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Morris and Turner Contendas
Hello! It’s roundup time, today focused on contendas for awards other than the Printz.
One of these awards is a real actual award, the William C. Morris YA Debut Award; the other is imaginary but no less real in my heart. The Morris you all know about, of course, and we’ve been covering several debut/Morris contenders that we think are also Printz contenders; today I’ll be talking about some early 2016 debuts that I don’t think quite have the chops for the larger pool that is all YA, but are good enough to have been potentially on the table for the Morris committee. The other award I’m speculating about is the imaginary — but needed! — Meghan Whalen Turner Award for Best Completed Series.
We’ll start with the imaginary.
Backstory: A few years ago the idea of an award to recognize completed serial works was bandied about, which author Elizabeth Fama perfectly dubbed the Turner Award, after Meghan Whalen Turner. (Who has a new book coming! In the longest running and most beloved series of all time!) This is an award that I really wish existed because serial titles that add up to a whole greater than the sum of their parts rarely get recognized for Printz — each individual title just doesn’t go the distance (Sarah and I discussed this at length in 2012). And while I know this award is just an idea that will probably never materialize, in my heart, it exists. I read series books, particularly final books, and find myself thinking, seriously, about whether the book deserves the Turner.
Early 2016 saw the close of three long-running series, each final volume garnering multiple stars (starred reviews, unlike literary awards, can freely look at a single volume in the context of the larger work):
I made a case for the first volume, spoke briefly but passionately about the second, and now I’m back to recognize with sorrow that it’s over and there are no further adventures in Cello to look forward to.
In short: I love this utterly bizarre, philosophical, whimsical series. It’s completely random in some ways, carefully plotted in all ways. Beneath the confection of imagination there’s a deep well spring of humanity, friendship, and the nature of belief. It ends in the only ways it could: it all seems inevitable by the time the last revelation lands. I don’t love all of those revelations — but I can’t see any other possibility, because Moriarty’s writing is so tight, and she’s propelled her mystery so skillfully that everything feels preordained. And the langauge: oh the language. It’s creative and strange and I still find myself thinking things in Olde Quainte every now and then because I am so fascinated by their syntactical peculiarities. Moriarty deserves recognition for the trilogy for sure — no wonder the final volume received four stars — but each book alone is only a piece of a larger whole; take individually, they don’t feel complete or even totally coherent. This is probably about as perfect of a Turner contender as there could be.
Okay, full confession: I haven’t read any of this trilogy. I started the first one and it was bloody and brutal and I couldn’t do it, and no one clamored for coverage or seemed to be pushing it as a Printz likely, so we skipped it, and never even looked at book 2. Which means I don’t have a lot to offer about book 3, either, except to note that this has grown in popularity and acclaim with each volume, finally crossing the elusive 3-star mark with its finale. If I was on a committee for an award that specifically and solely looked at completed series works, I would 100% get over my squeamishness and read these, because clearly they’ve got that elusive something.
Three times we’ve tried to pretend like the individual titles in this quartet might-maybe-could go the distance for the Printz. Mostly we were gushing out of love and not conviction; we knew long shot was the best bet and unlikely at that. But boy-howdy did we try to sell these, because we love them. (Here’s me going on about book 1, a guest blogger waxing rhapsodic on book 2, and me again, tossing book 3 into a roundup because by that point I knew it wasn’t even a long shot but I couldn’t let go). So, ok, I’ve given up on this getting Printz love, but if there was an award for killer endings, this would definitely deserve to be in the running. Because honestly, I didn’t think there was any way Stiefvater was going to pull this off. All those predictions and strands and bits and bobs: how on earth was it going to conclude without fraying at the seams?
Well, she did it.
Admittedly, this may lack the wordplay and creative exuberance of Moriarty’s series, but the depth of the interconnected strands, the use of mythology, and the depictions of messy, intense friendships are all spot on, and it all ties together perfectly. Plus, the humor. And Ronan. Really I want to give this all the awards mostly for Ronan. Sadly, I am pretty sure it will get none of the awards, but this is a perfect candidate for my imaginary series award (that really should exist! Can’t we make it exist?) so let’s all just take another moment to love on it and mourn that the adventure is over. (Unless it isn’t?)
So much for the Turner Award. Now on to some Morris potentials — long list potentials, really; these aren’t the strongest of the bunch, but they shouldn’t be dismissed outright either. While all of them have received at least some critical love from the major review sources, none are receiving extraordinary buzz.
I picked this up because it was a debut with three stars, and also because I’ve been trying to find books that no one else seems to be talking about.
(Admittedly, “no one” is a fairly inflated statement, but this is definitely a relatively quiet book this year.)
I didn’t entirely love this one, but I liked it well enough to read it all the way through. As a mystery it’s… okay. Relatively engaging, if not astounding. But as a character study, it’s pretty fantastic. Imogene is awful. She’s closed off everyone who wants to know her; she’s immersed herself in a story about her parents that she uses as a shield against the world. She’s turned a blind eye to her father’s severe mental health issues. She’s an immensely unreliable narrator, but she’s also fierce and broken in ways that make her both sympathetic and a fighter. Watching her slowly grow and emerge from the shackles she’s placed on herself is a journey worth reading.
Were you one of the many that skipped this? Go back and give it a shot.
Speaking of authors to watch: this is a serious mind-melt of a book, and Peevyhouse gets props for the best name and — more importantly — for being uncommonly imaginative. This is science fiction with major fantasy elements and an eco-conscience, so it’s a genre blender of sorts, with rich thematic scope: the yearning to connect, the sense of alienation and loneliness that is so hard to overcome.
This might actually make it to the short list: it’s original and it’s deep. The writing didn’t strike me as being uncommonly brilliant on a sentence level, although I read it long enough ago that maybe I just don’t remember? I do remember that the choice of “vorpal” didn’t work that well for me, but that the individual stories (this reads like a series of five novellas, linked but individual) definitely felt distinct when it came to the voices of the main characters.
Like Hollow Places, this is a book that deserved more buzz than it received by an author who is most certainly one to watch. So go, read it, and melt your brain a tiny bit.
This is Anne Frank from the other side of the window: Nazi-occupied Amsterdam as seen by someone on the outside. The research is impressive (the author is a journalist, after all) and the sense of time and place is excellent. This is fiction that educates; I learned things reading this, but not because of exposition or heavy handed detail dropping. Hanneke exemplifies a kind of willful blindness that we know existed, that still exists, but Hesse manages to make her sympathetic even before Hanneke throws her lot in with the resistance. She’s doing what she needs to do to survive; meanwhile the more classic and heart-breaking heroics are happening all around her, so that the reader gets to experience both.
Less impressive is the occasional push through of a modern, rose-tinted sensibility; Hanneke barely seems startled that her dead boyfrriend’s brother is gay, which seems anachronistic, and the ending is wonderfully, terribly optimistic in many ways. Still, this is an accomplished debut, if not the most likely Morris contender, and it boasts huge appeal — it’s historical fiction about an on-trend time and event, perfectly poised to be an assigned read that students will genuinely enjoy.
(We’ll likely do another, similar roundup later in the year with any additional series books and debuts we think are worth a mention but maybe don’t think quite merit a full post; this is just the Q1 and a bit roundup.)
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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