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All the Books!
Ok, not all the books, but a whole cluster of the titles that we wanted to cover and hadn’t gotten to yet, tidily rounded up in one post for your perusal.
In the last two weeks, I’ve read two more from the original contenda list (Pinned and Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe), one Morris shortlist title (Love & Other Perishable Items) and two dark horse candidates that were brought to our attention by readers (In Darkness and Various Positions).
Sarah will be sharing a few more titles tomorrow, but sadly, neither of us managed to read Andrew Smith’s Passenger, a late addition auto-contender. It is, however, beyond a long shot for the RealPrintz — book 2 of a series, and, based on the first chapter and some student feedback, impenetrable without having read the first book.
(But if you never read the first book, The Marbury Lens, and want a really disturbing, stark, and very well-written book to read next, pick it up, because it really is a powerful read.)
We’re also sad to say that two buzz titles recommended by readers never made it onto either of our piles — Monument 14, recommended by Jen Hubert of Reading Rants, and The Opposite of Hallelujah, recommended by Kelly of Stacked. These are two well-read critics, and Jen definitely has a nose for Printz winners, so do check out their respective reviews. Whether or not either of these titles are named on Monday, they are definitely worth seeking out.
Okay, enough housekeeping! Onto the last of my 2012 reading.
Sometimes I really wonder about the age recommendations the publishers put on their books. Pinned strikes me as very young — issues are black and white, language and narrative are straightforward, characters simple to understand, although not simplistic. As an upper middle grade title, there is a lot to admire; as a YA, it’s too simplified.
That said, this is a quick, satisfying read and it has potential for the Schneider AND the CSK, although I don’t have enough of a sense of the full pool for either of those awards to know where this stacks up. Autumn is a particularly unexpected and refreshing character, and her struggles as well as her passion (for wrestling, for Adonis, for life in general, really) elevated her to a character for whom I felt genuine sympathy and compassion.
I don’t think this is a real contenda for the Printz, but it deserved its stars (three), and I’m glad I managed to read it.
I started this in July, but I just wasn’t into it, and a copy — from the public library! — has been languishing on my nightside table ever since. Happily, the combination of an e-copy (more portable!) and the pressure to finish it for our local Mock Printz were just what I needed for a second push.
This is not my book, and I don’t imagine I would have read it without the pressure of professional commitments, but I finished this filled with admiration and respect for the writing.
Thematically, the scope is wonderful. Fathers and sons, friendship, love, the nature of family — and laughter. So much joy, even in the anger and sorrow that also permeate this novel. These are universal themes, executed with polish.
The language is highly stylized, almost staccato at times, and the questions that permeate the dialogue and Ari’s first-person narrative are powerful questions that play well against the stripped down language.
Like Fault, this is also a book with wonderful adults.
There were also things I didn’t think worked as well here: the structure has a slightly soap operatic feel, with the end-of-summer hospitalizations; the way Ari says he’s angry and depressed but in so many ways never acts it — really, I think I just never felt like I knew him, like I was kept at a distance. And maybe that was deliberate, but it created a layer of cushioning around the story that made it strangely flat in affect.
Even so, I see why this deserves kudos and while I don’t think it will make the top 5 for RealPrintz, I do believe this is a book the committee must have discussed (or be discussing, possibly right now!) — it is a quiet but noteworthy book. And I suspect this is one of those books with the potential to change the right reader’s life.
I am so glad the Morris committee brought this little delight to my attention, although I still want Seraphina to take the award.
But this was fun — fun with a genuine bit of depth.
The primary characters are wonderful — slightly too earnest Amelia, who is sometimes a bit of a twit and so oblivious to everything else because she’s 15 and head over heels rings absolutely true. And Chris, caught in the hopeless underemployment of recent graduate (or, really, about-to-graduate) is also pitch perfect, although they do, perhaps, sound a bit too alike. Chris is the more compelling character, I found, but that may be the adult reader peeking through. (Amelia certainly echoed my 9th grade self and friends in many ways, which makes her seem very true but may have also elicited some soul deep discomfort.)
The secondary characters have a lot less life, and although they are entertaining, they are, mostly, types more than people. But at least they are just right types, which takes some skill.
The dual narrative was interesting, but the decision to rehash almost the exact same time frame from each perspective was a pace killer, and bogged down the forward momentum a lot. Also, it’s all a bit too dreamy — Chris giving Amelia the journals, but being far away so that the ick factor of a 22-year-old falling for a 15-year-old is safely sidestepped — well, it’s a bit of a romantic happy ending, and I’m not entirely sure I buy it.
In the end, I thought this was an adorable diversion, but not much more. And although we’re not meant to truly compare books, it’s hard not to look at this against the other down under romance on the stack this year and find this lacking some of the depth and grace of writing. Still, a book can be a great read without being great literature, and this does make the great read stack.
This is a beautiful, harrowing piece of writing. Intertwined narratives, one now and one in the past, paint a blood-soaked but sympathetic portrait of Haiti, where the slavery Toussaint L’Ouverture fought against has been replaced by a freedom that may not be any better for those in the slums of Port au Prince.
The present-day narrative is told in first person. When Shorty’s voice is on, it sings; the liberal use of Creole, the sentence structures — it’s great. But every now and then the author’s voice seems to slip through with a piece of information that is just a bit too big picture for Shorty and his life experiences (the comment on how there are no McDonald’s for employment opportunities, for example). And the content is harrowing and vivid, although there is not always enough context provided for a reader to follow some of the experiences Shorty relates, which are so tied into the recent political history of Haiti.
The past narrative, which follows Toussaint L’Ouverture, is told in a more reserved third person. Lake has taken some liberties with L’Ouverture’s life, which he acknowledges (but doesn’t describe) in the afterword. Questions of accuracy, which tends to be a criteria applied more to nonfiction, arise as a result.
Still, despite the flaws, this is a book that packs a powerful punch, and asks hard questions about self-will and destiny, about the meaning of freedom, and the shackles of poverty and the shackles of slavery. It’s a dark horse, but it’s one I hope the RealCommittee is reading closely, although in the end I think the flaws — especially the accuracy issues, which go beyond the history into the nature of Haiti itself — would take this off the table.
This is a book that took me by surprise and that I really wish I had read early enough in the season to read again before writing about it.
Also, the package is stunning. Take the cover art of only the lower half of a dancer, an image that evokes the headless objectified girls of romance novel covers, the darkness in ballet of The Black Swan, and, at least to my eyes, a silhouette that suggests the old image of an ostrich with its head in the sand. Layers of meaning and a stunning picture. Kudos to the designer, although whoever wrote the flap copy seems to have phoned it in from outer space.
Because this is not really a ballet book, and it’s not the teacher-student “romance” and coming of age the jacket seems to point to.
This is a dark, disturbing portrait of a young woman cracking under the pressure of the idea of the male gaze. This is the story of the outcome of a lifetime of unhealthy messages, the results of a dysfunctional family and a broken girl who has some trouble with reality. This is about the mixed messages society sends girls, about the way these messages can be internalized, about the damage parents deal their children, and about the solace and danger of a passion, in this case ballet.
It is, frequently and unsparingly, a book about sex and the questions of adolescence. It’s ugly and riveting, and I found myself thinking that it poses many of the same questions as The Brides of Rollrock Island, and while Various Positions doesn’t hold any more answers, I thought the questions were in many ways more resonant for being set so firmly in the real world.
As far as the writing goes, the sentence level writing is generally excellent — this is a first novel, and as someone said to me about a different book the other day, it is “occasionally over written — as all great first novels are.” But for the most part this is strong, clear prose that paints a vivid picture — sometimes too vivid.
Georgia, the first person narrator, is somehow both amazingly candid — her obsession with the poses she finds in online pornography, the way she excited herself by imaging the way med see her, are all discussed in great detail — and utterly unreliable. I have so many questions about what was real. Not the big stuff with Roderick, but the little details. Did she really not understand how her parents met? Is her mother really so meek and beauty-obsessed? Is Isabel really so wonderful? I also felt that there might be more to her childhood than is revealed, which made me want to reread to look for clues in the text to decode this girl.
And that ending. Wow, that ending, where it seems like all is well and she has moved on and grown up, but then the only gaze she notes in her new ballet audition is the gaze of the one male teacher. Shivers, because what seemed like a healthy, resolved tale suddenly looks like it was only the beginning, and maybe Georgia is way more messed up than it seemed.
So yes, after one reading, I am blown away and think this has serious potential for the RealPrintz. But I’d need to read it again to see if it can really go the distance, and I know there are others who thought this was mostly awful — I’m hoping they’ll sound off in the comments, because right now this is in my top five and I really really want to talk about it!
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.
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