For our final review of the season, squashed in at the 11th hour, we bring you a quick and dirty final roundup to shed a little bit of love on some books that we never got to discuss at length but that we still think deserve a little attention.
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…]
Hello! I hope your 2015 is going well! We are getting closer and closer to the big, Printzly reveal, you know. And in the interest of getting through a few more titles on our long (and always growing, it seems) list, here’s another nonfiction roundup. This time, we’re looking at three of the five finalists for Excellence in Nonfiction — Ida M Tarbell, Laughing at my Nightmare, and Popular. (We’ve already checked out Port Chicago and the Romanovs aallllllllll the way back in 2014.) They all three show a wide variety of topics covered for teens in nonfiction, and also all three have compelling, particular perspectives on our world.
So, I think I made it pretty clear last year that I really like Alaya Dawn Johnson’s style. She’s smart and she writes books that appeal to me as a reader. But if you dismiss this as just another fangirl review, you’ll be missing out, because despite the flaws (and there are flaws — fannish and blind are not synonyms) this is one seriously notable book.
For years in my teens and early twenties, I read chick-lit like it was going out of style. I didn’t mind the label or the candy colored covers or the many many headless women — I was young, and not in love, and these books filled a hunger. I now scorn the love triangle in EVERY. DAMN. BOOK, especially in genre, but I understand why it holds appeal. But I’ve also developed a real appreciation for a different kind of love story, the kind about friendship with no romantic overtones but which is just as rich and deep as any romantic love story.
“It’s like being in love, discovering your best friend,” as Elizabeth Wein put it in Code Name Verity.
And in September, two lovely examples of exactly this kind of love story came out.
This morning, we’re looking at two novels set in boarding schools; And We Stay is Jenny Hubbard’s follow up to her 2012 Morris Award Finalist, Paper Covers Rock, and debut author Chelsey Philpot is inspired by classic literature in Even in Paradise.*
Both novels feature a young woman with a traumatic past who, in her junior year, transfers to a boarding school in New England amidst whispered rumors and speculation. Ostensibly, these stories are quite similar.
But… not really. [Read more…]
Whenever I review a book, I try to remind myself of my personal quirks as a reader. A major one I have is that it usually takes me approximately four-to-eight pages before I feel firmly oriented in a story. This is true regardless of the author’s skill; I don’t know why, but my brain just takes longer to situate itself within a new narrative. And this particular quirk can put me at a disadvantage when I’m reading short fiction. I admit all of this up front so that it’s clear that I’m not the ideal reader for Denise Lewis Patrick’s slim collection of short stories; however, it’s the universal theme of human connection, woven through each page that gave me a way into this book.
Diversity in YA has received a lot of attention recently, thanks to the #WeNeedDiverseBooks hashtag that’s evolved into a formal organization for activism and awareness. Brandy Colbert’s debut YA novel, Pointe was published just two weeks before the influential hashtag was born. Excellent timing because Pointe isn’t only a novel with a narrator of color; it’s a novel that places its protagonist in a world that’s known for its issues with women of color. Seriously, just google “where are all the black ballerinas;” you will see an alarming number of results. If you needed further proof, you could look at Michaela DePrince’s recently published memoir, Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina. Each book earned a star from Publisher’s Weekly, which would make them under-the-radar contenders for the Printz. And although they are quite different in the way ballet is utilized as part of the narrative, we’ve paired them for this post because they offer contrasting viewpoints, and it’s a diversity of voice within very specific parameters.
This year, it has really come home to me that I have been doing this for a while, with the following exchanges:
Me: Oooh, a new one from Cecil Castellucci!
Joy: You mean the LA Review of Books editor?
Me: Oh! David Almond has two books out this year? We need to read those.
Joy: …I’ve heard of him.
Me: There’s a new Lucy Frank! I loved I Am An Artichoke!
Joy: <<Blank face>>
Ok, so I’m maybe exaggerating a bit, but Lucy Frank, whose name is impressed upon me as a YA author, whose early books I booktalked quite often in my salad days at New York Public Library, is one of many authors who elicit a sort of Pavlovian “I should read that” response, because I was reading their work in my formative years vis á vis YA literature.
Be wary of nostalgia reading, friends. It can lead you in the wrong direction. [Read more…]
Remember when teens with terminal illnesses were the stuff of Lurlene McDaniels and also the Wakefield twins’ brother’s girlfriend? And not literary fodder.
Oh for the days of yore.
But the cancer book seems here to stay, and this one puts some spin on the tropes of the genre.