We’ve spent the week looking at Printzbery books: the stuff that falls on the young end here, but is still eligible and worth the conversation. But here for our Friday read, I’ve got a totally different direction to take: two memoirs with distinctive voices: two very different reads. Ironically, the only thing they may have in common? They’re not really for younger teens at all. It’s hard to say that either one will definitely take a medal when all is said and done, but as different as they are, they’re worth considering. [Read more…]
This is a difficult review to write.
The reason I’m struggling has nothing to do with Steve Sheinkin’s book, and everything to do with it.
My thoughts keep turning to Michael Brown, John Crawford III, and Tamir Rice. I’m thinking about the protests happening all over the country as I write these words. And I’m thinking about how these current events are part of the narrative of civil rights and racism in the U.S., specifically their connection to what happened at Port Chicago 70 years ago. Almost three-quarters of a century have passed since those 50 black sailors were convicted of mutiny, but we still need to take a hard look at the ways in which American systems have criminalized black youth—even when those young people are actively working to serve and defend the country.
The Shadow Hero, story by Gene Luen Yang & art by Sonny Liew
First Second, July 2014
Reviewed from final copy
I don’t review graphic novels here that often, although I read most of them, because I always worry that I don’t know enough about art. But I know enough to know that this is fantastic as a novel and as a work of graphica.
Not gonna lie. I loved this book. I loved from the pretty dress cover — I know! But I’m a sucker — to the thoroughly unexpected world. I loved the lack of easy answers and the fact that there is more to come. I loved Kestrel’s brilliance and her stupidity, and Arin’s conflicting desires for freedom and to be a good man, in a world where both are not an option. So much love, really.
But my love does not literary merit confer, sadly, so let’s see if there’s a case to be made.
A few days ago on Twitter, Rachel Hartman (yes, you know, that Rachel Hartman, who brought us last year’s best debut — and one of last year’s best books, period), Seraphina, asked if we were doing a Morris shortlist roundup this year. The answer, sadly, was not really, because our Morris readership hasn’t been thorough enough. Out of that conversation came the following guest post, in which Rachel reviews Charm and Strange, the most Printz-buzzed of the Morris shortlist titles.
For those of you who don’t
stalk follow Rachel on any social media, a few salient biographical details and some links: In addition to Seraphina (which won the Morris Award last year AND a Printz Honor) and also the author of the forthcoming sequel (in March 2015. I KNOW) Shadow Scale. She can, as mentioned, be found on Twitter, where she procrastinates, talks about music and writing, frequently makes me laugh, and is a general source of things that are Good. But if you really want all the details, you should head over to her website and blog, this month featuring Morris shortlist authors and books — in fact, she’ll be posting an interview with Stephanie Kuehn later today! But enough of the introduction and on with the write-up.
I asked Karyn whether y’all would be doing any kind of Morris roundup this year. She told me time was tight, so probably not. I’ve only read Charm & Strange from this year’s Morris list, but I volunteered to review it because I’m on deadline. My procrastination knows no bounds.
There will be spoilers ahead — to my great relief, since this is a difficult book to discuss without spoiling — but let me try to give you the spoiler-free condensed version first. I loved Charm & Strange, and that’s saying a lot. I’m a fantasy person. It takes a very special real-world, “problem” novel to keep my attention at all, let alone make me love it. This is an intensely painful book to read, however. In terms of awards, I don’t know. I never predict anything correctly. You could certainly write a multi-page paper on this book — or on the psychology, philosophy, and metaphor contained therein — and yet I don’t think I could bear to re-read it. I’m not sure how it would hold up if I did, since so much hinges upon the reader and Win discovering the truth together. Once all the terrible truths are revealed, is that all there is — and is that enough?
Come with me under the fold, and let’s dig into this thing!
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.
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.
(I couldn’t resist the bad play on Joy’s name, although if I do it too often she might just up and leave me with no right hand.)
Please read on for excellent coverage from my colleague Joy Piedmont for the Macmillan preview none of us were able to attend the week before last—Joy’s debrief back at school resulted in a tussle over the ARCs she received, and I’m really excited for all of these delicious books!
Also, I note that once again we’re looking at a heavy genre list, so maybe, maybe this is the year that genre sweeps it all?