Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon

Reviewed by Shannon, Windsor Library

18692431I had high expectations for this book which may be why I ended up feeling a little disappointed. Madeline is allergic to everything and she has spent her whole life inside her house because of SCID (severe combined immunodeficiency). Most of the time she is fine with living inside, but when Olly and his family move into the house next door she starts to want more for herself and her life. Madeline is a great character, and her and Olly’s romance is very sweet and enjoyable to read.  Yoon did a nice job of playing with the format of the story by including some illustrations, emails, and IM conversations. But, I would have liked to see more development with some of the secondary characters and their stories and I felt like there were some holes in the main storyline. Olly could have even been developed more, and I may have liked the book better if it had alternated between their two perspectives. There is also a big plot twist toward the end that I predicted very early on, and I hate when books don’t surprise me (which is why I had the VERY unpopular opinion of not liking TFIOS that much).

One thing I really liked was that Madeline was both Asian and African American so I thought it was really refreshing to have a diverse character like that be the central figure in a mainstream YA romance. Overall, I really liked the book, but the writing was not the best and I don’t think it deserves Printz attention.


Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

Reviewed by Sara, Simsbury Library

Sixteen-year-old and not-so-openly gay Simon meets Blue by responding to a post on the school’s “anonymous confessions” Tumblr. They start an email relationship that Martin accidentally reads on the shared library computers. Martin screenshots the messages and blackmails Simon into including him in events so he can be closer to Simon’s friend Abby.

Simon can be real with Blue. They openly share their feelings about being gay, how and when they want to come out to their friends and family, which we get to experience as readers, and other shared happenings at school. They attend the same school but don’t know each other. We read the story through Simon’s narrative and email conversations between him and Blue. They fall in love as time goes on and Simon wants to meet. Thanks to Martin’s public outing of Simon, Blue now knows who he is, but Simon only has guesses as to who Blue can be. Then he finds out exactly who Blue is…

This book was hilarious and adorable! I would recommend it to any teen that loved Better Nate Than Ever. Filled with friend drama, sibling bonds, and finding that first true love. Can it win the Printz? Maybe. I kept forgetting to pay attention to how well the author wrote because I was too involved in Simon’s story. Can it win the Morris Debut Award? Yes! I’m going to go about nominating it right now… Who knows. The book I recommended last year at this blog received the same award! Go Gabi!


Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella

Reviewed by Melissa, Meriden Library

23305614Audrey is recovering from an intense bullying incident that has left with her paralyzing anxiety. At the start of the story she has transferred out of her current school and is waiting to start up at a new school once the school year begins. In the meantime, she never leaves the house, except to visit her therapist, and always wears sunglasses so she doesn’t have to make eye contact with anybody, not even her family. At the same time, her brother Frank and his friend Linus are training for an online video game tournament. During one of their gaming sessions Linus bumps into Audrey and she has a panic attack due to the unexpected interaction. Afterwards, he apologizes by way of a note he passes to her and from there they slowly become friends. They continue writing notes to each other and eventually she becomes comfortable enough with him that they can be in the same room, then sit next to each other and eventually they meet up in a coffee shop for their first date.

The reader never gets the full story of what happened to Audrey, which at first I found kind of off putting, but then I realized this helped me stay in the moment and focus on Audrey in her current state. When she does finally get to meet one of her bullies, the outcome is completely unexpected but very empowering.

Finding Audrey reads very much like a Louise Rennison novel, which I always love. It has all the humor, wit and awkward moments you could ask for with a few laugh out loud moments thrown in. In addition to being funny, it does a great job of humanizing people who live with extreme social anxiety. Audrey gets better over the course of the story but it’s a series of ups and downs. The way Kinsella writes about Audrey’s anxiety makes it relatable and gave me new perspective on how people cope.

I’m always extra critical of adult authors who transition to teen novels because I tend to think they don’t write teenagers very convincingly and the writing feels dumbed down, but Kinsella does a great job. Not only does Audrey feel like a real teenager, but Kinsella adds just enough details that all the characters feel like real people without distracting from Audrey’s story.

This is a great story with a lot going for it but probably not a Printz winner. Maybe it could be an honor book for the way it deals with social anxiety and bullying but I wouldn’t bet on it.

The Alex Crow by Andrew Smith

Reviewed by Geri, Ridgefield Library

Smith tells four seemingly disparate stories in this book, but close reading reveals the connections between them. Ariel’s story is of surviving the bombing of his home and his journey to America as a war refugee. There is the tale of the nineteenth century Arctic expedition ship The Alex Crow, and of what her crew found in the ice. There are the travails of Leonard Fountain, an insane man driving across the American South on a mission of destruction. And there is the story of Ariel, now in America, his new brother Max, and their fellow campers at Camp Merrie Seymour for Boys; and how they are all enduring the oddest camp experience ever.

The four different stories, each with multiple characters, taking place in diverse locations and at different times, with the narrative jumping between them, will keep readers on their toes. It is almost disorientating at times, keeping up with all the wonderful, fascinating characters and their trials and tribulations. The summer camp is populated with various teen boys, twenty-something counselors (who don’t want to be there any more than the kids) and slightly askew adults. The sections on the ship The Alex Crow are written as the formal journal of an explorer. And the people Ariel meets on his way out of his homeland are as richly described as all the people who live in Leonard Fountain’s head. These characters are frightened, bold, cocky, confident, confused, charming, formal, warm, and dangerous; in other words, for all of the weirdness in this tale, the characters are real. Human. With enormous flaws and enormous hearts (man that was trite, but you know what I mean) and real personalities that make you want to keep reading. Smith’s Grasshopper Jungle was a Printz honor book this year, so maybe the odds are against a repeat? But Smith (alongside authors such as A.S. King and John Corey Whaley) wants to “Keep YA Weird” a sentiment that seems to resound with readers. The Alex Crow is weird. And thought provoking. And Printz worthy.

(Full disclosure, I both read and listened to The Alex Crow and I highly recommend the audiobook. Narrator Macleod Andrews is aces. His interpretation of Smith’s story is a pleasure to immerse oneself in. He immediately grounds the listener in the proper place in the book. He creates unique voices for each section, narrating with a formal British accent for the arctic expedition, multiple voices that Leonard Fountain hears in his head, and subtly changing Ariel’s accent when he’s in his own country or has been in America for a little while. It is reminiscent of a radio drama, but then again it isn’t – there are no sound effects or multiple narrators –  but somehow the four stories are each so unique that it is as if you are hearing four different yet related audiobooks. Andrews does amazing verbal gymnastics here, and he has such a rich text to work from.)

Stand-off by Andrew Smith

Reviewed by Sara, Simsbury Library

20662291Stand-Off, the sequel to Winger, will not disappoint those waiting. Winger, a 2016 Nutmeg Book Award Nominee, tells the “exceptional balance of hilarious and heartbreaking” story of Ryan Dean West and his junior year at Pine Mountain Academy. Stand-Off shares Ryan Dean’s senior year. He has a new roommate, Sam Abernathy, whom he calls “The Abernathy,” who happens to be a 12 year old freshman. Sam has claustrophobia and sleeps with either the window open (yes, even with the chilly almost-winter breeze) or the door open to the hall (yes, so everyone that passes by can see Ryan Dean changing his clothes).

Ryan Dean meets Nico, Joey’s brother (his best friend from last year). Nico is considering going to Pine Mountain but backs out feeling that he is not emotionally ready. Ryan Dean is determined to be his friend and finally convinces Nico to hang out with him and talk about Joey.

Ryan Dean is dealing with last year’s events by sleeping poorly, having panic attacks, and drawing Nate (the Next Accidental Terrible Experience). Stand-Off is his story of how he survived The Abernathy, accomplished having sex with his girlfriend Annie, and discovered how to move forward with living. He will make you laugh, cry, and re-consider nicknames forever more. (Full disclosure: I did cry during Winger but this is a bit less emotional. Ryan Dean would totally forgive you five out of five tissues if you gave a good cry out of sadness, excitement, or relief.)

How does a sequel win the Printz? It has been done a couple of times. As I mentioned previously, I have concerns about a sequel winning the Printz. Does Stand-Off have the quality of winning the Printz? Yes. Does it stand alone from Winger? Kind of but not really. It mentions last year’s happenings but I would be confused about it if I hadn’t read Winger.

Andrew Smith has really shocked my world of YA literature. He has recently published a variety of unique stories. He won Printz Honor last year for Grasshopper Jungle and 100 Sideway Miles was also discussed last year. I can’t wait to read everything he has to offer! As this is the third, and maybe not last, review of Smith’s work here in two years, I think my desire will be filled easily. Please keep writing Mr. Smith!

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

Reviewed for this blog by Geri, Ridgefield Library

All the Bright PlacesThis book came out waaaay back in January; will the Printz committee even remember to consider it?  I hope so. It’s not often you are introduced to your main characters while both are on a bell tower, contemplating suicide. But it’s also not often that a book captures the many angles of depression.

Last spring, Violet survived the car accident that killed her sister. She has been barely getting by, and now, on the first day of the new term, she has climbed the bell tower at school and is thinking of throwing herself off. Theodore Finch has been known as Freak for the past four years. He has very few friends, seems to reinvent himself every couple of months, and has a habit of disappearing for days at a time. Finch finds himself next to Violet on top of the bell tower and manages to talk her down. Saving Violet seems to have given Finch a new lease on life. He woos her, gets assigned to be her partner for a class project, and slowly brings Violet back to life. But this doesn’t mean his own demons have been defeated.

Both Violet and Finch alternate ( by chapters) telling their story. Finch is by turns warm, relatable, and sympathetic and then suddenly, manic. Violet is sharp and tightly wound, only becoming loose when she’s with Finch. Although very bad things happen, the story is not without humor and this lightens the mood from time to time. Niven deftly portrays all the nuances of depression while simultaneously crafting a romance and a school-story-inflected coming of age tale. She’s a very good writer. This is an emotional but never sentimental heart-wrenching book which is up for the Guardian’s Children’s Book Prize and is also, I hope, worthy of some Printz love.

Honor Girl by Maggie Thrash

Reviewed by Sara, Simsbury Library

Honor Girl: A Graphic Memoir

As I was reading this graphic memoir, I realized that I am probably not qualified to really review a graphic book. However, I love graphic stories and found Honor Girl to be an important book for our teens of today.

Maggie, aged 15, is attending girls camp in 2000. She crushes on Erin, 19, who is a camp counselor and openly gay. When Maggie discovers she likes Erin, and in turn realizing that she is gay as well, she only tells a few people at camp. Of course word gets around. She gets spoken to about “don’t ask, don’t tell” and that girls camp is really not a place for girls like her. She gets close to Erin at times but it doesn’t get past holding hands.

Outside of the romance, camp is filled with a lot of fun and interesting stories for Maggie. These include sleepwalking in the middle of the night, rifle practice and awards, as well as getting stranded during a flood that prevented them from going back across the river to camp.

Can a graphic book win the Printz? American Born Chinese won in 2007 and This One Summer won an honor last year. Thrash writes a honest, forthcoming story about what it was like, for one summer at least, to grow up a gay teen in a place that does not accept gays. The story itself draws you into Maggie’s world of summer camp and you want to know the outcome. The drawings are very simple. I had a hard time a few times distinguishing one blond girl from another. I felt that the drawings were complete and easy to understand. Thrash has a memoir that will reach today’s teens, especially speaking to those who are questioning their sexuality or have a friend doing so. Can it win the Printz? Again, I think there is a lot of competition but I wouldn’t put it past an Honor.

On a fun note, it was cool to discover that Maggie and I were the same age in the story (being 15 in the year 2000) and in love with Backstreet Boys. If you happened to have loved boy bands in the 90s, early 2000s, you should check out Maggie’s impersonation of Kevin Richardson.