There are some fun parallels between the two novels we’re discussing today. Both are debut novels from Ivy-league educated women with impressive resumes in other careers. Both books came out in June and have narrators who are teenage girls struggling to find their place in the world. They are also both strong contenders for the Morris Award. Compared to some of the current Someday favorites, these two probably won’t emerge as Printz contenders this year but there’s enough potential in each that we may see these authors in the conversation in years to come.
Despite the title, this is probably more like take 4. This is somehow a hard review to write. I keep slipping away from the book itself and into all the things that surround this book: the importance of representation and mirrors in YA lit; the long history of binary systems in human thought and the way interstitial anything creates anxiety (there may be a thesis in my past about cross-dressing in Shakespeare and Marlowe and how actually social transgressions are usually more condemned than sexual transgressions, and as a result of that thesis I may have read a lot about binaries and sexuality and gender at various points in my life). The earlier draft went into #weneeddiversebooks and gatekeepers, collection development, the fact that the author of this book is a cis-het white male, and a host of other things.
But none of that is really getting at the purpose here, which is to assess a book as a literary object. Which is not to say that none of it has bearing — but when I hit 1,000 words and was still on the issues around the text, I decided to start over. So here we go again: Symptoms of Being Human — Printz worthy or not? [Read more…]
Wednesday, the YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults (which I persist in calling ENYA even though I think that never really caught on the way I hoped) shortlist was released.
And today we have the YALSA Morris award short list!
So many fabulous books. Let’s take a look at the surprises.
YALSA’s Morris Award (technically the William C. Morris Debut Award) is a great showcase of strong new voices in the YA literature field. Often there are a few books we have had on our speculation list that end up being Morris finalists, because good writing is good writing. And, of course, sometimes the best writing is a debut — from Looking for Alaska, 10 (TEN!) years ago (before the Morris, but still a debut) to Seraphina just two years ago.
But the thing is that the Morris pool is a LOT smaller. And often crowded with schools of commercial clone fish, against which the more original and/or literary novels tend to really shine. And we all know that a big fish in a small pond often becomes a small fish when the body of water is bigger.
The Printz is a pretty big body of water. [Read more…]
The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim by E. K. Johnston
Published by Carolrhoda Lab, March 2014
Reviewed from final copy
You know we’re not going to get out of here without a Trogdor reference, right? I mean, that’s not in any way the point or even relevant, but it’s still burninating me up inside. Much like the countryside and all those peasants. Which doesn’t get us to the three stars, the three best of year lists (so far), or the placement on the Morris shortlist. The Story of Owen may not have thatched-roof cottages, but it is mostly full of fantastic fantasticness. [Read more…]
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!
Time for a true confession: of the five 2014 Morris Award nominated titles, I’ve read only one. All of the books had been on my to-read list before becoming Morris finalists, but we all know what happens with to-read lists and then you’ve only read one of the books. Fortunately for me, that book was Carrie Mesrobian’s Sex & Violence. It’s challenging and smart work from a promising writer—truly deserving of the Morris nod (and I really regret not being able to judge it against the rest of the field).
Mesrobian has a clear thesis in Sex & Violence; it’s mostly there in the title, but she’s also interested in how an already emotionally detached young person copes with PTSD. The latter is really the meat of the book and what makes it work: after a violent attack in his boarding school’s shower leaves him without a spleen, Evan begins to question his sexual history and actions which led to the assault. Mesrobian puts the reader directly in his head by writing in first person, but Evan is never entirely honest with himself, making him an impenetrable narrator. It’s only in his letters to Collette where he reveals anything true about himself, because it’s as he writes these letters that he begins to understand who he is. Evan’s voice is consistent and pitch perfect; this kind of assured writing is worth the price of admission.
Today we had not one but two great lists (I’d like to say “that go great together,” but actually there is zero overlap).
First, the morning greeted me with the Morris shortlist, which I wasn’t expecting until Monday, and settled the pesky question of whether Seraphina counts as a debut. (It does, clearly, since it made the shortlist.) Of the other four titles, we’ve talked about After the Snow and The Miseducation of Cameron Post (although we didn’t point to either of these as books we were guessing we’d see on the Morris list, which I find interesting. Did we not realize they were debuts? Hmmm.) Wondershow I started earlier in the year but thought was so clearly a middle grade novel that I put it down about a third of the way in, so I am startled to see it here. But I guess it counts as young YA (that pesky crossover 10-14 range). So now I’ll need to revisit it. And the fifth book? Love and Other Perishable Items, by Laura Buzo? Yeah, never seen it! This one was totally under my radar, although it turns out Kelly of Stacked is a big fan, so now I am totally wanting to read it! Sadly, it’s not even out until next week, and I don’t have an ARC, so does someone have a copy to loan me??
Then, just to make the day even more full of listy goodness, midday-ish brought us The Horn Book Fanfare. I like how short and sweet this list is. It features everybody’s favorite, The Fault in Our Stars, as well as Pyrite nominees The Brides of Rollrock Island and Code Name Verity. In addition, a few other contenders made it — My Book of Life by Angel (which I’ll be posting in the next day or two, and is beautiful but, I thought, flawed), No Crystal Stair, A Certain October, and Dodger (perfect timing as we’ve been watching the tv miniseries of Going Postal in my house, and just last night I watched Sir Terry’s cameo as a postmaster. It’s been a pterrific week!)
I’m hoping to consult Jen’s fantastic records next week and start looking at the trends so far, but in the meantime, I have reviews to write! And we are woefully behind our schedule! We’re hoping to get caught up soon with the rest of the Q3 and 4 books.
I doubt this is news to anyone, but the Morris shortlist was released the other day.
Three of the five were on our original contenda list (although we’ve only discussed two so far), and a fourth was a late addition thanks to reader response when we first discussed (and almost dismissed) it (we will definitely be revisiting it now).
(The fifth was on the books that made a best of year list but that we had oops! missed pile, so NOW it’s on our list, twice over.)
This kind of recognition automatically puts a book higher in the public estimation. But does it actually affect or correlate with Printz recognition?