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Someday My Printz Will Come
Inside Someday My Printz Will Come

Drugged by Love?

Love Is the Drug cover 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

Paper Airplanes 198x300 Roundup: Books That Pass the Bechdel TestWildlife cover 198x300 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.

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Roundup: Boarding School Blues

17797364 Roundup: Boarding School Blues20601687 Roundup: Boarding School BluesThis 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

18350732 A Matter of SoulsA 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)

13360957 We Need Diverse Books (Ballet Edition)20685495 We Need Diverse Books (Ballet Edition) 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.
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Two Girls Staring at the Ceiling

Two Girls 232x300 Two Girls Staring at the CeilingTwo 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

9780544331648 Zac + MiaZac & 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

18667779 Everything Leads to YouEverything 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...]

Message or Masterpiece (Or, Does the Problem Novel Still Exist?)

Today we’re running a roundup of books that we think are worth discussing because they are in the top, say, 100 of the year. But they aren’t quite there, and we don’t think they’ll go the distance. And to make the post about more than just a series of short reviews, we’ve limited today’s roundup to books that have a lot to offer but seem to lose out on Printzliness in the name of message or purpose. Every time we discuss these books, we find ourselves focused on a central issue not of writing but of the world: an issue discussed in the books at hand but not really of them.

And as we discussed this, we found ourselves comparing these books to the problem novels of yesteryear, because like them, what the books are about seems to weigh more heavily then how they are written, even if the how is light years beyond the old chestnuts. And really, these books offer so much more than just the issues at their hearts — but we were struck by the ways that the social issue at the heart of the text stuck in our heads the longest, outweighing the literary elements. Is this about our own biases, seeing and holding on to the part that feels like a news soundbite — and therefore, easy to remember and the sort of thing that we are reminded of by the outside world on a sadly too frequent basis — or is it an issue in the writing?

Let’s see! [Read more...]

Roundup: Girls in Crisis

Double feature crisis show!

Today we’ve got not one but two — TWO! — reviews for the price of one click. Really, these two books — Fat Angie and 17 & Gone — have very little in common, but they are both March pubs and have some thematic overlap, dealing as they do with girls in distress. Not damsels in distress, but the kind of deep-seated internal anguish that is too often intrinsic to teen girls, saddled as they are with expectations and beliefs and the need to always be aware.

[Read more...]