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Someday My Printz Will Come
Inside Someday My Printz Will Come

Flannery

flanneryFlannery, by Lisa Moore
Groundwood Press, May 2016
Reviewed from a final copy

Here’s a title with three stars, coming at us from a small press. We’ve got realistic fiction — more Canadian fiction, actually (yeah, OK, I recognize that this is not actually a genre). Moore is an adult novelist visiting the YA landscape for the first time with an emotional, powerful look at love, friendships, family. And magic potions, there are also magic potions here. (Though no actual magic; it’s realistic fiction.)

This is ambitious storytelling with a lot of strengths. We see strong characterizations and complicated relationships. Flannery’s friendship with Amber, her crush on Tyrone, her relationship with Miranda are all nuanced, changing things. Flannery’s first person voice is memorable — in part because of Moore’s decision to forgo quotation marks to denote dialogue. Everything we read is filtered through Flannery’s eyes, and we cannot forget it. We see every interaction through her, and she fills in our understanding of the story with flashbacks. Reading without any indicators of time in the narration (could be present, could be a narrated flashback) or if someone has started speaking is be tricky, but it’s overall a quick adjustment as a reader. In return, we gain an intimacy and immediacy to Flannery’s experience that is authentically teenlike.

Flannery is caught up with Tyrone, but this isn’t a love story, really. It’s more an examination of the many forms of love we find in life. We see so much of the Miranda/Flannery relationship — the ups and downs of these few months take us on a journey that feels connected to but apart from the crush Flannery nurtures for Tyrone. And the Flannery/Amber relationship, with its flaws and fractures, is a third leg. I’m imagining a three-legged stool as a metaphor for this plot, and all three legs equally  supports the story and gives it shape.

There are a few story strands that fade out rather than get resolved — although you could argue that the entire reading experience is so slice-of-life (and tied to Flannery’s perspective) that that’s just verisimilitude and thus an artistic choice. Slightly trickier: the bullying scene is a jump out of the rest of the novel, and the friendship origin stories of Flannery/Amber and Flannery/Tyrone are jumbly and too similar (or maybe an error). If the two friendships are both rooted in being babies at the hospital at the very same time and on the very same day, well, why these similarities? And if it’s an uncaught error, it’s a distracting one.

The emotional impact of the title is undeniably big — this is why it’s got three stars. It’s a successful examination of many kinds of relationships, and the closeness we feel with Flannery is the result of Moore’s thoughtful writing and storytelling choices. So, depending on RealCommittee’s makeup, this title could be getting close scrutiny at the table. However, I have to confess that I’m not sure I’d nominate this one (for me, the small negatives were just distracting enough that I couldn’t relax and enjoy the journey). But this isn’t all about me — maybe you connected so well with Flannery you disagree? Let’s keep talking!

College Applications

Joy just wrote about authenticity and the way a You Read can find you at just the right time and be the book you need. I don’t need to tell you all about that, you already know; that’s why you read blogs about books, and talk about books, and tell other people about books. She also talked about how sometimes a personal reaction to a You Read can make it tricky to really assess a book — it’s like the positive version of baggage. So I have two reads here that have an awful lot in common — they’re both fictional takes on a novel-length college admissions essay, but they go in wildly different directions, feel like totally different reads, and I’m having completely different reactions to them. These differing reactions are (I suspect) a lot more about me than the books. Which is of course the opposite of what Real Committee members are supposed to be doing (or even what we’re supposed to be doing here at the blog).

A small housekeeping note: I’m jumping a little out of line with this post, because we’re working our way chronologically through the year (more or less), and one of these is actually a summer book. Apologies to purists, but they’re too intriguingly similar and dissimilar to not connect. [Read more…]

The Serpent King

serpent-kingThe Serpent King by Jeff Zentner
March 2016, Random House
Reviewed from an ARC

This is a three star title, and had some conversation in the comments of our initial list post. Of course, I’m unable to say definitively whether or not it’s at the table for RealCommittee, but I’m always intrigued by religious themed (or even slightly religious flavored) fiction for teens. I ought to specify here, this isn’t inspirational fiction, or really even Christian fiction, although it is partially fiction about one Christian’s experience; it’s more a contemplative study about living with religion (at least as far as Dill is concerned). In addition, this is a snapshot of teens living in a small town setting (hey, since I also reviewed Exit, is this an official trend? j/k) which is not always something that makes it into my reading pile. So I’m pretty pumped to talk about this title, and I wonder how far it will go at the table. [Read more…]

More questions than answers here

Like Joy, I’ve got a double feature: two titles with strong reviews (My Name is Not Friday has three stars; The Bitter Side of Sweet has four), good writing, and memorable characterization. These two titles are both important reads. But are they Printz contenders? [Read more…]

Exit, Pursued by a Bear

exitExit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston
Dutton, March 2016
Reviewed from a final copy

I’m not for sure where I’m landing in this review, so I guess I’ll have to write it and see where I end up. Ha, I guess I’m flying right now, and I’m hoping this review (or you all, in the comments) will catch me. I definitely loved this book, and feel like it’s continuing my tough lady reading streak this year. With four starred reviews, I know I’m not alone in that love. Johnston is a past Morris honoree, too, so I have no doubt RealCommittee is taking a careful look at this title. Exit is emotional and compelling, it has strong characters, often funny dialogue, and as a story it balances uncertainty and resolution very delicately and deftly. [Read more…]

Infandous

infandousInfandous by Elana K Arnold
March 2015, Carolrhoda Lab
Reviewed from final ebook

I’ve been on a bit of a strange kick here at the end of this season. Untwine and Moonshot in particular really blew me away, but didn’t pick up a lot of stars between them. Infandous is somewhat similar in that it got two stars and didn’t make a year’s best list — and I really loved it. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve talked before about the differences between stars and Printz votes, but…sometimes it does feel funny to be so rave-y about something that not every reviewer gave a star to. And I must acknowledge, as far as this specific title goes, I’m an easy mark; if you have a book on women, society, double standards, and fairy tales, then I’m pretty guaranteed to be first in line. So will this be a book that makes it to the final five? Well, for committee members who are most likely reading and rereading, that’s…hard to say. [Read more…]

Untwine

untwine

Untwine by Edwidge Danticat
Scholastic, September 2015
Reviewed from final copy

Can I admit something embarrassing? This is the first time I’m reading Edwidge Danticat. I’ve been recommending her for years to eager readers, but I haven’t actually sat down and read any myself, until now. But what a title to start with: Untwine has received 2 starred reviews, and came out in September. I loved reading this book; it had me tearing up on the subway, and nearly missing my stop. What are its chances to get a medal in January? Well, that depends (of course) on RealCommittee. The layered language and beautifully woven themes make this a memorable and gorgeous read, but there are a few flaws, too. [Read more…]

Show and Prove

show proveShow and Prove by Sofia Quintero
Knopf Books for Young Readers, July 2015
Reviewed from a ARC

Karyn started out the week gushing about what a banner year for fantasy it is. I’m a little closer to Joy’s wavelength because I’ve got some (historical) realistic fiction to cover in this post. Joy also talked about SIGNIFICANCE (well, MESSAGE) in her post. I think that Quintero’s offering, while SIGNIFICANT, elegantly unites a specific setting and time period with a powerful coming of age story. Is that enough of a merit to name it as a contender, though? [Read more…]

The Bunker Diary

bunkerThe Bunker Diary by Kevin Brooks
Carolrhoda Lab/Penguin, March, 2015
Reviewed from a final copy

So way back a few weeks ago, Karyn mentioned that she found Tightrope Walkers too dark and oppressive to really sit with. I immediately began to wonder, what did I miss? Why didn’t the darkness affect me? Was I fooled by the book, to find hints of hope throughout, and find moments of compelling beauty in the darkness?

I’m pretty sure I found the book that answers my question. Did I miss too much? Nah, I’m good. This is a dark book. This is a book that pushes and prods and then slaps you around. It’s oppressive, it’s unrelenting, it’s brutal, and then it ends in despair. What I’m saying is, Tightrope Walkers was a walk on a riverbank in the springtime with birds chirping and woodland creatures frolicking, and this is…sure not. [Read more…]

All the Rage

A few thoughts.

One: I planned to cover two books tonight, linked by the fact that they both feature girls who have been harmed by their worlds but who won’t go down without a fight, and who both, through perseverance and pain, succeed. But it diminished both texts and I especially didn’t want to risk obscuring All the Rage, which is an important and powerful book.

Two: Sometimes the worst thing about reading with the kind of critical lens required for the Printz is that that level of scrutiny often ends up meaning we read books more than once. Admittedly, there are times when this is a gift. Rereading can be a luxury, allowing us to read for craft and detail rather than just to booktalk, and often a second read reveals new layers. On the flip side, there are also times when a close second read means we need to confront the things that are less than perfect about a book, taking a top book down a few pegs or leaving us (me) torn between a critical/blog charge and a personal and/or professional desire to promote powerful, meaningful books.

I’ve read All the Rage twice now, and I’m still struggling with the tension between what matters about this book and what matters for award season. [Read more…]