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Readers make the case for their faves
If you’re a regular reader, you know that we’re constantly asking for your opinions, picks, and predictions. You’re our weather vane, out in the world bringing us vital information about books that have flown under our radar (or ones that we simply haven’t had the chance to read). And as a mock committee, we’re not too bad at predicting the titles that show up in the winners’ circle on ALA YMA morning.
Karyn, Sarah, and I get to bring our “nominations” to our virtual table every week, so just before Thanksgiving we asked, what would you bring to the nominating table? We know each of you has a favorite contender and we wanted to know more! Many thanks to readers Meghan, Beth, and Soleil who graciously answered our call. We’re happy to share their “nominations” after the jump.
Peter Brown Hoffmeister elevates the coming-of-age story in This is the Part Where You Laugh with deft writing and deadly accurate teenage characters. Travis has had a challenging life as the son of an addict. His formative years were spent living in motels and caring for his mother as she searched for her next fix. These experiences help inform Travis’ character but don’t define him. He is not a violent person but he does violent things. He is not a bad person but he does bad things. Brown Hoffmeister has crafted an authentic teen protagonist who loves basketball and practices to exhaustion with his best friend, Creature; he is a boy with a crush on the girl next door who has to build up his nerve to pursue her; and he is a doting grandson watching his grandmother waste away from cancer and his grandfather numb his grief with pilfered pills. Woven within Travis’ tale is Creature’s own work of fiction, The Pervert’s Guide to Russian Princesses. The eponymous Russian princesses are a brilliant contrast to Travis and Creature’s poverty and immaturity and also underscore their intelligence and passion. The inclusion of separate, sexually loaded book excerpts written by a secondary teenager character is a shockingly effective tool used to heighten Travis’ internal and external turmoil. Addiction, poverty, sex, violence, and cruelty are at the heart of This is the Part Where You Laugh but they are not at the heart of Travis, which makes him so compulsively readable.
This is the most thematically rich novel I’ve read this year. It’s the most accurate depiction of depression I’ve read, and it’s the start of Finley’s growing up and figuring out how to discuss it. It’s about family, friendship, and the nature of love, especially its beginnings and endings. It’s about the secrets we keep, the duality of loyalty and where we draw the line. It’s about the line between truth and fiction, how we find truth in fairytales, and how that truth bleeds into real life.
Finley’s voice is a marvel: it’s determined – her lists are confident, reflecting her constantly-whirling mind – and uncertain, wavering between stifled doubt and crushing defeat. She returns repeatedly to her crossword-puzzle words, falling back on vocabulary when all else fails her. And she’s surrounded by wonderfully drawn children and adults; they, too, grow throughout the story.
The fairytale excerpts are more than metaphor and symbolism (though they are both those things, beautifully). Finley also uses her storytelling as projection – to distance herself from her feelings in an attempt to make some sense of them. And there’s an aspect of wish fulfillment in her fairytales, too, only in this case she isn’t the bullied orphan who’s really a wizard – she’s a brave orphan girl who might be a queen, if only she can figure out how to deal with the darkness within her.
This may be a Navigating Early-style Printz pick. But it’s so superb that I’m pulling for it anyway.
When the man who raped and killed Alex’s sister walked free, she took justice into her own hands. However, Alex struggles to keep her violent side hidden; she doesn’t think it’s safe to be around other people, but it’s not her own safety she’s concerned about. Alex is a loner–it’s easy to isolate herself because when people just think of her as the dead girl’s sister–but she unexpectedly becomes friends with Peekay (short for Preacher’s Kid) when they have to work together at the animal shelter. Her friendship with Peekay opens her eyes to what it’s like to be a regular teenage girl–hanging out with friends, sleepovers, going to parties, and (of course) boys. Jack, the popular womanizing jock, suddenly takes an interest in Alex, and Alex even surprises herself when she realizes the feeling is mutual. She finds herself enjoying regular adolescence more than she expected; Alex even starts thinking about her future as a regular young woman, but her dark side isn’t so easy to suppress.
The Female of the Species is graphic and dark at times, but there are also moments that feel hopeful and uplifting. Mindy McGinnis does a masterful job weaving the story from Alex, Peekay, and Jack’s viewpoints, demonstrating that people are much more complex than they seem, in a completely non-cheesy way. This book is fresh and, even though it’s not an easy read, it’s a powerful book that doesn’t skirt around significant issues like sexual assault.
About Joy Piedmont
Joy Piedmont is a librarian and technology integrator at LREI - Little Red School House & Elisabeth Irwin High School. Prior to becoming a librarian, Joy reviewed and reported for Entertainment Weekly’s PopWatch. She reviews for SLJ and is the President of the Hudson Valley Library Association. When she’s not reading or writing about YA literature, she’s compulsively consuming culture of all kinds, learning to fly (on a trapeze), and taking naps with her cat, Oliver. Find her on Twitter @InquiringJoy, email her at joy dot piedmont at gmail dot com, or follow her on Tumblr. Her opinions do not reflect the attitudes or opinions of SLJ, LREI, HVLA or any other initialisms with which she is affiliated.
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