Tag Archives: Printz

Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool

9 Mar

navigatingearlyTitle: Navigating Early
Author: Clare Vanderpool
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Genre: Historic fiction
Page count: 320

If I’d known what there was to know about Early Auden, the strangest of boys, I might have been scared off, or at least kept my distance like all the others.

World War II has just ended and Jack has just moved to Maine from Kansas following the death of his mother. At his boarding school he meets Early Auden, a very strange boy who never actually goes to class, lives in the janitor’s closet, sorts jelly beans when he’s stressed, and has created an elaborate fairy tale to coincide with all the numbers of pi. When both are left alone in the school during a break, Early convinces Jack to go on a quest with him into the forest of Maine to help find Pi, whom he insists is lost. Or maybe a bear, or some other suck wacky shit.

I would like to start by saying barf. I know that middle grade books are often characterized by their heartwarming…ness….and that’s one reason why I don’t read them very often, and also perhaps why so many people loved this book whereas it mostly made me dry heave. Maybe my heart is too black to appreciate this book, but the more Vanderpool tried to warm it the more I wanted to set the god damn book on fire. How in the flying fuck did this get a Printz honor? Nevermind the fact that THIS IS NOT A YOUNG ADULT BOOK; the Printz (honor), which, to quote my friend who knows what he’s talking about, is often polarizing in its weirdness, should not be awarded to something so safe and mediocre.

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Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick

8 Feb

10836471Title: Midwinterblood
Author: Marcus Sedgwick
Publisher: Roaring Book Press
Genre: fantastic
Page Count: 272

The sun does not go down.

This mind trip of a Printz medalist starts with a journalist traveling to a remote island to dig up the truth behind a peculiar but persistent rumor: the inhabitants have started to live forever. Once there he keeps catching himself in a repeating pattern of intense deja vu that starts with love at first sight and ends with ritual murder. Thus begins the first of seven narratives traveling backwards through time, all linked by repeating motifs and interlinked souls that return to the living world play out their stories, again and again and again.

First sentence is pretty good, in that it is indicative of the stark creepiness that pervades the entire book.

I will admit that as I was reading this book I was unconvinced of its Printz worthiness. It’s not terribly accessible, the seven linked narratives inhibit personal investment in the characters and their stories, it feels distant and cold. But then I finished it, and the very end of the very last chapter tied all the weirdness together, and I straight up could not stop thinking about it. I finished it days ago and I still can’t stop thinking about it. Do I think this book deserves the Printz? Yes. Would I recommend it to the majority of my teen readers? Hell to the no. Here’s why, on both counts.

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In Darkness by Nick Lake

9 Apr

11451112I am the voice in the dark, calling out for your help.

Nick Lake‘s In Darkness is the 2013 Printz Award winning story of a nameless teen trapped in the rubble underneath a collapsed hospital after the Haiti earthquake. His only companion in the darkness is a decomposing hand, his own memories, and a psychic connection to Touissant l’Ouverture, a Haitian revolutionary who lived 200 years earlier.

So, this book is…wait for it…dark. And when I say it’s dark, I mean dark in every sense of the word. Half of the narrative’s setting is defined by absolute darkness. The sense of claustrophobia as we experience the narrator’s blindness, his thirst that drives him to drink whatever blood has collected on the floor, to reach out and touch a disembodied hand just to see if his only companion in his coffin is alive, is overwhelmingly visceral.

The subject matter is dark. It is a story of horrible lives, of murder and murderers, of watching your father get hacked apart by machete toting gangsters, of fighting for your country’s freedom only to die in a dungeon on the other side of the world. This is the kind of story that, for the bulk of its telling, makes you want to kill yourself from the overwhelming sense that there is nothing good in the world, at all.

The writing is staggering in its bleak beauty. Some of my favorite quotes include:

“I tried to call out, but bullets are faster than words, and I was just standing there in the middle of all that metal death” (263).

“We have a mouth – we can feel it in our face, an opening into us that can let the spirit out – but when we use it, when we speak, there is no one to listen. The voices that come to us, drifting through the darkness beyond our prison, they might as well be the voices of the dead. (…) We are a slave to this space, to the inevitable decay of trapped things. We can feed ourselves, but there is no food; we can work with our hands and with our minds, but there is nothing on which to work; we have eyes, but there is nothing to see. There is no future and no past. We are in the darkness. We are one” (326-7).

One of my favorite things about this book was the spirit of Om that came through more and more strongly as the narrative progressed; the sense of emptiness and unity, while horribly depressing in context, was also one of the only reoccurring moments in which I, as a reader, felt liberated from the oppressing sense of insurmountable awfulness.

At times I struggled to get through Touissant’s half of the narrative; it just didn’t have the pop that our nameless narrator’s story had. However, I appreciated the parallels of experience that spanned the hundreds of years between their physical lives, and so I was able to deal.

All in all, this is a pretty amazing book that still continues to haunt me even though I finished it about two weeks ago. However, there are parts that can be difficult to get through without wanting to say “fuck this world, I want to die,” so just be forewarned if you do decide to pick it up.

And, just because Biggie Smalls is mentioned every other page, it’s only fitting that he gets the spotlight for this edition’s music match.

Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley

7 Oct

Well, it’s been a whopper of a week, folks. Between sicksies and worksies and all around busy..sies, I haven’t had much time to write. I almost considered just NOT reviewing John Corey Whaley’s wonderful Where Things Come Back because it has a shiny medals on its cover so probably doesn’t need my promotion, but what the hey. It’s such a treat I thought I should probably go ahead and share.

I was seventeen years old when I saw my first dead body.

Cullen Witter is a snarky, intelligent teenage boy longing to escape the black hole that is his sleepy hometown of Lily, Arkansas. His world, both in micro and macro, unravels with a series of dramatic events during the summer before his senior year in high school. It starts with his cousin dying of an overdose, continues with Lily getting obsessed with the supposed reappearance of the extinct Lazarus woodpecker, and then things come completely undone when his beloved, sensitive fifteen-year-old brother, Gabriel, inexplicably disappears without a trace. Meanwhile, Benton Sage, a failed missionary trying to re-create his life after returning from a failed mission to Africa in utter disillusionment inadvertently infects his college room mate, Cabot Searcy, with an obsessive religious fanaticism, starting a chain of events that slowly draws these two disparate narratives together like ill-fated magnets.

I’ll start by saying that this is one of those books that makes me feel insecure about my own writing. Not only did this book win the Printz, which is prestigious enough, but it also won William C. Morris YA Debut Award. So, not only is this book really well-written and stupid full of literary merit, it’s also John Corey Whaley’s first book ever. Seriously? Just get out of here. I will say, however, that there were certain other Printz contenders that I loved more (ahem Scorpio Races ahem), but that’s more personal taste than anything else.

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The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

2 Apr

I like to read, a lot. Obviously. However, sometimes I come across a book that sinks its claws so deeply into my imagination that I am transported beyond the average realm of simply enjoying the reading of it, to a place where literally all I can think and talk about is the BOOK. I simultaneously always want to be reading it but don’t want it to end, ever, because there really is nothing quite like the experience of meeting one of your literary soul mates for the first time, is there? Well, Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races (Scholastic Press) was one of those books for me.

This book first landed on my radar when my friend/teen librarian goddess/Printz panel…wizard?, Sarah Couri, reviewed it for the School Library Journal blog “Someday My Printz Will Come.” I will admit that I was surprised to see that Stiefvater’s newest was a contender for the American Library Association’s Printz Medal for teen fiction; I read her novel Shiver a couple years ago, and while I enjoyed it she didn’t really strike me as the the kind of heavy-weight teen writer that normally wins the prize. However, I have a lot of faith in Sarah’s taste in books, so I put it on my to-read list. It catapaulted itself even higher when it was named as a Printz Honor book and even higher when I had several friends approach me and tell me that if ever there was a book for me, this book was it. Sold.

The Scorpio Races takes place in an alternate reality where every year tourists flock to the island of Thisby for the deadly Scorpio Races, in which the island men race the mythical capall uisce on a narrow stretch of beach, fighting each other to reach the finish line before the sea calls the predatory water horses and their jockeys into its depths. The narrative focuses on two young characters: Sean Kendrick and Puck Connolly. Sean Kendrick, who lost his father to the Scorpio Races when he was ten, has won four times on the monstrous and beautiful Corr. Puck Connolly and her two brothers were orphaned when a water horse attack claimed both her parents in one fell swoop, and after years of trying to hold their family together, her older brother, Gabe, announces he’s leaving for the mainland. Puck, desperate not to lose what little family she has left, declares that she is riding in this year’s Scorpio Races. As the two young contenders train for the race their strong yet strikingly different personalities draw them together, but their growing feelings for each other are threatened by one sad fact: only one person can win the Scorpio Races, and it is very likely one of them will die in the trying.

How amazing is this book trailer?

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