Karyn started out the week gushing about what a banner year for fantasy it is. I’m a little closer to Joy’s wavelength because I’ve got some (historical) realistic fiction to cover in this post. Joy also talked about SIGNIFICANCE (well, MESSAGE) in her post. I think that Quintero’s offering, while SIGNIFICANT, elegantly unites a specific setting and time period with a powerful coming of age story. Is that enough of a merit to name it as a contender, though? [Read more…]
I Was Here, Gayle Forman
Viking, January 2015
Reviewed from ARC
Hey folks, a friendly reminder that we do spoilers here so if you don’t want to know major plot points for either of these novels, consider yourself warned.
In young adult literature mental illness is an ISSUE (note the all caps) that comes with a responsibility to the intended audience. Misinformation is potentially harmful, as is romanticizing or sugarcoating facts.* Yet an author also has a responsibility to the story that they want to tell, their characters, and to themselves as artists. This doesn’t mean that accuracy and literary merit are mutually exclusive options—after all, accuracy is one of the Printz criteria—but they can be competing interests, especially in novels written with a young audience in mind. Can literary quality outweigh problematic messaging?
Today we’re looking at two novels about depression, both published in January. All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven has earned four stars and gathered a lot of early buzz; Gayle Forman’s I Was Here has two stars and hasn’t been in the awards conversation per se despite treading the same ground.
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.
We’re about two weeks away from the YMA’s so it’s the perfect time to highlight some books that are flying under the awards radar. Both of the titles I’m looking at today have excellent character writing and deal with themes of violence and what people do in extreme circumstances. Neither book quite has what it takes for the Printz, but I was surprised that they didn’t show up on more best of the year lists. Thankfully, both are BFYA nominees so while I keep my fingers crossed, read on for why I think they deserve some kind of recognition.
It is perhaps the most polarizing title of the year. Love, hate, and debate about audience have all bubbled up around Tom McNeal’s Far Far Away. A National Book Award finalist, the novel also has five starred reviews and has made four of the year’s best lists; clearly, there is a lot of love for this book. But whenever I discuss Far Far Away with someone who didn’t like it, they don’t just dislike the book, it’s more like disdain.
I’m not one of those people but I’m not quite on the side of adoration either. McNeal’s most prominent theme is story—its power and our lives as stories are two variations that we see in the novel. McNeal’s use of storytelling (specifically, fairy tales) as a major theme is done well enough, but when analyzed with other elements of the novel such as voice, style, and characters, Far Far Away is a book made up of discrete notes that, when played together, make a dissonant sound.
Historical fiction is tough.
Too often the fiction takes a back seat to the history, and readers are drowned in detail or left feeling vaguely cheated by secondary characters who flesh out the story but whose experiences seem to cover a laundry list of additional details.
This is not to say that historical fiction can’t make for a darn good read, but the gap between a darn good read for an hour (or five) and a book you want to raise above all others with a shiny sticker is actually a pretty big one.