Humans expect a lot from each other. We like to think that we’re autonomous beings, when in reality, our choices are frequently motivated and influenced by others. In John Corey Whaley’s latest novel, he once again explores the interplay between a teen boy, his parents, and two friends (one guy, one girl). Although the title, with its nod to a certain Vulcan, may suggest science-fiction to some of you nerds out there (and I mean me), Highly Illogical Behavior is firmly grounded in the reality of human relationships; specifically, what happens when the fulfillment of one person’s ambitions or needs means the suppression of another’s.
When we start to compile our list of books to cover, authors who have a previous Printz win or honor are automatically added to the list. We also give serious consideration to writers with wins or honors from other important ALA Youth Media Awards. Of course, the logic is that a previous winner has a good chance of continuing to create work at a high level.
Today’s contenders come to us in slightly different form than the author’s previous work. Unlike her Printz and Caledcott honor book, This One Summer, Mariko Tamaki’s Saving Montgomery Sole is a prose novel. The Great American Whatever is Tim Federle’s first YA novel—his middle grade series, Better Nate Than Ever has earned him a Stonewall and Odyssey nomination as well as a Lambda literary award. Both Tamaki and Federle use themes present in their other books, but do they also use the qualities that earned them praise?
I’ve had a busy two days, catching up on a few of the swing books we’ve got on the slate for our in-person Printzbery discussion this weekend. Also a busy few days sniffling and crying since both books are heavy on the feels.
Here’s a novel that is exactly what its title indicates it will be: a song for Ella Grey. David Almond’s lyrical novel—his third (!) to come out this year—is about the desperate first love of one’s youth that can inspire for a lifetime. The surprise of this song is that the singer isn’t Orpheus; it’s Claire, Ella’s best friend. It’s about love, obsession, magic, and loss. In a year when Almond already has a six-star novel, it’s not likely that Ella Grey could ever have been more than a dark horse contender unless the critical praise matched or exceeded its predecessor. More than that though, Ella Grey is strange and rare, a book that will leave readers in a daze trying to understand what they’ve just experienced.
Last year, Andrew Smith wrote a book that had: weird science, boys who talk about masturbation, an incredibly strong voice, and strange animals created by the aforementioned weird science.
Love it or hate it, we couldn’t stop talking about it.
So why is The Alex Crow, which could also be described as a book with weird science, boys who talk about masturbation, an incredibly strong voice, and strange animals created by the aforementioned weird science, making so little ripple?
Backlash against Smith’s problematic writing of women? (It’s not better here, exactly, but used as part of the absurdism and thus ameliorated.) The fact that he JUST received a Printz honor? A less astounding package?
Or does The Alex Crow suffer because it feels like it’s not original, even though the thing that makes it seem less original is the same author’s work?
Marcus Sedgwick has literary chops. Here’s an author who knows his way around a sentence. Last year, Karyn and I predicted that Sedgwick’s Midwinterblood would get a shiny sticker, despite our reservations about the novel’s ability to hold up under close scrutiny. We agreed that Sedgwick’s beautiful use of language and the book’s complicated structure would be enough to put it in the winners’ circle, so neither of us were surprised when Midwinterblood won Printz gold.
Sedgwick’s followup, She Is Not Invisible, isn’t likely to repeat its predecessor’s success. That doesn’t mean, however, that it’s a disappointment. In terms of critical response, it’s on Kirkus‘ best list for 2014 and has received three stars. It’s an interesting and satisfying reading experience, displaying some of the technical skills one expects from Sedgwick. Compared to the rest of 2014’s contenders though, it falls just below the best work of the year.
Some time in the next few days I’ll have a lot to say about the year end lists, and we’ll be going back and making some additional edits to our start of season list in light of time crunches and more data. Today, though, I’m taking a moment away from that madness to reflect on series fiction, a topic near and dear to my heart.
The True Tale of the Monster Billy Dean, David Almond
Candlewick, January 2014
Reviewed from finished ebook
David Almond was one of the original Printz court (see my royalty pun there?). Skellig was an honor book in 2000, and then Kit’s Wilderness took the gold in 2001. Almond hasn’t stopped writing; at least in his native England, he seems to have something published and earning accolades nearly every year. So why is no one talking about his latest to cross the pond, the surreal and magnificent The True Tale of the Monster Billy Dean?
Maybe it’s just that I had my head still firmly stuck in 2013 books in January, but I almost missed this entirely. Luckily someone put his next book on their to-read list in Goodreads, and when I went to check the US pubdate for that one, I stumbled across this one. It received three starred reviews, so we can be sure three people read it, plus me and one stalwart reader who read it for my discussion group at BookFest @Bank Street last week. I’m wondering if that’s it. (Edited to add: And the smart folks at PW, who put it on their list.) Which is a shame, because while I’m still not sure I liked this one, I think it’s definitely in the running for most ambitious novel of the year. [Read more…]
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.