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Someday My Printz Will Come
Inside Someday My Printz Will Come

Morris Nominations

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...]

Partial Non-Fiction Roundup Part Two

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 NonfictionIda 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.

Ida M. Tarbell: The Woman Who Challenged Big Business — and Won! by Emily Arnold McCully
Clarion Books, July 2014
Reviewed from final copy

First up, we have Emily Arnold McCully’s biography on Ida M. Tarbell. With one starred review, we added it to our long list once it got the Excellence in Nonfiction’s finalist stamp of approval. It’s definitely impeccably researched, with clear writing and a balanced view of its subject — McCully doesn’t try to hide any of Tarbell’s 2015-unfriendly attitudes (her thinking on Mussolini, or her rejection of women’s suffrage, for example). McCully provides enough details and quotes from Tarbell’s writing, and does a fine job of placing Tarbell in her historical context. The text is bolstered by historical photographs. This isn’t the review-darling that the Romanovs and Port Chicago are, but it’s a strong biography in its own right, with as much to say about our the present world as about Tarbell’s.

Laughing at My Nightmare by Shane Burcaw
Roaring Brook, October 2014
Reviewed from ARC and then final copy

A book of my heart this year: the book I added to our list and then took off when it never got a starred review: Shane Burcaw’s Laughing at my Nightmare. I’ve been following him since Tumblr showcased his blog. I ended up taking it off the list after I read about half the book — it was mostly from the blog, which I’d already read. I figured that would be the end of it; I’m so glad the committee ignored me! Though I don’t think Burcaw has added much new content to the book — it is episodic and random in the way all the best blogs are as they publish, live — it still shows what a unique perspective he has, and still reveals his hilarious sense of humor. He’s always upfront about his experience with muscular dystrophy, but that’s never entirely the focus of his writing. Burcaw has a lot to say about life, and so what could tend to the Very Special After School Special is instead sharp and insightful. It’s a memorable read.

Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek by Maya Van Wagenen
Dutton, April 2014
Reviewed from final copy

Another book with a very young — in this case, still a teenage — author! Van Wagenen used a vintage popularity guide to help her in her yearlong quest to find popularity in her Texas high school. It’s the kind of book that sounds like stunt writing — a little too good to be true, a little too much concept and too little content — but Van Wagenen is a charming narrator with a sweet story. And some of the details of the background work well to contrast the read with the cover/packaging; Van Wagenen includes details about rough neighborhoods, gangs, a school lockdown. With some unexpected grit, an endearing narrator, and a relatable situation, Popular has charm to spare.

So what does this leave us in Printz-land? (Or, more accurately, Pyrite Land round these parts and at this point of the year.) I don’t think either of these three will overtake Romanovs or Port Chicago (and I loved A Volcano Beneath the Snow, though of course that’s not on the table for ENF). Not to mention the many other nonfiction titles we’ve raved about/looked at/considered. I’ve got a repeat conclusion from last week — these are strong titles, but I wouldn’t bet money on them going too far in RealCommittee’s conversations. But what do you all think? And do you have any predictions for the Excellence in Nonfiction winner? Let’s talk in the comments!

Drugged by Love?

Love Is the Drug, Alaya Dawn Johnson
Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic, September 2014
Reviewed from ARC

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.

[Read more...]

Roundup: Books That Pass the Bechdel Test

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.

[Read more...]

Roundup: Boarding School Blues

And We Stay coverEven in Paradise coverThis 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...]

A Matter of Souls

A Matter of Souls - CoverA Matter of Souls, Denise Lewis Patrick
Carolrhoda Lab, April 2014
Reviewed from final copy

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.
[Read more...]

We Need Diverse Books (Ballet Edition)

Pointe coverTaking Flight book cover 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.
[Read more...]

Two Girls Staring at the Ceiling

Two Girls Staring at the Ceiling, Lucy Frank
Schwartz & Wade, August 2014
Reviewed from final copy

I’m old.

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...]

Zac + Mia

Zac & Mia, A.J. Betts
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, September 2014
Reviewed from final copy

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.

[Read more...]

Everything Leads to You

Book CoverEverything Leads to You, Nina LaCour
Dutton Books, May 2014
Reviewed from Final Copy

Everything Leads to You has all the elements you would want in a YA summer book: love, glamour, and mystery all in the warm, sunny climate of Southern California. And that’s just the trailer. Nina LaCour’s latest novel is also a tender story that beautifully captures what it’s like to be a young dreamer on the edge of adulthood.

There are a couple of pertinent details that are left out from these descriptions though. I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t know that Emi, the protagonist, is a teen lesbian with African-American heritage (from her grandfather on her mother’s side); a glance at the cover or the flap copy won’t reveal any hint of these key facts. The book seems deliberately presented as white hetero-normative. So, I’ve thought about this almost as much as I’ve thought about the content of the novel and I’m still not sure how I feel. However, while I continue to let my ideas simmer, let’s talk about the meat.

[Read more...]