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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!

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…]

A Volcano Beneath the Snow

A Volcano Beneath the Snow: John Brown’s War Against Slavery by Albert Marrin
Knopf, April 2014
Reviewed from final copy

JOHN BROWN TAKE THE WHEEL is probably not how you expected this review to start, but let’s embrace the unexpected and just go with it. With four stars and some rave reviews happening, Albert Marrin’s A Volcano Beneath the Snow is definitely getting some love here and there. [Read more…]

Kirkus Prize Finalists

In case you missed the news when it was first announced, or the recent news of the finalists, Kirkus Reviews now offers a really excellent writing award — it’s monetary, to the tune of $50,000, which for many authors probably represents a lot more time to write.

The nominee list — all the star reviews published between November 2013 to October 2014 — are listed here, and it’s quite a list (we’ve talked before about the Kirkus star, which is meaningful but not stingy). Much more exciting, though, is the Kirkus Prize finalist list, which was released yesterday.

Read on for the list, with my insights — spoiler warning, though: I haven’t read any of them yet. There are just too many good books!

[Read more…]

The Lucy Variations

The Lucy Variations, Sara Zarr
Little, Brown Books For Young Readers, May 2013
Reviewed from ARC

The Lucy Variations

If you stop doing the thing that defined you and made you special for most of your life, who are you and can you ever move on?

The Lucy Variations is a meditation on the classic young adult themes of loss, identity formation, and relationships – platonic, familial, and romantic. What makes Sara Zarr’s novel unique is that it is also a novel about talent, artistry, commitment, and the consequences of being a professional before you’re an adult. The Lucy Variations succeeds as the former, but excels as the latter.

[Read more…]

More Numbers from Our Guest Gurus

Before we return to our regularly scheduled abstract theorizing about literature (with Sarah and I weighing in on that standalone thing, as we keep promising to do), we’ve got an addendum to the numbers-loaded guest post from two weeks back.

In the comments on that post, which was full of fascinating data, the question was raised about correlations between stars and wins/honors. And so our valiant number crunchers tackled the question, as follows. (Have I mentioned how happy I am that we found some readers who can actually deal with data? You don’t want to know how many hours Sarah and I spent on last year’s Mock poll data, and I suspect we still made some data errors. Numbers are so very much not my strong point.)

And so, with no further ado, Predicting the Printz, Part 2: Another guest post by Elizabeth Fama (YA author) and John Cochrane (Professor of Economics), with heroic data collection by Jen Baker (Librarian). [Read more…]

How Many Stars Does it Take to Catch a Printz?

A guest post by Elizabeth Fama (YA author) and John Cochrane (Professor of Economics), with heroic data collection by Jen Baker (Librarian).

[Note from Karyn: Usually when someone is kind enough to write a guest post, I labor over a worthy introduction. But true to her detail-oriented self—see post, below—Elizabeth wrote her own introduction. So I’ll just say that we apologize for the delay between posts, but there was this thing known as ALA. We’ll be back on track in the upcoming weeks with a writeup of the RealCommittee celebrations from Sophie, and then more on that pesky series issue. For now, please enjoy the amazing statistical guest post below. I love empirical data!]

Back in her April “Reading, Reading, Reading!” post, Karyn said, “Remember that any book with three or more stars [from the six major review journals] is automatically a contenda,” leading me to ask in the comments, “Is there an empirical rationale for considering 3-star books auto-contenders? Has the Printz (including honor books) statistically gone to books with multiple stars, or is this just a handy way of forming our reading list?” Anecdotally it didn’t seem true. Last year, for example, Chime by Franny Billingsley earned six stars but no major awards, and Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley earned only one star, but took home both the Printz and the Morris.

In the comment section of that post and others, we all offered our views of why stars and Printz awards might not match up, but I wanted to see exactly how much they didn’t match up. And so the lovely Jen Baker, who is equally fascinated by quantifying children’s literature, compiled a spreadsheet with the starred reviews that all twelve years of Printz Winners and Honors earned (or didn’t) from the six journals. I enlisted the help of my economist husband to crunch the numbers and create the charts.

If you’re a numbers nerd, stick around for some fun statistics. If you’re not, skip straight to the conclusion at the bottom.

[Read more…]

Stars in my Eyes (or, Starred Reviews vs. The Printz, round 2)

CC-licensed image ("Starry Eyed Gaga") by Flickr user mellydonut. A bit literal, but really, isn't this how we all feel when we read a really excellent book? Also? I find Blythe dolls weirdly compelling.

Between Roger’s piece way back and Sophie’s thoughtful assessment of stars in our playground, I’m not sure what more really needs to be said.

But never let it be said that I passed up an opportunity to air my opinions.

Last week, I read a Mary Poppins of a book.* It deserves a dozen stars. And it won’t, and shouldn’t, be considered by the 2014 Printz committee (the book is a 2013 pub. I had no business reading it. But… it was pretty! And calling my name. And sometimes we need to succumb to siren songs.).

Because perfect, or even merely really excellent, books are not always so big on the Literary. In this case, the writing is pitch perfect, which is not always a given in even a star-earning book. The plotting is tight. The characters are engaging. The world gets a big “mwah” for being so much fun and well established without any needless exposition. It’s well written, but it doesn’t, in the end, offer anything more than a diversion.

[Read more…]

Stars vs. Printz: Round One!

So, starred reviews and the Printz award. We’re going to cover this topic in at least two posts this year, so whatever I don’t address (or get dead wrong), Karyn will cover in a couple of weeks!

I’m a visual, list-making sort of person, so as I mulled over this topic this week, I found myself making a mental chart of how they relate, in terms of their functions as well as how they’re determined.

[Read more…]

Reading, Reading, Reading!

Well, we all know THE FAULT IN OUR STARS is THE book of the year (so far!). When did we last have a contemporary, realistic fiction title with this much buzz and prepub excitement? It probably goes without saying, but if you are the one person who hasn’t read it yet, be sure to get to it before September. We might just launch with this one, since we know some folks are already spoiling for that fight!

Now, let’s talk about the books that you might not have read yet, but probably ought to if you want to play along. Finally, remember that any books with three or more stars is automatically a contenda, so if you’ve gotten to something we haven’t, do let us know in the comments what deserves to go the distance—or not.

[Read more…]