The Truth Commission by Susan Juby

Reviewed by Alyssa, Newington Library

I was really interested in the concept of this book. I hadn’t heard a ton of buzz about this title, but some from well trusted bloggers. It had also received four starred reviews of the potential of six from the major review journals. I was immensely intrigued by both the title’s theme of truth and the unique format.

The book is written as “creative nonfiction,” and is the main character, Normandy’s, junior project at the Green Pastures Academy or Art and Applied Design. The book comes complete with an excess of footnotes and some illustrations.

The unique format is great, but even better is the more lighthearted mix of friendship and humor alongside a darker mystery and the search for truth and justice at school and at home. Normandy and her friends form “The Truth Commission” a sort of club whose mission is to find the truth (while shedding light on important topics, i.e. feminism, why some truths are better left unsaid, and criticism of slut-shaming).

Away from the school setting, is Normandy’s sister, Kiera, a famous graphic novel writer and artist. Her only fault? Kiera’s stories are woven from truth and based on her family members, stories Normandy wished could stay private. Her sister has her own troubling secrets as well. Why did she come home from college early? Where does she go for days at a time? Why hasn’t she met her deadline for her next book?

All this summary aside, is it a Printz contender? I don’t think so. While it has a wide audience among teens, is diverse, is a book that will get teens talking, and is overall stellar, I don’t think it has enough “excellence” to be a winner. Put it on your list of “to read-s”, it’s well worth it!

More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera

Reviewed by Andrea, Windsor Library

more happy(Mild spoilers in this one)

Aaron Soto is recovering from his father’s suicide and finds comfort in both his relationship with his girlfriend, Genevieve, and a new neighborhood friend, Thomas. Within the backdrop of this story is the futuristic Leteo Institute which is administering a trendy procedure that suppresses memories; it becomes more attractive to Aaron the more confusing his life becomes.

This book received a lot of praise; it garnered 3 starred reviews from the 6 review journals we look at, which is right in the wheelhouse of a medal. And with good reason. This book hits a lot of high points in regards to the criteria for a Printz award.

Its story is, in a word, messy. To say it’s contemporary realistic fiction would be inaccurate, but to call it sci-fi doesn’t make sense either. There’s a coming out story intertwined with the survivors of suicide story. The setting would be enough for one book, to say nothing of being just that in this one – the setting. Aaron’s story is all of these and Silvera combines them well. Think of all the stories that you are living right now; they are all happening simultaneously. So does Aaron’s.

The setting and his voice are excellent. His is the voice who is struggling with identity, friendship, family; he is, in a word, a teenager. He is sad and confused, betrayed and loved. It wasn’t overbearing or melodramatic. Aaron is thoughtful and introspective and the voice of the book mirrors that. With a plot as robust as this, Silvera does well to not overdue this element. The same can be said for the setting. A kid in the Bronx can be its own coming-of-age story. As can a kid in a house that is healing from a suicide. As can a kid coming out among a group of ultra masculine friends and their neighborhood. It’s a tribute to Silver’s writing to say that these are all woven into the storyline, that they affect and are affected by it, very well.

What gives me pause is the whole of the book. I’m looking over recent winners and see big, stylized, giant worldbuilding books that have a lot going for them in ways that add splash to their Printz appeal. Historical settings, dystopian themes, and structural choices are also at play for those recognized. The only one that stands out as a straightforward, well done story is Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley from 2012. In this way it reminds me of When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds; simple, honest, yet memorable gets the job done. I have hope that it will stand out for the Morris Award, given to debuts in YA, but have less confidence for the Printz. Here’s hoping I’m wrong.

The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Chris Riddell

Reviewed by Geri, Ridgefield Library

I fear my considerations for whether or not this book is a Printz contender are muddled.

A queen, who may or may not be Snow White (her name is never given, but in the past she had slept for a year and spent time among dwarves) hears about a princess who was placed under a sleeping spell. The spell appears to be spreading, plunging surrounding villages into sleep, so the queen sets out with three dwarf friends to see if the princess can be awakened and the spell broken before it reaches her kingdom. Since this is written by Gaiman, he twists the tale. Snow White is a tough, no nonsense queen who leaves her pretty, little prince husband at home. There is one person awake in the sleeping castle – a very elderly woman – but who is she exactly? And it is not giving too much away to say that the sleeper awakens, but that she is nothing like what the queen, or readers expect. Unlike Gaiman’s Newbery-winning Coraline, this is one of his fairy tale retellings (he likes them), so will the Printz committee look askance at that? That it is not 100% ‘new?’ Also, the book is riddled with Riddell’s gorgeous pen and ink drawings (see what I did there?). Again, this could go either way for the award. The committees have been rewarding graphic formats lately, but this is not a really a graphic novel, rather a heavily illustrated book. And it is stunning. The award focuses on the writing, but this whole package tells a story and it is amazing.

New version of old story, not quite a graphic novel but the illustrations work so well with the text they enhance the whole = muddled meditations.

(By the by, this is another title that I listened to first. And it is just how one would imagine a fairy tale brought to life would sound. Having a full cast helps you suspend disbelief. The narrator has a wry tone and a smart English accent. The performers use English accents for the most part – making the royal characters upper class, while workers in the pub are vaguely cockney.The dwarves are gloriously Scottish, which is somehow completely fitting.The performers’ voices give nothing away, letting surprises hit listeners in a good way. Music and sound effects immerse you in the tale. You will think you are seated in a pub, or walking through a stone-walled castle, or most disconcertingly, hearing maggots chomping nearby.)

 

The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma

Reviewed by Shannon, Windsor Library
As far as genre goes, this is probably not a book that I would have read on my own outside of this blog. But, because it got so many starred reviews I decided to give it a chance, and while I wouldn’t say that it’s one of my personal favorites I do think it has literary merit to make it eligible for the Printz award.

This book is being described as kind of a cross between Orange is the New Black and Black Swan, and while I agree with this comparison, it also is unique enough to stand on its own. The story is about three girls: Violet, a star ballerina about to leave her home town and follow her dreams to Julliard; Amber, an inmate at the Aurora Hills juvenile detention center; and Orianna, Violet’s best friend who is convicted of murdering two other girls in their ballet class and then also sent to Aurora Hills. Although the story is told from Violet and Amber’s alternating perspectives, Orianna is the key player here who connects them.

The narrative starts three years after Orianna has been convicted. It’s confusing and creepy, but in a good way as the reader tries to figure out what really happened between Violet, Orianna, and the two murdered girls.  It’s pretty clear from the beginning that Violet is not as innocent as she appears on the outside, so when we finally do get the whole story of what happened three years ago it’s not a huge shock, but there are still some surprises in the end. Along the way, we also hear Amber’s story about an abusive stepfather and apathetic mother, and how she would rather be locked up than out in the real world. This book touches on several big issues – abuse, bullying, guilt, justice—and it does so in a very interesting way with a balance between realistic and paranormal fiction so that it was unlike anything else I’ve read in YA. The Walls Around Us is unique, well written, and thought provoking, and I think it deserves a spot on the Printz list this year.

I Crawl Through It by A.S. King

Reviewed by Alyssa, Windsor Library

23203744Reading A.S. King’s newest release I Crawl Through It, seemed like a no brainer to me for Printz possibility. She received a 2011 honor for Please Ignore Vera Dietz and is highly acclaimed for her unique plots and writing style incorporating magical realism, and in this case, I Crawl Through It is being described as a surrealist novel.

King tells the story of four teenagers facing the stress of standardized testing and school bomb threats amongst date rape, and loss. Their coping methods? Stanzi, who feels split in two, wears her lab coat every day and finds comfort in dissecting frogs. Gustav is building an invisible helicopter in hopes of escape. China has swallowed herself. Lansdale lies compulsively, which causes her hair to grow like Pinocchio’s nose. It can’t say much more and do the book justice because of how unique A.S King’s delivery is.

The message about “crawling” through and coping with life as a teenager, if you can get at it through the confusion, is really incredible, but message doesn’t indicate quality for the Printz.

The Printz selectors hope the title will have a wide audience (not to be confused with a title being popular). For this title, I don’t think that’s the case. I can see the potential for people putting this book down after 50 pages or not even picking it up at all. It’s almost too far outside of the box.

I think I Crawl Through It is notable for its message, for its risk in writing style, and for #keepyaweird, so I’ll be interested in what kinds of other awards it will pop up for, but I’m not confident it will make the list for the Printz.

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

Reviewed by Shannon, Windsor Library

20560137I’m not even sure how to summarize this book because so much happens and it’s so good. It takes place in a fantasy world kind of like ancient Rome where there is a caste system. The story is told from two perspectives: Laia who is a Scholar slave and Elias who is a Mask soldier. Although they start out very separate from one another, their stories end up crossing paths more than once and getting entangled in multiple ways. Both of them have a potential love interest of their own, but they are also drawn to each other, which provided an interesting love square rather than the typical love triangle. Their relationships are all complex and honest and confusing. But, the story is so much more than romance. It’s about survival, family, friendship, magic, and bravery. I am definitely looking forward to the sequel in April.

As for the Printz award, I think this one could end up with an honor because it is so unique and so well written, and it was one that made me feel a lot of different emotions (always a good sign). Since it is high fantasy though I’m not sure that it can get the win.

Oribiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt

Reviewed by Sara, Simsbury Library

When Jack meets his new foster brother, Joseph, he knows that Joseph almost killed a teacher, was incarcerated, and has a daughter that he has never seen. Joseph is quiet and doesn’t like to be touched. He seems to connect only with the cows at his new farm home. He loves to read, is amazing at Geometry, and can climb the rope to the ceiling in thirty-eight seconds. Without using his legs.

Over time, he connects with Jack. They get in trouble together and decide to walk to school daily after the bus driver asks him if he is the kid who fathered a kid. We learn about his relationship with Maddie, a girl he would walk seven miles in the snow to see, and how she was sent away when her parents found out she was pregnant. Joseph was convinced to sign away his parental rights so baby Jupiter could be adopted. Pissed at the missed opportunity, Joseph’s father decides to hire a lawyer and demand money from Maddie’s parents for Joseph’s signature. When Joseph’s father shows up at the farm, drunk and dangerous, the story takes a sharp turn.

I fell in love with Schmidt’s stories when I read Okay for Now. Orbiting Jupiter is a very short book that shares only a brief time with Jack and Joseph. I feel like it was too short. I know there is literary purpose behind Schmidt’s decision to make a novel of this length. I know we are only supposed to know about Joseph’s time with Jack’s family and what happens with his daughter. Still, I want more. I felt like I was just getting to know the characters. Therefore, although it was very well written and emotionally touching, I can’t nominate this book for the Printz.