SCROLL DOWN TO READ THE POST
Our 2016 Picks and Predictions
Before ALA, before the YMAs, before the temptation to Monday morning quarterback, let’s all take a moment to say thank you to the RealCommittee. The 9 members of the RealCommittee have worked tirelessly and read endlessly. Whatever choice they make is the right choice, and I for one can’t wait to find out what it is.
And in anticipation of Monday’s announcements, let’s acknowledge something else. It’s not a competition, because the RealCommittee is always right, but we know we’re keeping score: how well do we, both as individuals and as a Pyrite collective in cahoots with all you you, do at predicting the winners?
For the record, and based on a very quick look at just the last two years: In 2014, Joy and Karyn both predicted that the RC would recognize Midwinterblood, and Joy had Eleanor & Park on her personal picks. In 2015, Karyn predicted that the RC would recognize This One Summer and Grasshopper Jungle; Joy accurately predicted I’ll Give You the Sun and Grasshopper Jungle; and Sarah predicted I’ll Give You the Sun and This One Summer. (Of course, we also all featured How I Discovered Poetry as a personal pick or prediction, or both, and we were all wrong on that one, so we’re still not exactly batting a thousand.) But overall either we improved or the RealCommittee was more predictable.
Speaking of more predictable, in 2014 the Pyrite only had one title match to the RealCommittee’s selections (Eleanor and Park with an honor); in 2015, on the other hand, we were incredibly prescient; the Pyrite winner and the RealCommittee winner were the same, and we also voted for two honor books in the Pyrite that the RealCommittee recognized. Upward trend or statistical anomaly? Only this year’s results will tell.
Regardless of our accuracy, going on record about our personal favorites and also our predictions definitely ranks as one of our favorite posts to write each year. Read on for both our personal picks — books we can support and love love love — and our predictions, which are the books we think are most likely to be recognized, even if we don’t necessarily love them.
I have so many books I loved this year, and decisions are so hard. For the fantasy and soft science fiction reader who doesn’t like paranormal or romance posing as genre, it’s been a truly incredible year. Usually I have to subsume my personal taste a little bit to be well read in any given year; this year, I managed to read widely AND read a large percentage of exactly the kind of book I love best. It was a very nice year, all told. Given that, I’ve decided to go all genre with my picks and actually craft the slate of my dreams. Read on to find them listed in order of my love.
Archivist Wasp, Nicole Kornher-Stace: I gushed at length already, and I won’t belabor the point. Ok, maybe I’ll belabor it a little. Archivist Wasp is unlike anything I’ve ever read. It’s brilliant and mythic, resonant and utterly unexpected. It’s painful and also heart warming, about big ideas and little ideas, about friendship and freedom and responsibility and the nature of truth. I’ve read it twice and I’ll read it again with pleasure.
The Scorpion Rules, Erin Bow: Talis. Mostly Talis, but also fantastic world building, most interesting take on AI and a post apocalyptic future I’ve read in years, maybe ever, a love story that goes in unexpected directions, humor, and heartbreak. This is smart science fiction, written well, and it deserves wider recognition.
A Thousand Nights, E.K. Johnston: The voice here is so unexpected, and I find I can’t let this one go. It works beautifully as a reimagining of the 1,001 Nights frame, but also on its own merits. This, of all of my slate, really truly deserves recognition. There is so much here, from the language to the themes to the research, that shines.
Cuckoo Song, Frances Hardinge: Best changeling story 4eva amiright? Seriously, though: this is a great genre blender from a fantastist at the top of her game. Again, I find myself wanting to point to the originality: each of my picks feels unlike anything else I’ve read. This one, like A Thousand Nights, is drawing from a familiar wellspring, but what’s being done with that material is completely surprising. The use of horror elements is also worth noting, as is the tightness of the plot; this is long, but there are no extraneous details.
The Accident Season, Moïra Fowley-Doyle: I struggled so much over my 5th choice that I almost stopped at 4, but I really did love this one and I suspect I’m tempted to overlook it because it’s not as big in terms of ideas or style as the rest of my slate. But is simplicity, well done, such a terrible thing? I don’t think so. This is another one I read twice, and it held up.
So much for the heart. Here are my very best guesses (if I call them deductions will it sound more carefully considered?) for the books we’ll actually see sporting P stickers in the near future, ordered by how likely I think they are to be recognized. I’m playing it pretty safe with these; no dark horses or twist endings here, just books that I think can carry the whole committee.
Shadowshaper, Daniel José Older: I’ve been pretty quiet about this book because I actually have lot of issues with it. The plotting is clanky, the pacing is off, the villain is boring, and the helpful librarian was so ridiculous and expository that I was certain she must be a bad guy, because otherwise what? And yet. Older has managed to write a socially relevant fantasy that has taken readers by storm. He’s turned Brooklyn into a character. He’s done what every urban fantasy writer wants to do, mashing urban and magic in ways that feel organic (execution aside). And the dialogue between the teens and their relationships are fantastic. This is a book that aspires really high and may not pull it off but it’s fresh and fierce, much like Sierra, and reflects a reality that is actually real, unlike a lot of contemporary realistic fiction, in which everyone is white and suburban and terribly terribly privileged. It’s smart and talks about important things in genuine ways, and also Sierra is terribly appealing. When I add up everything, I find myself thinking that this has a real shot at the RealAward.
Challenger Deep, Neal Shusterman: I almost put this as a pick, but it’s not fantasy so I am only giving it a prediction. Powerful, amazing writing, and it already grabbed the NBA: what more do I need to say in defense of this one?
The Walls Around Us, Nova Ren Suma: I had three books vying for my 5th place heart pick, once I decided to go for all 5. This was one of them, but in the end I keep coming back to the fact that I didn’t quite love it, I just thought it was brilliant. It’s not as loudly buzzed as my other predictions, but I believe it has a real shot and I’d be very happy to be right about this one in particular.
Bone Gap, Laura Ruby: Weirdly I like this less and less as time goes by; it’s almost like hearing from others the flaws they saw allowed me to say huh, maybe it’s not quite as perfect as I thought. But it’s still damn good and it has a ton of support, which doesn’t matter for the Printz but does speak to the consensus building this book is capable of, and in the end the book that everyone supports at least a little can often outpace the more polarizing titles. I don’t think Bone Gap polarizes; it’s a book that gets a lot of love and has the merits to stand at the table too.
Symphony for the City of the Dead OR Most Dangerous: This is me cheating. I haven’t read either (because nonfiction), but from what I’ve heard, either of these would be an excellent choice for the RealCommittee, and I predict they will choose one — but not both. Most Dangerous has 6 stars, but Joy also noted a few fairly significant typos (including some endnotes that can’t be easily matched because of an issue with pagination), and those issues often come up at the discussion table and matter; when the discussion is nearing the end point, any reason to eliminate a book from your vote is worth considering. Symphony, on the other hand, has been dinged for selective storytelling — but that’s a more subjective issue; also Anderson has been recognized before, which shouldn’t matter but could exert a subtle influence if the RealCommittee is effectively deciding between the two titles and everything else balances. Of course, this is all just speculation, but isn’t that what we do here?
That joke readers always share about the constantly growing to-read pile was way too real for me in 2015. I moved; which cut my commute in half (yay!) but also cut my daily reading time down by a third (boo!). All this to say that I read less than I wanted to this year. Based on Karyn and Sarah’s reviews and your comments, I know that I’m missing some great stuff but I loved a lot of books this year (I had to whittle this list down from ten).
In alphabetical order by author’s last name:
Symphony for the City of the Dead, M.T. Anderson: The more that I reflect on this book, the more that I think that Anderson has done something truly unique and wonderful. The topic is humongous, encompassing not only the life of one man but the complex society and time in which he lived. Yet the content is never too dense, Anderson doesn’t get lost in the weeds of politics and regime changes, and you feel like you’re having a conversation with your very favorite history professor. All of this in a book that depicts some of the most brutal atrocities in human history.
Lair of Dreams, Libba Bray: I really liked The Diviners but I loved Lair of Dreams. Old New York is so vivid and textured in Bray’s rendering, her characters are complicated without being inconsistent, and the story is thrilling and heartbreaking. This was a book that satisfied so many of my needs as a reader: a great romance, a mystery, a tragedy, amazing period detail, humor, and a fantastic ending.
Carry On, Rainbow Rowell: I ship Simon and Baz. That is, I ship Rainbow Rowell’s Simon and Baz. (For the record, I prefer Baz to Simon.) Now that that’s out in the open, I can also say that I’m deeply impressed by this novel. It’s smart, incredibly funny, and it taps into that classic adolescent struggle to make choices and define one’s identity amid the pressure and expectations of parents, teachers, and friends. Plus, Rowell references Doctor Who and Downton Abbey in the text, so I’d pretty much walk through fire for her at this point because she owns my soul.
Echo, Pam Muñoz Ryan: A true delight from start to finish. I didn’t get to mention this is my review, but one of the most interesting aspects of the novel is its connection to The Magic Flute. In both stories, three ladies bestow a magic instrument on a character that will ultimately save a life. That the women in Ryan’s story are named Eins, Zwei, and Drei is lovely as that echoes (pun intended) a famous line from one of the opera’s arias. There’s a sophistication to this book that I admire the more that I think about it. It’s quite possibly my favorite book of the year. And yes, I hear you naysayers with your cries of audience, but I would hand this novel to anyone.
More Happy Than Not, Adam Silvera: I always have a favorite debut and in 2015 this was it. Will I ever get over my agony when I saw that Silvera wasn’t a Morris nominee? Unclear. Writing in an authentic voice from a truly unreliable narrator is no easy feat and Silvera pulls it off with aplomb. Aaron Soto is a young man whose story isn’t commonly told and Silvera gives him voice in a fascinating story. Although some of his characters could have used a little more shade, overall this is fine work from a very exciting author.
I haven’t read two of my predictions. That’s how it goes though, right? Although my picks are always books that make me think and feel, my predictions are my genuine attempts to tell the future.
In alphabetical order by author’s last name:
Symphony for the City of the Dead, M.T. Anderson: Because everyone I talk to about this book is equally gobsmacked. This one had serious pre-pub buzz and it hasn’t died down as more people have read it.
Shadowshaper, Daniel José Older: I wasn’t as blown away as other readers but I recognize the exciting qualities here. Older’s very good at creating a strong sense of place and society (his Brooklyn is Brooklyn) and the theme of cultural appropriation will likely spark a lot of discussion. In my reading, when the subtext became text I thought the novel was less successful. In addition to messy action writing I have a few other nitpicks with the mechanics; I concede, though that for other readers these didn’t take away from the powerful messaging. I wouldn’t be surprised if this novel’s strengths ultimately outweighed its flaws and turned up with a shiny sticker on Monday afternoon.
Bone Gap, Laura Ruby: I remember this book in the same way that Finn experiences faces. I think I have the shape of it, and the feeling, but the details are blurry. Had I been able to revisit Bone Gap before now, I might have more detailed analysis to offer. Honestly, I’m just really banking on our Pyrite winner and hoping that our pick can make it to the real winner’s circle again if only for bragging rights.
The Hired Girl, Laura Amy Schlitz: Every year it seems like there’s a total surprise and for some reason I get the feeling that this divisive book may be the one that has us saying, “really?” on Monday. I haven’t read a lick of it. I followed the extensive and rich conversation in the comments of Heavy Medal’s review; that plus the discussion at our local Printzbery is giving me the confidence to make this my wild guess pick.
Challenger Deep, Neal Shusterman: I had to put this one aside after about 60 pages due to the problem of too many books. What I read was engrossing and the usage of illustrations added so much to the text. I’ve been able to listen in on enough discussions about Challenger Deep to know that there are deep layers to this story so I would be pleased if the RealCommittee recognizes that as well.
I’ve had the opportunity to rave about many books this season, so now it’s time to start synthesizing and summarizing. What has floated to the top here? It’s always nice to start with the books I keep thinking about on a personal level. Although the traditional number is 5 around these parts, I think I have to go with only 3 — and only graphic novels, at that. In alphabetical order by author:
Drowned City, Don Brown: This is as much about the book and the reading experience as it is about the questions it has me asking. Brown did such a great job of marrying straightforward, factual information to emotive, powerful pictures that the reading almost becomes a Rorschach test for the reader. What sort of tone do you mentally give that neutral text on each page? How does your emotional experience of the book affect your understanding of the situation? Yes, I still have questions about the actual scope of the book vs the possible scope of the book, and I’m still not sure what I think is the right answer, but it’s also still a book that impressed me.
Moonshot, Hope Nicholson: This is a book that I’ve been excitedly showing to coworkers and students as I’ve encountered them. (I don’t think they’re running away from me in the hallways…yet.) This title has turned me into an evangelist, at least for the foreseeable future, and it is unique; it doesn’t feel like anything I’ve read before and it seems like a book I want to read and reread a few times — and then talk about with other people who’ve done the same. I think part of my interest in trumpeting it is the late in the year/small press part of its situation. You may not have run into it at a bookstore or elsewhere yet, so please do yourself a favor and track it down!
Nimona, Noelle Stevenson: Look, after the situation with the Angouleme Grand Prix, I pretty much have to go with the most girl power, girl centric, tough lady comic I’ve read all year. Nimona is dangerous, she is unpredictable, and I believe — truly believe — she is still out in the world, figuring herself out. I love the broken love between Ambrosious and Ballister, and I love (love, love, love) Nimona (and her anger and her physicality and her red hair and her energy and and and). I know, too, that I’m not alone in loving this book — which is always a happy feeling.
Like Joy, there are some I’ve read, some I’ve started, and some I haven’t actually opened up (yet). But these are my picks with (I would say) little to no surprises or dark horses. In alphabetical order by author again:
Shadowshaper, Daniel Jose Older: I’ve been excited to talk about this book since I read it before blogging even started. This is so unique, so engaging, and so exciting on different levels, that I just have to pick it. I don’t know if it will take the gold, but I could see it as a vote of passion (people vote passionately; they do) — the book everyone loves not because it’s perfect but because it’s just so, so right.
Bone Gap, Laura Ruby: Last year, I predicted I’ll Give You the Sun because I felt like that was a book a lot of people could agree on. I have a similar feeling about this title; I can this being a book that builds consensus. There’s a lot here that many librarians could love, and that’s when winners get picked — when enough people can agree on it. I can see people loving the strong characterization, the delicate mix of magic realism, and the deeply beautiful prose.
Most Dangerous, Steve Sheinkin: Because you’ve convinced me! Because Sheinkin has escaped medal-dom for a few years when I thought he might take it…so maybe this is the year! Maybe this is the subject. Maybe this time.
Challenger Deep, Neal Shusterman: Sometimes I wonder about overlap between Printz and NBA. From a totally non-data driven perspective, I would say sometimes there seems to be overlap and sometimes not so much. (Wisdom right there, folks!) This would make an interesting post with charts from someone way better at numbers than me…but I wonder if sometimes the NBA pick can allow the Printz committee to look further in the field because they know that a particular title has been awarded already, and sometimes the converse is true. In this case, I’d say that this could be a time when that award might spur committee members into greater cohesion — “see, this really is that good!” To be honest, I almost put Bunker Diary here, and I’m kinda cheating by mentioning it…but sometimes it’s hard to narrow your list down to 5! (GL, RealCommittee, we heart you!)
The Walls Around Us, Nova Ren Suma: Psychologically broken characters, deep and powerful thematic work, gorgeous writing, genre-bending, strong and striking symbolism — this is a book that has it all on an intellectual level. I’ve only just started it, but sometimes I think deeply twisted ambivalence about a book and particular characters can sometimes indicate powerhouse craft.
SLJ Blog Network