I’m going to tip my hand right at the outset: this is a fantastic slow burn of a novel that is also the first in a series, so let’s face it: award recognition here probably goes beyond long shot and right into impossible. But sometimes you sit down to write up the book you meant to write up and you find yourself thinking “Wait! I WANT to say something about this other book, because it’s GOOD.” So I’m saying something.
Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club by Phillip Hoose
Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, May 2015
Reviewed from final copy
We’ve got two nonfiction reads. They’re both short, they’ve both received a lot of stars, and they’re both bringing new material to teen collections (IE, they’re full of SIGNIFICANCE, which may not be Printzly, but is still exciting and interesting to talk about). Will either one go the distance? [Read more…]
Saint Anything, Sarah Dessen
Viking, May 2015
Reviewed from final copy
Truth time: I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that Saint Anything is the first Sarah Dessen novel I’ve read; I didn’t read YA when I was actually in that demographic and she was never on my syllabi as an education or library student. Although I had always heard good things about Dessen, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book. The cover is gorgeous but vague and the title’s significance is unclear even after reading the jacket copy. However, a few things became clear after reading this novel: first, the title and cover couldn’t be more perfect for the story contained within (high fives all around, book team); second, reading Sarah Dessen when I was a teen would have made me happy; and finally, I had so many feels while reading that at one point, I had to get up and walk away from the book because I wanted a really beautiful moment to sink in.
Although reviews have been mostly positive, it has only received one star (from Publishers Weekly). We had Saint Anything on our radar thanks to reader Cecilia, who mentioned it in response to our final post last season. If you’ve read my reviews before (::cough:: Eleanor & Park ::cough:: I’ll Give You the Sun) you know how I feel about romance and relationships in YA lit. Falling in love when you’re a teen is serious stuff and it takes a skilled writer to capture that experience authentically. So why isn’t it a given that we look at YA stories about romance with the same critical lens as other “serious” books? That’s a whole conversation for another day (or the comments). For now, let’s talk Saint Anything.
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.
I Was Here, Gayle Forman
Viking, January 2015
Reviewed from ARC
Hey folks, a friendly reminder that we do spoilers here so if you don’t want to know major plot points for either of these novels, consider yourself warned.
In young adult literature mental illness is an ISSUE (note the all caps) that comes with a responsibility to the intended audience. Misinformation is potentially harmful, as is romanticizing or sugarcoating facts.* Yet an author also has a responsibility to the story that they want to tell, their characters, and to themselves as artists. This doesn’t mean that accuracy and literary merit are mutually exclusive options—after all, accuracy is one of the Printz criteria—but they can be competing interests, especially in novels written with a young audience in mind. Can literary quality outweigh problematic messaging?
Today we’re looking at two novels about depression, both published in January. All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven has earned four stars and gathered a lot of early buzz; Gayle Forman’s I Was Here has two stars and hasn’t been in the awards conversation per se despite treading the same ground.
This book really amazed me by being a story that is bigger and harder and rougher and rawer than I thought it would be. It’s been named for two year’s best lists, and garnered three starred reviews, so it’s not just me feeling amazed. Althea and Oliver is a debut book that went far darker than I expected, and did so intelligently and memorably. While it’s not a perfect read, the more I think about this one, the more impressed I am. [Read more…]
The Impossible Knife of Memory, Laurie Halse Anderson
Viking, January 2014
Reviewed from final copy
Addiction, depression, PTSD; these weighty problems are the main focus of Laurie Halse Anderson’s The Impossible Knife of Memory, recently longlisted for the National Book Award. There’s definitely some great writing here that is worth talking about; Anderson’s ability to sustain an intense narrative in one character’s voice is admirable. But that’s just one element out of many criteria that the RealCommittee will look at if this book is up for discussion. Any book with four stars by a former Printz honor winner is certainly going to have some attention but ultimately I found this book moving, yet flawed.
Another guest post, this time on a book that has been getting a ton of positive press. Guest poster Maureen Eichner is a children’s assistant at a public library in the Indianapolis area. She has excellent taste in fantasy and is a thoughtful careful reader, so after reading and replying to this, do take a moment to check out her other writing: Maureen blogs at By Singing Light (http://bysinginglight.
All the Truth That’s In Me is Julie Berry’s first YA book — she has also published several books for younger readers. It’s garnered some critical kudos, with starred reviews from SLJ, Kirkus, Horn Book, the Bulletin, and PW, as well as a mention on the SLJ and Kirkus Best of 2013 lists. In some ways, it’s easy to see why it’s gotten this acclaim. But of course, stars or lack thereof don’t necessarily bear on the Printz.