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Previous Winners, Part One

Screen Shot 2018-01-03 at 4.44.13 PMAs the year turns, we thought we’d spend a few days looking back at previous winners, musing about the probability of a repeat medal for an author on this prestigious (and long!) list. Splitting the list alphabetically (which started with already 2-time winner M.T. Anderson last week), we get a couple of series entries, as well as a few independent titles. We hope you’ll jump in with your opinions in the comments!

Before the Devil Breaks You coverBefore the Devil Breaks You, Libba Bray
Little, Brown, October 2017
Reviewed from final e-copy; 1 star

This series just gets better and better, and really do you need to know anything else?

Oh, wait, you wanted us to look at it from a Printz perspective? So, the writing is tight, the characterization gets deeper with each book (although ensemble cast, so it’s taken this long for some of the team to hit their strides). Bray clearly loves the world she’s created, and the slow burn of the big picture plot with smaller plot-lines starts to shift here — making Printz recognition, which already was unlikely for this mid-series title, even less likely. That said, it’s an excellent mid-series title — this moves the plot clearly towards the end game with the King of Crows, ups the horror factor (the Ward’s Island section is perfectly paced for maximum scare), and keeps readers invested in the large cast of characters. If this were in serious contentions, we might want to talk about whether all the sexy times are anachronistic, because the historical milieu is otherwise so tight, but since I’ve already said it’s not a contender, let’s just celebrate young love happening even as the world seems destined for darkness, and sit tight for the long wait for book 4. —Karyn


tool of war coverTool of War, by Paolo Bacigalupi
Little, Brown, September 2017
Reviewed from ARC; 3 stars

We’ve got all the strengths of the first two books in the series — strong and detailed world building, jam-packed action scenes, desperate choices that stem from complicated situations. With three starred reviews, this is a book that got a lot of love, but I’m not sure it will get a nod — in part because it’s third in the series and may feel too deep and too far. A vast majority of the cast are returning from previous books, and readers familiar with the series will have an easier time jumping back into the intricate world. I would argue that, on balance, the plot is understandable, and the world building not too hard to understand, but the sense of history/shared pasts may scare readers away. What works here is what always works for Bacigalupi: thorny moral questions with no easy answers; frenetic, dark actions scenes; and a disturbing brutal dystopian world. We’ve also got just enough glimmers of hope that this vicious world can feel nearly bearable and possibly-almost preventable. I don’t think we’ll see it get a medal, but I’m so glad to get this piece of the story. —Sarah

Neighborhood Girls coverNeighborhood Girls, Jessie Ann Foley
HarperCollins, September 2017
Reviewed from ARC; 1 star

Foley, who picked up double honors for The Carnival at Bray (Printz honor, Morris finalist), returns with another bleak tale. And it’s one I’m having trouble assessing, because I detested this book enough that finishing it was a chore. One of my issues is a political/me issue: the backgrounding of the story has a father who is the worst kind of racist, and the book concludes with him saying “I’m sorry” but seemingly not growing or changing beyond that, in my reading — and Wendy starts to forgive him. This strikes me as a troubling pass for racist behavior, and while this is personal as an objection (I’m not claiming Wendy wouldn’t respond this way), I’d be surprised to see a book with that message place on the Printz podium at this particular moment in time. My other issues are tied up in weak characterization (particularly the caricature that is Aunt Kathy, who existed only to move the story along) and in major timeline quibbles related to ghosts, Alexis, and when she died. Reviews were positive, although not star-level positive, and I haven’t talked to anyone else who actually read this, so I’m curious to hear what others think; Foley is not an author to my taste, so it’s possible the ways in which I don’t like her characters or bleak outlook make me more inclined to see the issues but ignore the strengths. Or maybe it’s just not that noteworthy of a book in a year this strong. —Karyn


Satellite coverSatellite, Nick Lake
Knopf, October 2017
Reviewed from ARC; 1 star

Lake makes a bold storytelling choice with Satellite, telling the story in uncapitalized, chopped up, abbreviated sentence blurts. (There is probably a technical term, but I’m just going to stick with this.) With a slow start up on the space station, the language comes into its own in the second part, where Leo’s observations and first earth experiences are given a weight and attention that feels poetic. While it’s true that I also just adjusted to the writing style, it feels present and always-noticing; it’s often beautiful reading in this second section. The third part, in an effort to finish up the story and tie loose ends, has a lot of action which loses urgency — the narrative style works against this ending. The final section contains most of the action and as a result,  the end can feel like items on a checklist getting ticked off. The seeds of the mystery are sewn in neatly from the start, but the conspiracy felt too predictable, and some of the story telling choices made science sense but weren’t quite believable. There’s also what is trying to be a thoughtful examination of parenting, caretaking, and motherhood set amidst a casually gender-queer future — but most of the scientists and pilots are men; the astronaut caretakers are women. So: boo. I liked this read while in the middle of it, but have found more to get angry about after the fact. I don’t see this walking away with a repeat medal this year. —Sarah

So there you have it — four new books from previous winners, largely bereft of critical love or support from us. Agree? Disagree? Speak up below.



  1. Loved “Tool of War,” but I agree, it can only be fully appreciated as a part of the whole series. I am sad these books are not read more.

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