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We’ve spent the week looking at Printzbery books: the stuff that falls on the young end here, but is still eligible and worth the conversation. But here for our Friday read, I’ve got a totally different direction to take: two memoirs with distinctive voices: two very different reads. Ironically, the only thing they may have in common? They’re not really for younger teens at all. It’s hard to say that either one will definitely take a medal when all is said and done, but as different as they are, they’re worth considering.
This is a funny, charming read. Sundquist is such a likeable, relatable narrator. He does a great job of affectionately honoring and still satirizing the science report. The charts and graphs add a really funny commentary of sorts on his writing, and I loved that he included the present-day reunions with people; they provide some good insight, propel the narrative forward, and are all fabulously, realistically awkward. Although Sundquist is relating a very specific story, he finds the universal in almost every moment — who’s not looking for love and connection?
The book felt a little long, and that length made the happy ending seem abrupt. Sundquist is an appealing, personable narrator, so it’s certainly not an unpleasant way to spend time. However, the narrative realization is so long in coming, and so simply resolved that it feels slight (even though it’s not).
And then we have Schmidt’s memoir — which basically exists on the other end of the spectrum. It’s dark, it’s super emotional, it’s devastating and upsetting with just the glimmerest glimmer of hope at the end. This is a book you can hand to people who are looking for the “really real” reads. The writing is very strong, his memories are full of details, and it’s a book that will easily pulverize your heart.
This is a complicated read, too — Schmidt is abused, but also very honest about his own tendency to lash out, and his struggle to take care of himself. The rage he feels towards both his father and the world that abandoned them both is completely understandable. There’s a real specificity in the setting and time, and Schmidt does a good job of depicting the harrowing results of the neglect so many people with AIDS experienced.
This is another story where the turnaround moment comes right at the end, but in this case, I don’t think that’s a problem. This is another long memoir, but again, I don’t think that’s exactly a weakness here. In this case, the moment of hope at the end is tenuous, is delicate — especially so when compared to the moments of rage and betrayal in the narrative. However, this delicacy is sort of a perfect contrast to the powerful moments of anger that propel the narrative. Overall, I think this is a strong read, but I’m not ready to say it’s in the top five of the year. On the other hand, I suspect that this is a story that will stay with you, so there’s always the possibility that, come award season, my opinion will have changed.
Of course, RealCommittee might disagree — with all of that! And what about you? What are your takes on these contrasting memoirs?
About Sarah Couri
Sarah Couri is a librarian at Grace Church School's High School Division, and has served on a number of YALSA committees, including Quick Picks, Great Graphic Novels, and (most pertinently!) the 2011 Printz Committee. Her opinions do not reflect the attitudes or opinions of SLJ, GCS, YALSA, or any other institutions with which she is affiliated. Find her on Twitter @scouri or e-mail her at scouri35 at gmail dot com.
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