Maybe here is a good time to say, I love Brenna Yovanoff. I love her writing, her dark and delicious fantasies. This fifth title is more along the lines of magical realism than straight out fantasy. The slow and sweet Waverly/Marshall relationship notwithstanding, Yovanoff takes an unflinching look at aggression and dysfunction in high school, and the results are dark — not so much with the creepy factor, but it’s decidedly a dark take on the high school experience. Places has garnered three starred reviews, and it’s easy to lay out why: strong characterization, important themes, and a delicate mix of genres. Does this have staying power once RealCommittee gets to the table, though? [Read more…]
Philip Reeve is underappreciated in the US. The Mortal Engines quartet was brilliant science fiction — pacy, philosophical, and heart-breaking. And then it was gone, apparently out of print. The prequel trilogy starring the incomparable Fever Crumb also failed to get as much traction as it deserved. Hopefully, the upcoming film of Mortal Engines will signal a rebirth of interest, and hopefully that will mean good things for Reeve’s latest, the unusual Railhead.
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!
There are some fun parallels between the two novels we’re discussing today. Both are debut novels from Ivy-league educated women with impressive resumes in other careers. Both books came out in June and have narrators who are teenage girls struggling to find their place in the world. They are also both strong contenders for the Morris Award. Compared to some of the current Someday favorites, these two probably won’t emerge as Printz contenders this year but there’s enough potential in each that we may see these authors in the conversation in years to come.
Not a roundup, not a Best Of list, not a bird OR a plane, it’s a review! With three stars and a shout out in the comments of our original list, this is historical fiction with a twist — a Hamlet-infused ghosty twist. This is not the only Shakespeare inspired fiction that we’ve looked at this year, and it’s certainly not the only historical fiction. What makes this a standout title? [Read more…]
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…]
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.
Some books remind me that there is much I don’t know about the world. I’ve been very lucky that my personal life has never been touched by a violent hate crime. In Laurent Linn’s Draw the Line, Adrian Piper is a gay teen who regularly hears homophobic slurs in the hallways of his school. He chooses to keep his sexual orientation hidden from everyone but his closest friends, in the hope that he’ll be invisible to the bullies who routinely harass an openly gay classmate. Accuracy is an important Printz criteria, so early on in my reading of this novel, I spent a lot of time thinking about if and how the plot works as a reflection of real life.
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…]