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Someday My Printz Will Come
Inside Someday My Printz Will Come

Sort of historical

I have just realized that we’ve reviewed a lot of historical fiction this year. Karyn was talking about a strong year for fantasy, but I’m over here impressed by historical fiction in 2015. Or our sort-of-historicals, as is the case for one of these.

This week, we’ve got two past winners, and both authors provide an important, engaging look at history. Both have no problem examining some of the, let’s be polite and say “less savory” aspects of US history. One, though, focuses on a real-life person, and the other works in elements of history to a fantasy/horror filled world. One book is short, one is very long. So similar, and yet so different! [Read more…]

All American Boys

All American Boys coverAll American Boys, Jason Reynolds & Brendan Kiely
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, September 2015
Reviewed from final copy

My high school students will find that this novel hits very close to home. As residents of New York City, many of them joined and organized protests when grand juries decided not to indict the police officers involved in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. They staged a die-in. They educated their peers about what it feels like to be repeatedly stopped and frisked. For other young readers who have lived the reality of this novel, this may be a difficult read but it may also provide them the opportunity to discuss these problems through the lens of fictional characters in a fictional situation. All American Boys is a safe space for conversation about police brutality and racism in America. Its three stars are no surprise and well-deserved for this raw and emotionally honest book.

All that being said, as Karyn put so well in her review of All the Rage, I’m trying to resolve “the tension between what matters about this book and what matters for award season.”

[Read more…]

Fantastic Fantasy, Scintillating Science Fiction (a Twofer)

Canadian Mountain Goat (you'll understand after you read the post) by Eve Livesey.

Canadian Mountain Goat (you’ll understand after you read the post) by Eve Livesey.

For the reader, like me, who prefers fantasy to reality, at least in books, this has been a pretty knockout year. We seem to finally be fully beyond the various waves (paranormal romance, dystopias, love triangles) that have dominated YA fantasy and science fiction for the past decade. This has been a slow creep, and this year marks the first year where I don’t see any dominant trends. Microtrends, sure — the Arabian Nights and djinn tales have been increasing each year, series fiction is still quite common, and really we’ll never entirely be done with dystopic fiction (that usually isn’t technically set in a dystopia).

(Having said all that, someone will probably point out some trend I am willfully ignoring. I still say this is a banner year.)

So rather than an army of same old same old, this year has brought us a legion of fresh, original genre fiction — I’ve already talked about The Archivist Wasp and Razorhurst, and we’ve all admired Bone Gap and Shadowshaper (and yes, I KNOW we need to review those already. We haven’t forgotten). Joy had a lot of admiration for More Happy Than Not; The Walls Around Us is a tour de force, really, that I am still thinking about. Even genre books we haven’t 100% adored and/or may not be covering here (The Game of Love and Death, Walk on Earth a Stranger, Newt’s Emerald) are distinctly their own books and don’t fit into any easy boxes.

In short, I’m calling this the year fantasy finally moved on from blockbusters and into its own (magical) pride of place.

And today I’ve got not one but TWO fabulous genre books to add to the list of books we say nice things about.

[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…]

Roundup: Countries in conflict

book coverbook cover

Black Dove, White Raven, Elizabeth Wein
Disney-Hyperion, March 2015
Reviewed from final copy

Hold Tight, Don’t Let Go, Laura Rose Wagner
Amulet Books, January 2015
Reviewed from final e-book

It’s a midweek roundup of books with commas in their titles. Okay, these two books are also about countries in the midst of crisis. Black Dove, White Raven is set in the years leading up to Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia in 1935. Hold Tight, Don’t Let Go presents more recent history—the immediate aftermath of the earthquake that devastated Haiti in 2010.
[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…]

Thumper’s Dad (A Roundup)

Once upon a time ago, over on Heavy Medal, Jonathan very boldly (and wittily) ran a post with just a title and the cover of the book.

His point was that sometimes you just don’t have anything good to say about a book, so why say anything at all?

I’m not nearly as bold, nor are my opinions so strongly unspeakable, but today I’m aiming to be very nearly as brief with a crop of books that that just won’t go the distance.

[Read more…]

Two Books That Have Absolutely Nothing in Common*

The Dead I Know coverDime coverAs previously mentioned, time is short and books are many.

So for today, two books that don’t actually belong in a joint post, brought to you by the color red and the letter D: The Dead I Know and Dime.

[Read more…]

Boys Will Be… Knitters and Lovers and Funny, Oh My

Simon VS the Homo Sapiens Agenda coverBoys Don't Knit coverSimon VS the Homo Sapiens Agenda, Becky Albertalli
Balzer + Bray, April 2015
Reviewed from ARC

Boys Don’t Knit, T.S. Easton
Feiwel and Friends, March 2015
Reviewed from final copy

It’s a twofer Monday, today, with two delightfully warm, funny, and frankly tender tales of boys grappling with what it means to be a boy, and also what it means to fall for someone.

[Read more…]

You know nothing, Mim Malone: Mosquitoland

Mosquitoland coverMosquitoland, David Arnold
Viking, March 2015
Reviewed from final copy

There are major spoilers ahead so if you don’t want to know major plot points for Mosquitoland proceed with caution.

At a certain point in one’s reading life, first person narration immediately triggers suspicion of an unreliable narrator. It’s not a terrible starting point because when do people ever tell stories without bias? The conventional wisdom is that everyone is the hero in their own story and this is definitely true of Mim Malone, our unreliable, letter-writing, narrator who runs away from the titular Mosquitoland (her new home in Mississippi) to rescue her ailing mother in Ohio. Mim is smart enough that we can believe in her ability to make the journey and navigate the various practical obstacles, but broken enough for us to question her emotional stability and judgment. Her voice is clear and distinct in David Arnold’s quirky road trip odyssey.

This is his debut novel and landed on our list after earning three stars. Amid the buzz however, there’s been criticism aimed at Mim’s understanding and use of her “one-sixteenth” Cherokee heritage. On her blog, American Indians in Children’s Literature, Debbie Reese has written extensively about this issue; I encourage you to check out her posts including one in which David Arnold responds to the criticism. Since that conversation has been so thoroughly and thoughtfully covered, let’s look at some of the other criteria to determine the possibility of seeing Mosquitoland earn a special sticker this winter.

[Read more…]