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Here on this holiday weekend (for some, but not for others, I know!), I thought we could have a brief whirlwind of a realistic roundup. We’ve already featured a grouping of funny girls, today we have a slightly smaller set of lady-centric fiction. They’re not all funny, but they are all realistic, they are all heartfelt, and they’re all here today. They run the range of zero to one star ratings. As is often the case with our roundups, they may not be titles RealCommittee may agree on, but that doesn’t preclude their inclusion in the conversation — they just might be titles that individual committee members come to the table to argue for. And remember — we’ve still got our Nominations post up, so make sure you speak up there if you have a book you want to champion!
So. This is one where the premise convinced me that I really wanted to read it, and I gleefully claimed it. Muahahahahaaaaa! (That’s what I say when I claim a book.) It’s a quirky premise and does have a fun, teenage-y voice. There was quite a lot that I enjoyed about this title — the voice, which reads like a real life teen (and which is hard to do, because anyone talking in real life is not as entertaining as carefully crafted Character Dialogue; the careful balance between seeming like a real person trying to tell an uncrafted story and creating an entertaining narrative is difficult to achieve and happens here); overall there’s a lot of respect for teens, for teenage girls, for their experiences, thoughts, and feelings. Well — I should say, for white teenage girls (it’s good to be as accurate and specific as possible when, um, generalizing. If you see what I mean).
The stuff that didn’t work for me: the book alternates between Charlotte’s narration and third person/Frankie chapters. It’s hard to tell if we’re meant to see Charlotte as writing those as well, experimenting with form, or if they’re necessary to keep the story moving. I spent a lot of time trying to work that out, rather than just following the story; somehow the question of who was writing really distracted me. And the story itself felt a bit long (to me). While the teen-ness of the book feels authentic, the characters themselves are not super defined (particularly if we’re looking at this with our Printz lenses on).
And in this corner! Still humorous, still realistic, still a focus on teenage girls. This one felt a bit weightier to me — although Mia is a funny narrator, she is definitely wrestling with some big issues: frustration, anger, aimlessness, a sense of invisibility and as a result, she is hugely self destructive. Her relationship with her sisters feels very real as shared by Mia, and her feelings of resentment and uncertainty were totally relatable. As a narrator, Mia is pretty electric — funny and angry, and so, so impulsive. She’s a defiantly messy character that I had to love. I also had to love Grace and Audrey and Sam.
I had a little less love for Mia’s buddies; Stella, Kimmie, and Mikey are rather interchangeable, fun as they are. And Mia’s parent’s decision to take their honeymoon felt a bit plot friendly and entirely questionable (though I do have the advantage of knowing all the stuff Mia was up to). I think overall, the novel was a bit too long, and the turn around at the end was too fast, but it was also the book that was the most fun to read here. (I may or may not have been excitedly updating people in the room about Mia’s latest developments as I read.)
And we have an entirely different direction to take here. It’s still realistic, it’s still a look at a teenage girl, but this is more serious, and taken at a slower pace — as a result, there’s a little less plot to the plot (though things still happen), and a little more flow to the narrative. Taja is a quieter and more contemplative main character. Tamani’s writing, at sentence level, is gorgeous — evocative and poetic. The quiet vignettes are full of detailed, descriptive moments which add up to an impressionistic whole. Additionally, there is a world of respect for religion, for spirituality, and stunning descriptions of finding stillness and understanding inside of oneself.
So what could RealCommittee get hung up on? Well, there may be a couple small things. First, although the voice is gorgeous, it doesn’t always sound entirely like a teenager — especially because Taja is supposed to be a rather young teen when it starts out. I also wonder if the impressionistic nature of the text is part of it, too — it can be a little hard to place each vignette in time beyond a fairly general sense of “time passing,” I’d argue that that’s a feature, not a bug — the writing and sense of timelessness worked for me…but that’s a matter of taste. As we know, once people at the table start really talking through a book, the small problems can start to get in the way of consensus. However, this is a debut (what a year for debuts!) — I wonder what the Morris Committee will have to say about it.
So that’s my take on three more realistic stories from authors this year. Will any of them take a medal? Of the three titles featured here, I’d be inclined to bet on Calling My Name, but am not sure that it will entirely have what it takes to be one of the final five. But perhaps you’ve read one or two and have opinions yourself? Let’s talk in the comments!
(AND! Don’t forget! Reminder #2: We have our nominations post up; give us some nominations in the comments!)
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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