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 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: 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…]
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!
The Lucy Variations, Sara Zarr
Little, Brown Books For Young Readers, May 2013
Reviewed from ARC
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.
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…]
[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.
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.
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.
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.