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Someday My Printz Will Come
Inside Someday My Printz Will Come

Does Never Fall Down Stand Up to the Hype?

never fall down 199x300 Does Never Fall Down Stand Up to the Hype?Never Fall Down, Patricia McCormick
Balzer + Bray, May 2012
Reviewed from ARC

National Book Award Finalist. Three stars. Patricia McCormick. Never Fall Down is a critical and popular darling, and there is absolutely no question about the emotional impact of the story. You would need to be a stone to stay dry-eyed reading about the atrocities Arn sees and endures under the Khmer Rouge.

So let’s cut to the chase. There’s really only one conversation anyone is having about Never Fall Down, and it’s all about the voice.

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A Confusion of Princes (or, Khemri’s Clearly Excellent Adventure)

confusion princes 199x300 A Confusion of Princes (or, Khemris Clearly Excellent Adventure)
A Confusion of Princes, Garth Nix
Harper, May 2012
Reviewed from ARC

Let’s go back in time for a moment, to the heady golden days of science fiction as the place where sweeping stories examine the nature of humanity and also contain explosions and cool tech.

Are you with me?

Because A Confusion of Princes is a throwback in the best way possible.

This is pure space opera, which grows from adventure and Western roots. In this case, it’s space opera with a dash of coming of age and lots and lots of fun tech (only it’s tek here, and there’s a ton of it, each bit more inventive than the last), all of which adds up to the contemporary version of a Boy’s Own adventure.

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The Chaos (Epic Post!)

The Chaos The Chaos (Epic Post!)The Chaos, Nalo Hopkinson
Margaret K. McElderry, April 2012
Reviewed from final copy

Over at Heavy Medal a month or so back, in the comments, the question was raised about emotional v intellectual engagement.

In a nutshell: is it fair that we tend to preference books with which we engage emotionally?

In that discussion, Mark Flowers (hi, Mark!) of Cross-Referencing said:

None of this is to say that emotional reaction should be taken out of the equation, but if we are really going to evaluate a book, we need to look at the how and the why of those emotional reactions, not just the fact of them.

I’ve been holding that comment in my head. “I feel” is, after all, invalid in Printz conversations if we leave it as an emotional reaction. But the question of the how and why takes that reaction and allows it to become another path by which to examine facets of writing and assess excellence. How does the author engage the reader? Is the emotional engagement or lack thereof in some way a response to the particulars of the writing? And how do we unpack the writing to get at the heart of the how and why? Because that’s where we find meat worth discussing in the context of the Printz.

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The Obsidian Blade

obsidian The Obsidian BladeThe Obsidian Blade by Pete Hautman
Candlewick, April 2012
Reviewed from an ARC

I have a feeling this is going to be a short review, in part at least because I didn’t finish reading this one. Yes, we’ve gotten to my first DNF of the year (at least, my first public blogging about a DNF title; rest assured, there have been others). (Er. We all know that DNF is Did Not Finish, yes? I first saw Liz B use that acronym at Teacozy, so I’m assuming it’s a thing. A Thing, actually.)

Can I also just mention that I’m super bummed to out myself as someone who did not finish a Pete Hautman book? Because I would really prefer, as a fan, to be raving about this book — it’s science fiction! It’s full of action! It’s Pete Hautman! National Book Winner Pete Hautman! He will write any book and make it pretty awesome! Pete Hautman, people! [Read more...]

No Crystal Stair: Significant & Worthy, but…

No Crystal Stair No Crystal Stair: Significant & Worthy, but...

No Crystal Stair

No Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller, Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, with artwork by R. Gregory Christie
Carolrhoda Lab, an imprint of Carolrhoda Books, February 2012
Reviewed from final copy (courtesy of my public library)

Vaunda Nelson, author of the Coretta Scott King Award-winning Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal, has produced a truly significant work of documentary fiction in No Crystal Stair. It is particularly noteworthy in the categories of accuracy, story, theme, and illustration, but is shaky in terms of voice and style. Voice is especially important to me — a dealbreaker, in fact — so while I can see it as a nominee, I doubt it will make the Final Five when it comes time to vote.

First, the good (and there is a lot of good here):

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After the Snow, Questions

aftersnow 200x300 After the Snow, QuestionsAfter the Snow, S.D. Crockett
Feiwel and Friends, March 2012
Reviewed from ARC

I’ve got that feeling again, the one I had about There Is No Dog, that sense of bafflement because the book I read may not be the book others read. This is a 3-star book* that also made it into the New York Times. It’s ambitious for sure, but I’m beginning to think I only notice ambitious writing when it doesn’t quite pull itself off. It’s original, except that somehow it reminds me almost unbearably of Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking Trilogy, all inverted.

(I should note that most of the time I try really hard not to read the actual text of the reviews in journals or on other blogs until AFTER I’ve done my writeup, to try to avoid being influenced by others. As soon as I press publish, I’ll be off to read away.)

I am hoping that a conversation will illuminate this novel, so I’ll start by laying my cards on the table.

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Froi of the Exiles

 Froi of the ExilesFroi of the Exiles by Melina Marchetta
Candlewick, March 2012
Reviewed from ARC

Melina Marchetta! Chronicles of Lumatere! Part two! Froi! Yes, I was pretty excited to read this one. With three (? check my math on that) starred reviews, and a real affection for Finnikin of the Rock, I was ready for a fabulous read. And I did enjoy Froi as a personal read, just for me, but I’m not totally convinced of its contenda-ness for Printz Purposes.

As you might recall from Finnikin, order has very recently been restored to Lumatere; only three years ago, Finnikin and Isaboe were able to break the curse on their homeland and retake their land from the evil king of the neighboring country Charyn. Froi was an important part of that story, and is now a member of the Lumateran guard with a gift for languages. He is training as an assassin, and heads off to Charyn, where he’s expected to kill the evil king. The country of Charyn has suffered under a terrible curse of their own — no one has born any children for the past 18 years, and the land and people suffer from their barren condition. Froi finds an altogether more complicated situation, however, and killing the king becomes the least of his problems, as he meets the emotionally unstable Quintana and confronts the truth of his own past.

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So. Many. Books.

Remind me to never ever make a schedule. Because here we are, October first, and do you know how close we are to posting reviews of Q2 books?

About 2 weeks.

In a possibly misguided attempt to get caught up — in general, this year is so rich with multiply starred books that getting them all covered is going to be rough regardless (and that despite reading like a madwoman all year already!) — I’m going to hit lots of birds books with one stone post tonight. These are books that made the 3-star cutoff but that I’m not seeing as serious contenders. I’d hate to skip them, though, because then there’d be no room for anyone to fight for them and propose contrary ways of looking at them.

So one big old roundup post it is.

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The Disenchantments

disenchantments The DisenchantmentsThe Disenchantments, Nina LaCour
Dutton Books, February 2012
Reviewed from ARC

What does it say about a book when as a reader, I’m far more engaged by its themes and the questions it explores than the story or main characters? Or does it say more about me? This is what I’m grappling with as I complete my second read of Morris Award Finalist Nina LaCour’s sophomore effort, The Disenchantments.

Clearly, with three stars under its belt — from Kirkus, PW, and SLJ — this is a well-regarded title, and with good reason. Kirkus called it “hauntingly beautiful”, while SLJ’s reviewer pronounced it “contemplative but spectacular”, but while I’ll certainly buy beautiful and contemplative, I haven’t been haunted by this book at all. In fact, after reading it this winter, I had to undertake a complete re-read to remind myself of some major plot points.

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Beneath a Meth Moon

Meth Moon Beneath a Meth MoonBeneath a Meth Moon, Jacqueline Woodson
Nancy Paulsen Books, January 2012
Reviewed from final copy

Remember how we talked about stars and the way a book can deserve a star for reasons that in no way correlate to Printzliness?

Beneath a Meth Moon could be Exhibit A to illustrate the gap that can exist between stars and the gold. This is a three-star book. The reviews mostly focus on the emotional impact of the novel (interestingly, the words “poignant” and “dreamlike” each appear in two reviews). And there is an emotional punch. In fact, it’s unavoidable given the 1-2 of a past destroyed by Katrina and a present destroyed by meth. But three stars for that one, admittedly significant aspect of the book does not, in this case, correlate to shortlist status because the virtues are counterbalanced by shortcomings that matter in an assessment of literary quality even if they don’t matter when it comes to emotional depth.

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