“Most people don't realize how important librarians are. I ran across a book recently which suggested that the peace and prosperity of a culture was solely related to how many librarians it contained. Possibly a slight overstatement. But a culture that doesn't value its librarians doesn't value ideas and without ideas, well, where are we?”
Neil Gaiman

Monday, June 18, 2012

Here's My Lowdown on The Printz Award Winners!

My Favorite Time of Year...  Honoring The Top YA Books of the Year with the Printz Awards!


I won't be at ALA in Anaheim for the Red Carpet Printz Award Ceremony this year, much as I love hearing the speeches, but I will be there in spirit.  This year I met my goal -- I’ve now made my way through the last of the four Printz Honor books as well as the Printz Award winner for 2012.  It speaks volumes that five books were close contenders for this year’s Printz Award.  I have to say that, in my opinion, at least four of the five books are indeed incredibly close contenders.  The writing in all of the books is phenomenal as is the individual storytelling, character development, and the feeling left once each of the books are closed that it is a book worthy of an award.  If I had been on this year’s Printz Committee, I would have struggled to choose a winner.  And I’ve read a book or two that I think ought to have been a contender!  Imagine if I had been tasked with reading the entire Printz Committee’s pile of books!

When Things Come Back
By John Corey Whaley

Cullen Witter is seventeen-years-old and has quite the weight of the world on his shoulders.  He has just identified the dead body of his cousin Oslo for his Aunt and now had to deal with her living with them.  He spent his days fending off bully Russell Quitman.  He also has a little brother Gabriel who he adores and thinks is one of the most interesting people in the world, and yet not one of the most socially skilled kids he has ever met.  Gabriel could care less what anyone else thinks of him.  Fortunately his best friend Lucas Cader is big, handsome, and well liked – and incredibly protective of Gabriel and Lucas.   One day a bird hunt begins for the Lazarus Woodpecker, originally presumed extinct.  And then suddenly Gabriel disappears…

This first time novel by John Corey Whaley is both complex and beautiful.  It is so much more than a simple love story.  The complex relationships between the characters and wonderful interweaving of the various stories is magic.  This is a joy of a book to read and will have wide appeal to both genders.  I’m so sorry I won’t get a chance to meet John at ALA and have him sign my copy of When Things Come Back!!!!

The Scorpio Races
By Maggie Stiefvater

Every November the island of Thisby holds a contest in which the strongest riders attempt to prove they are the best by taking on the wild water horses of the island and racing one another, sometimes to their death.  It is dangerous, exhilarating, beautiful, and exciting.  The island champion, Sean Kendrick, is an orphan indebted to his employer and hoping to one day earn his own horse.  This year the stakes are high.  Will Sean win his horse?  On the other side of the island, another orphaned rider, Puck Connolly, has a similar plan.  She also wants to win the race.  But her stakes are higher.  She hopes to save her family and their home.  So who will win the Scorpio Races?

Maggie Stiefvater has written an amazing story filled with tenderness and beauty.  The dynamics between siblings, friends, servants and masters is deftly handled and filled with real emotion.  When the water horses are woven into the story they come alive and feel so real that one expects to be able to travel to remote islands in Ireland and actually find the mystical creatures coming up out of the sea.  The Scorpio Races is Maggie’s finest book to date.  It is a work of art.  I am so sorry I am not going to be at ALA to have my copy signed by Maggie this year!!!!

Jasper Jones
By Craig Silvey

Charlie Bucktin lives in a small town in Australia in the 1970’s.  The Vietnam War is going on and his best friend Jeffrey and his family emigrated from Vietnam.  The town they live in is filled with all of the local characters every small town is filled with and Charlie’s parents are going through their own struggles.  Charlie fills his days reading.  One night as he is reading, an outcast teen named Jasper Jones knocks on his window and begs for his help.  As Charlie follows him into the night, his whole world turns upside down.  The mystery that unfolds during the rest of the summer is a heartbreaking adventure unveiling the true nature of prejudice, brutality of domestic violence, and the beauty and healing power of love.

I absolutely loved this book and in many feel torn between this one, The Scorpio Races, and Where Things Come Back for the Printz Award itself.  If I could, I’d give it to all three.  They are all three such beautiful books.  Again, I wish I were going to be at ALA to have Craig sign my copy of Jasper Jones!!!!!!!!!

The Returning
By Christine Hinwood

I enjoyed this book by Christine Hinwood, but agree with many of the other reviews that I read that it will be quite a difficult read for many YA readers and had an inconclusive ending.  The language was quite challenging and difficult to get into at first.  I like fantasy as a genre in general. This book was a little slow going at first for me, but once I got into it, I enjoyed it.

The book opens with a family farming and introduces a few characters including Cam, the lone returning soldier after the war has ended.  Cam has lost his arm in the war with the Uplanders, in addition, he has taken on Uplander ways.  Apparently he also looks somewhat like an Uplander.  Much of the first half of the story is told from other characters perspectives of the homecoming of the lone soldier.  But Cam is lost in more ways than one.  And when his engagement to Graceful Fenister is broken, he too becomes broken.  Eventually Cam decides he must leave his Downlander past in search of something new.

There is likely to be a sequel to this book.  I liked it enough to read the sequel, but I don’t think I’d recommend this to the average YA reader.  Most teens would get too boggled down in the language and give up on it.  Science fiction addicts, fantasy buffs, and high literature readers would enjoy it.  I probably wouldn’t have given it a Printz Honor because of the inability for it to have widespread YA appeal. 

Why We Broke Up
By Daniel Handler
Art By Maira Kalman

Art By Maira Kalman on the cover of The New Yorker

I have to say that this was probably my least favorite of the books.  I’m not saying that it wasn’t a good book, just that in comparison to the caliber of top level books, this was not there for me.  I am guessing that it made the cut for its originality in style.  It is cleverly written as a series of letters from Min, short for Minerva, to her ex boyfriend Ed upon their break-up accompanied by interspersed full-colored drawings of the mementos that she collected during their short one-month relationship.  The art is lovely and Maira Kalman is well known for her artwork and writing in other books as is Daniel Handler aka Lemony Snicket.  I included reviews above with differing viewpoints from mine so that you might get other perspectives on the book as well.

The letters are a monologue of the relationship from the very beginning to the very end and you do have to adore the hopelessly romantic Min.  Min’s best friend is a boy named Al and she met Ed when he crashed his 16th birthday party.  Min and Al are two peas in a pod…and she and Ed are definitely not.  They come from two different worlds.  Ed is the penultimate high school jock who lives to play basketball while Min is an artsy old film buff who lives to be a film director.  They have completely different sets of friends at school and different interests after school.  Can they make a romantic relationship work?

Art from Why We Broke Up

Books that didn’t make it that at least deserve an honorable mention…

The Fault in Our Stars
By John Green

I have read many books by John Green and loved all of them.  This is now my absolute favorite.  I don’t know if it is because cancer has invaded my life so pervasively in the past few years or not, but this book is just beautiful.  I wish I were going to be at ALA this year to have John sign my book, but I’m sure I’ll catch up with him another year.

The story is about Hazel, a teen who has miraculously had her life extended by new cancer medication that has shrunk her tumor despite her terminal status as a young child.  She is still living on borrowed time, but has gained a few extra years of life.  Her mother insists on her attending a Cancer Kid Support Group so that she will have a social outlet and meet kids like her, but Hazel is jaded and sarcastic about attending…until the day she meets the gorgeous Augustus Waters.  Her whole world turns upside down when she meets Augustus. 

John has managed to write a book about cancer that is honest, funny, tragic, true, and completely heartfelt.  It is the absolute rollercoaster that one goes through when dealing with the disease.  At the same time, he has written an absolutely wonderful love story.  I’d have given this book at least a Printz Honor…and a box of tissues. 

The Running Dream
By Wendelin Van Draanen 

I wrote about this book in a previous post as one of my favorite books about girls and sports this year.  I really think it has wide appeal to both genders and to not just athletes as the message goes well beyond sports.  While this book did make some of the reading lists and did win an award for book with disabilities, I’d have like to have seen it lauded for its greater messages.

Whether you are an athlete or a mathlete, you can’t help but fall in love with this story about sixteen-year-old Jessica, a high school track star with amazing potential who wakes up on the first page of the book to find she has lost her leg in a terrible accident.  Jessica struggles through a whole realm of emotions but continually dreams of running.  She discovers that running on prosthesis is a possibility, but an expensive one.  Her entire team rallies behind her to try and get her running again.  At the same time, Jessica meets Rosa who has CP and is in a wheelchair.  Rosa tutors her in math and she discovers something about disabilities – it’s easy to become invisible. 

I am a runner. 
That's what I do. 
That's who I am. 
Running is all I know, or want, or care about...
Running aired out my soul. 
It made me feel alive. 
And now? 
I'm stuck in this bed, knowing I'll never run again. (pg 6, The Running Dream)

A special note of thanks to these incredible authors:
Congratulations to all of you!  You are wonderful authors and are much appreciated for bringing terrific work to young adults and young adults at heart!  We love reading your work, so please keep it up and we promise to keep reading what you write!

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