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Previous Winners, Part Two
And here is part two of our previous winners posts!
Again, we’re looking at past winners, honorees, and generally lauded authors who have a new book out this year, and again we’re wondering if lighting can strike twice (or, if you’re Marcus Sedgwick, four times).
This books survives or dies on the table based on whether anyone has read (or seen) The Talented Mr. Ripley. It’s a nailbiter of a read, and Lockhart — who always has exquisite writing and excels at tone and style — excels at the sentence level here. It’s also a gender-swapped and contemporary, but otherwise hardly changed (barring the reverse chronology) update of Highsmith’s classic. If you know the original, this retelling might leave you cold, or at least not top tenning this one; if you don’t, my anecdotal survey indicates this will knock your socks off. The average RealCommittee member is a well-read adult and thus probably does know the original, so I think this won’t ultimately garner another nod for Lockhart — but if you haven’t read it yet, buckle your seatbelt and dive in, there’s a reason for the five stars. —Karyn
Folks, I don’t know what to make of this one. The late Mal Peet’s final book, completed by Meg Rosoff, is clearly be award fodder: Peet received the Carnegie, and while he never won the Printz, his YA titles — the Faustino trilogy, Tamar, and (especially) Life: An Exploded Diagram all received plenty of stars and any of them would have been worthy Printz recipients. Meanwhile, Rosoff won the Printz for the (still astounding) how i live now, and while her later books have never achieved the same success (and her public statements have drawn ire and outrage, which has diminished her star power), she’s a fascinating and complex writer. But this is a weird, not YA-friendly, book, and I think it will leave most readers cold. Even if it finds a champion or two on the RealCommittee (and it should — weird and not appealing to teens have never stopped books before, although usually we’re talking either/or), I can’t see this reaching consensus: it’s an uneasy, disturbing read, violent to a degree that may strike readers as gratuitous, and it’s a book about a biracial boy explicitly about the experience of being othered by his dark skin, written by two white authors. The writing is excellent — there’s rich use of dialect, a palpable sense of place as Beck journeys, and rich, complex characterization sketched in with the deftest of details — but it’s hard to enjoy, because it’s bleak and depressing, which makes it easier for readers to move slowly and pay attention to every flaw (witness my self-questioning about Neighborhood Girls). On the other hand, three reviewers recognized the quality of the writing enough to give it stars, and a truly careful reader might hate it and yet still admire the craft. I know I really want to hear what others thought, and haven’t found anyone who’s read this, so speak up if you have. —Karyn
Sedgwick is a three time winner (one gold, two silvers), and while I sometimes strongly dislike what he does, there’s no denying that he is endlessly inventive, frequently brilliant, and catnip for many readers; even when I quibble with the quantity of rabbits, I am struck by his skill and the craft on display in his every book. Is this yet another win? Well, I can’t say, because — confession time — I couldn’t do it. I’ve started this three times and I just can’t; it’s been a depressing year, the opening is depressing, and no matter how I try to trick myself into being ready to read this one, I keep stalling out within 50 pages. So if you could do it, and did, won’t you assess Saint Death‘s chances in the comments? Because right now I’m not sure if it’s me or the book causing the block. —Karyn
Stork is a highly decorated YA writer, with tons of different awards won over the years. This year’s Disappeared has received four starred reviews, and has a story that covers tough topics and feels timely. RealCommittee is, I would guess, looking closely at this title, but I don’t think overall that he’ll walk away with a Printz medal this year. There’s a lot happening here, but often, the plot moves through convenience; characters “sense” or “feel” their way to the next plot beat. While Stork utilizes the present tense, alternating viewpoints to help keep the plot moving, the characterization is not always strong enough to feel real. We are getting fast-paced crime fiction here, but with much of the action occurring off the page, the tension is sometimes too low to sustain reader interest. The open ending, too, is an awkward fit; instead of feeling like a thought-provoking choice, it was too ambiguous and felt anticlimactic. For these reasons, I don’t see this getting a medal come ALA. —Sarah
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