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Someday My Printz Will Come
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More Roundup (Debut Style!)

Amelia Anne Is Dead and Gone, Kat Rosenfield
Dutton, May 2012
Reviewed from ARC

Buzz and anticipation, impressive writing, and a whole that ends up not quite hitting it out of the park — haven’t we heard this story before?

Amelia Anne Is Dead and Gone has some really magnificent sentence level writing. Some of the best out there this year, even, although on occasion it’s almost too much. It’s yet another potential Morris contender, too, and — as with so many of the books that have crossover eligibility for the Morris — it probably has a better chance there, because it’s a great debut.

But it doesn’t quite stand up in the larger Printz field. The primary here issue is one of narrative voice; who is speaking? There is a disconnect between the gorgeous writing, the material being discussed, and the first person narrative that adds up to holes. And of course there is the fact that Becca is narrating Amelia Anne’s story with absolute assurance, with a maturity that isn’t hers; the writer’s voice filters through the narrator’s voice. I want more from this writer, and I was interested in the narrator’s story, but I never ever believed they were the same person. I felt the disconnect, the moment of needing to reorient myself as a reader, in every chapter. There might be an element of the personal there; would another reader like that effect? Possibly, but I think the voice not matching the narrator remains problematic. Admittedly, the final chapter makes it clear that this is narrated from a far future moment, with an elegiac, backwards looking shape, and maybe that makes it all hang together, but a book that needs that much excusing falls out of the shortlist for me given the number of polished titles we have in the field.

There are other elements I could point to, both as pros and cons; the provocative parallels drawn between the two girls (culminating in Becca’s statement that “One girl lost forever to this stagnant place was enough”) are certainly interesting, although problematic; they are not the same. But you could have a field day dissecting the way Becca’s head works that she sees herself in Amelia Anne; that the murder of a stranger eats her up. Of course, the fact that the murder is in fact deeply tied to her life makes the parallels more tangible than metaphorical, and I’m not sure that’s a positive in a Printz conversation. Still, there is a lot to recommend this in the smaller field of debuts. As far as Printz consideration goes, I’m just sitting tight waiting for Rosenfield’s sophomore effort.

I imagine members of the RealCommittee probably gave this a close read, though, because that writing. You probably should too.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Jesse Andrews
Amulet Books, March 2012
Reviewed from ARC

On the other end of the spectrum, we have a first quarter book (and another debut!) we still haven’t covered. Mostly, I was waiting for either of my copies to get back to me, and… that still hasn’t happened.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl deserves mention this year just for being the other not-a-cancer-book. It’s flawed, but I loved it, and although it seems it hasn’t stayed on the buzz list after all, it was there earlier in the year and I wanted to take a minute to give it a nod.

Because this is great raunchy, tender, unexpected stuff. This is a boy book, by which I don’t mean the audience but the character; Greg and Earl are boys. It was a fly on the wall experience; I was in their space, their energy, as I read this, and I loved it. The genuine, appealing voice is a great strength here, one that has stuck with me for months.

Also? Funny. Really, unexpectedly funny. I’m giving it to my Vizzini fans and readers who have outgrown Jordan Sonnenblick, and it’s perfect for them. Sure, there are pacing issues, there are lots of different styles and narrative devices to the point of possibly overwhelming narrative flow, and sometimes the jokes fall flatter than they should. This is probably not a serious contenda, I realize, but if you haven’t already fulfilled your cancer book quota for the year, add this one to the pile (after you work your way through the Pyrite picks).

Also also, I love the cover design. Not at all pertinent, but I think there is not enough love lavished on book jacket art, especially in YA, except for our endless love for poufy dresses, so I wanted to give the designer props. And actually, the Amelia Anne designer also gets props.

Above, Leah Bobet
Arthur A. Levine, May 2012
Reviewed from ARC

Finally, debut number 3, a book that has come up a few times in comments: Leah Bobet’s Above. This is an unusual and intriguing take on the underground society trope, a trope I thought was played out. But Bobet managed to find something new to say, and she says it well.

Despite that, this didn’t quite work for me, but I can absolutely see why there are those for whom this is a top contenda.

The language is unique and almost melodic. I enjoyed reading it for the rhythm, and I love that Matthew/Teller, one who tells tales, is an unreliable narrator; indeed, by the end it turns out that his unreliability is a major propulsion of the action.

But the language is also implicated in the thing that knocks this down my list: the world building. As far as the language goes, it sounds like language that has filtered through a closed society; the dialect is its own entity, with words (Safe, Above, Sick, Freak) that are the words of this group. But Matthew, a teen, is the only child born into that world; Safe is a new community. When did the language evolve? That’s one aspect; the world as a whole is sketched in with light strokes, grounded mostly in Matthew’s limited understanding, and seems to be a science fictional world — the whitecoats, the idea of Sick or Freak, of mutation and otherness: these are all science fiction tropes, as is the underground society. But it plays more like magic; the occupants of Safe have powers that don’t make sense (especially Corner and Ariel, who can change her mass when she shifts form), scientifically speaking. For readability, these are small enough quibbles, but dig deep into the literary qualities and this illogic struck me as problematic.

On the plus side, Above is ultimately a meditation on love and belonging, and on the risks and sacrifices we make for love, and it explores its thematic material very well indeed.

I’m sort of tempted to go on, not about Above but covering debuts; this is a great year to be a Morris Committee member! With so very many debuts (you can find a list of a lot of them on the Apocalypsies site, and there’s also a huge 2012 debut list on Goodreads), what I’ve read only amounts to a handful, but it’s telling how many debut titles crossed over to the contenda list. It’s a lot of new talent to watch going forward.

So what’s your favorite debut, and how does it compare to your favorite by an old hand at this authoring business? Where does it fall in the 2012 spectrum? And does anyone else have a perfect Morris shortlist in mind already? I’m thinking about mine…

About Karyn Silverman

Karyn Silverman is the High School Librarian and Educational Technology Department Chair at LREI, Little Red School House & Elisabeth Irwin High School (say that ten times fast!). Karyn has served on YALSA’s Quick Picks and Best Books committees and was a member of the 2009 Printz committee. She has reviewed for Kirkus and School Library Journal. She has a lot of opinions about almost everything, as long as all the things are books. Said opinions do not reflect the attitudes or opinions of SLJ, LREI, YALSA or any other institutions with which she is affiliated. Find her on Twitter @InfoWitch or e-mail her at karynsilverman at gmail dot com.


  1. I was looking forward to AAIDAG so much and it honestly KILLS me that I couldn’t make myself like it. The plot did nothing for me and I wasn’t impressed with the sentence level writing – I found it really florid and overwrought. (Looking over my initial notes I seem to have written, “At some point during the writing someone needed to take the author aside and been like, ‘Kat, just because you *can* cram eight unnecessary adjectives into every sentence doesn’t mean you *should.*'” Which, ouch, pretty mean. But I don’t think I’m wrong.)

  2. I absolutely love ME & EARL. I thought it hit all the right notes and was not a cancer book (which I think is part of my problem with TFIOS–that it states this will not be a cancer book but then ends up looking quite a bit like one). ME & EARL was fresh and funny and heartbreaking. I don’t know that it will be a serious contender, but that’s okay–I’m not sure it needs to be.

    AAIDAG sounded great and I made it about halfway through before realizing that I really was not enjoying myself. So I put it aside. I may end up returning to it for the Cybils, but we’ll see.

  3. AAIDAG is coming up in my to-read pile but hasn’t made it to the top yet.

    I shared your above/below worldbuilding reservations on ABOVE (yes, even as the person agitating for it getting discussed–I want interesting flawed books discussed!) and also some ambivalance of the “YAY A THOROUGHLY GENDERQUEER CHARACTER oh wait is the genderqueer character horribly violent and murderous because they’re genderqueer eep” variety. But stunning writing and characters.

    As for my personal Morris shortlist…

    Girl with Borrowed Wings*
    What’s Left of Me
    Personal Effects
    Shadow and Bone

    But Shadows Cast by Stars and AAIDAG are debuts still on the to-read list.

    *Also my choice for Morris winner. And maybe a Printz honor. It’s in my top-6 YA of the year.

  4. Karyn Silverman says

    Miriam, I’m so glad you brought up the issues with Corner’s gender. Because there are so many, and I debated whether to get into them, and then worried that I didn’t have the language to tackle the issues effectively, and then wondered whether they even had bearing in the context of a Printz discussion. But YES. Yes, it is deeply problematic that Corner, who defies a binary gender structure, is also the villain, and furthermore is the villain largely because hir one true love rejected her. The one saving grace may be that there is some forgiveness and definitely the acknowledgement of culpability on Matthew’s part at the very end, but I don’t know that it’s enough.

  5. I should hope it has bearing in the context of Printz discussion! I would think it would be relevant in part of treatment of theme and possibly accuracy, becuase accuracy is where I best see issues of “how the world deals with things” falling.

    It’s the why of Conrer’s villain that’s most problematic for me, as you mention in your comment. Love and sex and gender are so deeply intertwined–even for people who are genderless or two-gendered or asexual or or or–that when we have a genderqueer character reacting to love, it’s impossible to take gender issues out of it even as we, in this case, have to take the gender binary out of it.

    And the acknowledgment of culpability certainly helps, and I actually give a lot of kudos to the author for delving into these issues even if I think she ultimately stumbled on them. Gender is HARD. (How often do I start to refer to one of my best friends by the wrong pronouns? WAY too often.)

  6. Tess, I’m right there with you on the AAIDAG writing: florrid, overdone, tiring. In my GoodReads review I pointed out this gem, “Stan’s gesturing hand passed over the woman – the life wrung out in bruises beneath her eyes, soaking and blooming and drying the dirt, as he waved his palm over her breasts and the curve of her hip and her delicate, motionless face.” To my mind, it detracted from the overall mystery.

  7. Of these three, I’ve only read Amelia Anne and here’s my goodreads review:

    The mood here reminded me of classic Southern gothic, small-town fiction, so it felt very disconcerting to realize (and keep remembering) that this is actually set in small-town New England. I thought it picked up momentum well at the end – once the reveals start coming, you don’t want to stop reading – particularly in the Amelia Anne sections. I did think a couple times that the artistry of the sentence writing was very on the surface – sort of “look at me, I am carefully crafted! Admire me!” – and I’m not sure any new thematic ground was broken. The characters were completely alive and I felt like I knew that town and was a part of it.

    Apparently, I also noticed the sentence level writing working very hard at being literary.

    In terms of the Morris – I was thinking that Seraphina was a debut, but I’ve heard it mentioned very rarely for the Morris. Am I mistaken in that thought? Because if it is a debut, I’d expect it on the shortlist for sure.

  8. Jen, I was going to chime in with Seraphina, too – I also thought it was a debut, but one that’s top notch enough to show up on both Printz and Morris lists.

    I really enjoyed Me and Earl, but didn’t manage to write down any of my initial impressions as to why it didn’t cross over into a favorite – but I agree that it could show up on the Morris list.

    Was The Wicked and the Just also a debut? I’d put that one on my personal Morris list, too.

  9. And how come the Morris doesn’t have its own speculation blog? Or does it?

  10. I get a little chuffed every time someone says that Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is strictly a boys book. Many of the teens I’ve given this to are girls and, when I sat in on the BFYA Teen session at Annual this year, all of the readers who spoke glowingly about this book were girls.

  11. Karyn Silverman says

    I LOVE Seraphina. And if it’s eligible, it would be the top of my Morris picks; I think it’s in my top 5 for the Printz too, but I haven’t finished (or really done more than jot notes for) a post about it, and I am finding that often the process of writing up a book sways me one way or the other. But it’s definitely towards the top of my list. However, Rachel Hartman had a series of self-published indy comics about 10 years back, I think (I’m going off memory and will verify when I have a minute) and those might render Seraphina not a debut for Morris purposes. Which would be a shame.

    H.Munca, I was just thinking the same thing about a Morris blog. There are enough debuts this year for nearly daily posts if that Goodreads list is accurate. You volunteering?

    Christopher, I’m assuming from the context that by chuffed you meant annoyed, not pleased, yes? In which case, let me clarify my position about Me and Earl being a “boy book” — I am talking about the characters. I’m not gendering the general audience. I do confess to targeting boys among my own students, but only because I have a number of male readers who like realistic, funny but not dumb novels with male protagonists, and frankly, there aren’t that many books like that. Most of my female readers, even those with overlapping taste, have plenty to read given the volume of books with female protagonists, which are hellza more common. But that’s a whole other ball of wax. As far as Me and Earl goes, I just think it’s an awesome book ABOUT boys.

    In the off season, maybe we should have a revisit the best oldies that deserved the Printz only it didn’t exist thread. We’ll put Kestrel on the discussion list. First on the list.

  12. Wot? No, no, I’m trying to create work for OTHER people, and stuff to read for me. 🙂

  13. Most of my female readers, even those with overlapping taste, have plenty to read given the volume of books with female protagonists, which are hellza more common.

    The women over at Lady Business have a very interesting article that chips away at this often-bandied claim. Click here to read it.

    Granted, their analysis looks only at award-winning YA books since 2000–that is, 22 English-language awards–because gathering data on all books published since 2000 is a task I don’t think anyone has achieved (but it’s a dataset Jen J. and I would dearly love to have). So there may be some selection bias if “boy” books are lauded more than “girl” books. Nevertheless, here’s what they found:

    In total, 49% of award-winners had male protagonists, 36% had female protagonists, and 15% had both male and female protagonists. They also break the totals down by individual awards, and Printz winners have 61% male, 31% female, and 8% both, while Printz honors have 49% male, 42% female, and 9% both. The Morris awards are dead even at 50% male and 50% female.

    (The article also analyzes the gender of award-winning YA authors, if you’re interested in that.)

  14. @Elizabeth, actually I would suspect that the pro-boy award bias is a huge factor here. In a phrase I stole from a commenter on Scalzi’s blog, the plural of anecdote is not data–but the books I see visible in my libraries seem to skew girl-wise pretty heavily. Going simply based on the awards will always run into the issue that girl books are seen as less serious and less literary. I’m not exactly disagreeing with you, just that I think Lady Business’s (excellent) breakdown may not apply precisely to Karyn’s point?

  15. Hi Maureen! For Karyn’s point, the scarceness of what she calls “realistic, funny but not dumb novels with male protagonists” is perhaps the real issue to focus on, and I think prize-winners in general are not a funny lot. So maybe the Lady business post is not helpful in answering that more specific question. But if we’re allowing ourselves to generalize from anecdotal evidence, I might argue that there don’t in fact seem to be more girl-protagonist books than boy-protagonist books in the category of “realistic, funny, but not dumb” in libraries. But I have much more limited experience than you–does that statement ring true to you?

  16. Elizabeth, that’s a fair point. I had a different reading of Karyn’s comment, which was that the “realistic, funny, but not dumb” was a characterization of what the boys in her library like to read whereas the comment about girls was that there is generally more of a volume of girl-protagonist books rather than a claim that there are a ton of girl-protagonist “realistic etc” books. This could be a mis-reading–looking at the comment again, it seems that your response is absolutely equally valid.

    • Karyn Silverman says

      Maureen, Elizabeth — I am going to now generalize wildly! In my population (which is small, diverse, and has slightly more girls than boys), I see a few things. I have far more long form narrative readers among girls than boys. A smaller percentage of the girls who read for pleasure regularly exclusively want the books I would classify as “smart funny contemporary,” especially the ones that have zero or nearly zero romance. My girls fall into lots of different groups — I have urban fiction readers, paranormal romance readers, contemporary fiction readers, readers who want more like author X (usually Green, Dessen, or Hopkins), fantasy readers, nondiscriminatory readers, sad book readers, mystery readers, etc. I could slot almost every boy who reads regularly into one of only three or four groups — sci fi and/or fantasy, nonfiction, and those smart funny contemporary novels. Maybe my male population is less diverse, or maybe the ways we socialize boys about reading has formed these tastes before I ever get them in high school, but either way the effect on their taste is real.

      Going back to the question of data — in my experience, yes, those books exist, but there are relatively few compared to other genres (for lack of a better word) — with protagonists of either gender. And there are especially relatively few with male protagonists when you cut out the ones that skew to the 12-14 end of YA — I see a much larger selection in the middle school collection, but my boys don’t want 8th grade protagonists. There are also books with male protagonists that don’t fit the rest of the description, all of which matters statistically (and here, and makes for interesting discussion) but matters not a whit for me as a working librarian with flesh and blood students. And finally (whew!), stats are one thing but package and tone are another; The Disenchantments counts as a male protagonist book published in 2012, but no way can I sell that to a boy. Me and Earl I absolutely can!

  17. I’d agree with Maureen that looking at award winners isn’t a good way to gauge the ratio of ‘girl’ books to ‘boy’ books (however you define those terms). I order YA fiction for my library and it seems like each month there are scads of realistic, girl-centric novels to choose from (based off reading reviews in SLJ, Booklist, etc.) I know there’s demand in my library for realistic stories with a little romance, friendship, humor, etc. Most of those books end up having girly covers and girls as main characters, but I rarely see reviews of the male equivalent – realistic, funny, romance, but with male protagonists and covers and plot summaries that wouldn’t embarrass the average guy.

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