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Someday My Printz Will Come
Inside Someday My Printz Will Come

These Books Have Nothing in Common

screen-shot-2016-12-31-at-2-37-04-pmThat is, these books have nothing in common except their matching star count. But time is short and the books with positive reviews are many, so here we are, lumping them together.

Russo’s If I Was Your Girl was on our list from the very beginning of the year. It’s a love story with a trans main character, and never devolves into a problem novel, which is still relatively refreshing (and oh so welcome) when it comes to trans protagonists.

Kids of Appetite, on the other hand, was a late entry after it started showing up on year-end lists. It features a protagonist with an uncommon medical ailment and a character who maybe functions as a magical negro, and reads like Andrew Smith lite.

Needless to say, I only support one of these as a contender.

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Historical(ish)

blog2So much fun! History is full of so many unexplored paths! What if you were a child of immigrants who bribed her way into a posh school? What if you were a doomed teenage king? What if you were a doomed teenage queen? What if you survived the San Francisco earthquake? What if you took on racism in your posh school? What if you, I don’t know, SHAPESHIFTED? Just laying out the options here, amiright? OK, OK, we’re sort of smooshing historical fiction and history-tinged fantasy, but it’s the end of the year, we’re trying to get through the books, this is a fun pairing, and I’m happy to bounce between Outrun the Moon and My Lady Jane. Will either of these titles find their way to the table for RealCommittee? [Read more…]

Tales from Mother Russia

screen-shot-2016-12-31-at-12-56-45-pmWe’re back from a few days of rest, travel, and so much family, with yet another double post — always, as the year draws to a close, the double posts, because the good books just keep piling up. Today’s books in many ways have nothing in common — one historical fiction, absolutely realistic despite some stylistic flourishes that point to fairy tales, and the other contemporary fantasy. One is set in Russia and Sweden and England and a few points in between; the other in only a few square blocks of Brooklyn. One stretches over years, even decades when the framing narrative is considered, and the other takes place over three nights — although they are long nights, it’s true.

So what ties these two — Vassa in the Night and Blood Red Snow White — together? They share a mythologized love of Russia. They grow from Russian fairy tales, in one case because the protagonist has written a collection and in the other because everybody’s favorite wicked witch, Baba Yaga, is running a murderous convenience store that entraps our intrepid heroine.

Neither of these is a portrait of the true Russia, but both of them demonstrate the deep love affair people have with Russia, the fabled Mother Country, regardless of actual Russia, the political and geographic entity making front page news.

[Read more…]

Magical Realism

the-head-of-the-saint-coverA Fierce and Subtle PoisonMagical Realism is hot: It’s the label attached to last year’s Printz winner Bone Gap, and it’s been popping up all over the YA and MG scene for the past few years. This year, again, offers us a handful of books in the genre. I’ve read three so far that deserve to be in the awards speculation pool, and today I’m going to talk about two of them (the last one is a late fall pub so we’ll wait on that).

Magical Realism is realistic literature with fantastical or magical elements, but it’s something more, because that bare bones definition also covers a significant chunk of fantasy. If you extend the definition, two additional points are worth noting: first, the setting; and second, the way the magic is received. The top-billed magical realists are Latin American — Jorge Luis Borges, Gabriel García Márquez, Laura Esquivel, Isabel Allende — and their settings are Argentina, Colombia, Mexico, Chile. And in their books, the magic is not something apart — compare this to, say, Stiefvater’s Raven Boys quartet, where they all know the magic is strange, and, well, magical. Instead, in magical realist texts, the magic heightens the mundane and becomes an expression of emotion, rather than something characters step back and try to understand.

One of the two titles I’m discussing today reads to me like classic magical realism — no surprise, as it bears a dedication to Gabriel Garcia Marquez and is a Brazilian work, originally published in Portuguese and now translated into English. The second straddles the fantasy/magical realism line, but feels closer in its roots to magical realism than fantasy, so I’m going with the label.

Alright, enough introduction, and on to the books.

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Morris and Turner Contendas

Roundup photo by Flickr user Mike Mozart, CC license BY 2.0

Roundup photo by Flickr user Mike Mozart, CC license BY 2.0

Hello! It’s roundup time, today focused on contendas for awards other than the Printz.

One of these awards is a real actual award, the William C. Morris YA Debut Award; the other is imaginary but no less real in my heart. The Morris you all know about, of course, and we’ve been covering several debut/Morris contenders that we think are also Printz contenders; today I’ll be talking about some early 2016 debuts that I don’t think quite have the chops for the larger pool that is all YA, but are good enough to have been potentially on the table for the Morris committee. The other award I’m speculating about is the  imaginary — but needed! — Meghan Whalen Turner Award for Best Completed Series.

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Every Exquisite Thing

Every Exquisite Thing, Matthew Quick
Little, Brown, May 2016
Reviewed from ARC

Authenticity feels different to every reader. We all do our best to base our judgement against our personal experiences and knowledge, while acknowledging that there’s a whole lot we don’t know. When I think about the emotional accuracy of a novel, I’m usually thinking about authenticity. Did reading that book remind me what it felt like to be a teenager? Did it reflect how I feel as a human? Matthew Quick’s Every Exquisite Thing affirmatively does both of these things for me and the novel’s voice and characters are the elements that make this book worth talking about.
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Symptoms of Being Human, Take 2

Symptoms of Being Human, Jeff Garvin
Balzer + Bray (HarperCollins), February 2016
Reviewed from final e-book

Despite the title, this is probably more like take 4. This is somehow a hard review to write. I keep slipping away from the book itself and into all the things that surround this book: the importance of representation and mirrors in YA lit; the long history of binary systems in human thought and the way interstitial anything creates anxiety (there may be a thesis in my past about cross-dressing in Shakespeare and Marlowe and how actually social transgressions are usually more condemned than sexual transgressions, and as a result of that thesis I may have read a lot about binaries and sexuality and gender at various points in my life). The earlier draft went into #weneeddiversebooks and gatekeepers, collection development, the fact that the author of this book is a cis-het white male, and a host of other things.

But none of that is really getting at the purpose here, which is to assess a book as a literary object. Which is not to say that none of it has bearing — but when I hit 1,000 words and was still on the issues around the text, I decided to start over. So here we go again: Symptoms of Being Human — Printz worthy or not? [Read more…]

When previously awarded writers tell other tales

When we start to compile our list of books to cover, authors who have a previous Printz win or honor are automatically added to the list. We also give serious consideration to writers with wins or honors from other important ALA Youth Media Awards. Of course, the logic is that a previous winner has a good chance of continuing to create work at a high level.

Today’s contenders come to us in slightly different form than the author’s previous work. Unlike her Printz and Caledcott honor book, This One Summer, Mariko Tamaki’s Saving Montgomery Sole is a prose novel. The Great American Whatever is Tim Federle’s first YA novel—his middle grade series, Better Nate Than Ever has earned him a Stonewall and Odyssey nomination as well as a Lambda literary award. Both Tamaki and Federle use themes present in their other books, but do they also use the qualities that earned them praise?
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The Radiant Road

The Radiant Road coverThe Radiant Road, Katherine Catmull
Dutton, January 2016
Reviewed from final e-book

I mentioned last week that each of us has to assess excellence for ourselves, as well as coming to consensus when it comes time to pick a winner (or, for us, Pyrite winner).

For me, excellence is deeply tied to language. I was an English major; I’ve been know to read poetry for fun. I love puns. It doesn’t have to be highfalutin’, but show me real skill manipulating language and I’m likely to be lined up reaching for that book with both hands.

So no surprise, my second book this season once again is one that hits it out of the park when it comes to pure old-fashioned word-smithing.

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Still Too Many Books, or, a Tale of Even More Hanging Chad

more books_2And we’re back with even more more books, in part 2 of our mega roundup of all (not really all) the books.

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