorporates real quotes from the people involved. He also makes physics and atomic theory, which would normally make my brain hurt digestible by introducing the theory in the context of actual experiments conducted prior to and during the Manhattan Project.

That juxtaposition of fiction style with nonfiction content characterizes the entire book. Bomb oozes style, and it’s the book’s greatest strength — and greatest weakness. Sheinkin has a firm command of fast pacing, snappy dialogue, and multiple storylines, which create a massively appealing read. With descriptive language and clever plot juggling, Sheinkin creates the atmosphere of life as a wartime spy (or a bomb-building physicist); it’s dangerous and exciting. This effective world building and use of stylistic tools create a book that feels light.

Dare I say it? Bomb is, at times, too easy.

[Read more…]

The Brides of Rollrock Island

The Brides of Rollrock Island, Margo Lanagan
Knopf, September 2012
Reviewed from ARC

My first draft for this post, which sat in WordPress for two weeks, taunting me, read as follows: “So much to say! And none of it coherent!”

You know how I delayed and delayed writing about The Raven Boys? And then was kind of indecisive anyway? The same musical cue should play now, because I’m feeling the same way. Only more so.

Brides is, in so many ways, magnificent, but something doesn’t entirely gel (think of Misskaella, pulling those nodes of light together — and now imagine her missing one. It’s still magic, but it doesn’t actually produce the desired result.)

Do I think this doesn’t deserve the Printz as a result? No. Well, not exactly. I don’t know.

This is likely a top fiver based on any consensus polling of Someday readers, and I would not be surprised if the same were the case for the RealCommittee as well (remember, though, that I can’t be trusted with predictions because I am always wrong, so I probably just killed Brides‘ chances), but I am really conflicted just the same; this is a book I want to assess by sitting back and listening while other folks debate it, and through that let my own thoughts come to some conclusion. Sometimes it’s much easier to think responsively, because I need that collision of ideas to push my own thinking.

But it would be incredibly lazy to leave my assessment at “I don’t know”, so I am giving coherency a try. Also, although this is the first time we’re talking about Brides in depth, consider this the opening to discuss this one for the Pyrite* shortlist, and shout your thoughts in the comments.

[Read more…]

The Raven Boys, at Long Last

The Raven Boys, Maggie Stiefvater
Scholastic Press, September 2012
Reviewed from ARC

So, I’m ready to talk about The Raven Boys.

I’ve read it twice. I really really like it. Maggie Stiefvater clearly grew up drinking from the same story well as I did, and this is one that hits pretty much all my buttons. Also, I’d like to be Blue, and I definitely had my own raven boys, once upon a time ago, although Blue’s are way better.

But that’s all heart. What about the head response? Stiefvater garnered a silver last year. Is The Raven Boys her shot at the gold?

I’m… not sure. So won’t you join me as I wonder, and, since this is an official Pyrite* nominee, let’s just make this the first Pyrite post of the year, as well as the first post of the new year — meaning I expect comments of epic length.

[Read more…]

Beyond Courage

Beyond Courage: The Untold Story of Jewish Resistance During the Holocaust by Doreen Rappaport
Candlewick, September 2012
Reviewed from an ARC

With five starred reviews, this was an easy auto-contenda to spot. Rappaport looks at the active, heroic roles Jewish people played during the years of the Holocaust. She shares 21 stories — many involving teens and young children — of  the Jewish Resistance that took place across Europe during the Second World War. In a year that has been tremendous for nonfiction writing for teens, this is an important title. It’s a memorable read, and it’s a beautiful book. In the end, though, I don’t think I would be able to make the case for Beyond Courage if I were sitting at the Printz table on the RealCommittee. [Read more…]