Tag Archives: 2014 debuts – Morris maybes?

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.

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.

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!

 

The Accident Season by Moira Fowley-Doyle

 

Reviewed by Amy, Ferguson Library

acciendtThis lyrical, mysterious novel walks the line between true paranormal and magical realism, as it brings up questions of love, safety, and what is real.  Every year Cara, her sister Alice, her ex-step-brother Sam and her mom endure the accident season.  A month in which accidents happen to all of them.  Accidents that include everything from cuts and bruises to broken bones, concussions, near drownings and, during the worst years, death.  As the story unfolds, Cara searches for Elsie, a girl who she hopes has answers for her.  Elsie is the girl who has no true friends.  But for some reason, Elsie has appeared in all of Cara’s pictures, and when Cara decides to confront her, it turns out she has disappeared, and no one even seems worried.  In fact no one seems to even really remember she exists.  Not even the teachers.

Fowley-Doyle allows the story to unfold slowly, as Cara uncovers secret upon secret about the past, about her family, and even about herself.  The writing is powerful and lyrical and unusually polished for a first novel.  Each chapter draws the reader further into Cara’s eerie and uncanny world, as the story’s layers first pile up and then slowly peel back.

Somehow, the story seems to move at both a leisurely pace and at breakneck speed at the same time, immersing the reader in this strange world, and masterfully building suspense, making the book difficult to put down.

Fowley-Doyle neatly walks the wire between creating an overly neat ending and leaving the reader without enough answers.  The ending is emotionally satisfying, yet some questions are left unanswered, leaving the reader to walk away pondering what just happened.

This isn’t to say the book is perfect.  Putting aside the suspension of disbelief needed for the excessive paranormal elements, there is the practical issue that it seems impossible that no one would have alerted the authorities about the numerous injuries and raised questions of abuse.  The magical realism also sometimes becomes overly immersive, threatening to overwhelm the story itself, and while Cara maintains that she has an overly active imagination, and perhaps she imagined some of what happens, it sometimes feels as if the author isn’t sure what to believe either.  Additionally, some of the supernatural elements feel somewhat superfluous or overly symbolic, as if the author was attempting to do too much.  And finally, several of the secondary characters are thinly drawn ciphers, primarily there to drive the plot.

However, the story is written as if the only people important in Cara’s life are her small circle, and as it is written in first person, the lack of development of secondary characters could, in fact, be seen as a purposeful reflection of the way Cara sees (or doesn’t see, as it were) them, and not a fault of the writing.  Ultimately, the intensity and lyricism of the writing, the general tightness of the plot, the careful unfolding of the story and back-story, the well-developed and complex main characters, the powerful tension as the plot unfolds, and the unique premise come together to create a fascinating and unforgettable whole that is well worth reading, and certainly hard to put down.

Whether or not it will stand up to other titles this year in the awards forum is a good question.  Nevertheless, it is a fascinating and different read, and well worth picking up.  A great story from a new author worth watching.

The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy by Kate Hattemer

Reviewed for this blog by Andrea, Windsor Library

Selwyn Academy has the unique privilege of hosting an arts-based competitive reality TV show in which high school students compete based on their preferred medium. Ethan and company decide to buck the system and undermine this school takeover by guerrilla publishing an epic poem making fun of and demanding attention from the show runners and the audience at large.

This title has lots of attractive qualities. Zany plot that’s not quite believable but tons of fun to read, entertaining and genuine relationships between the teenagers, and plenty of sweet, awkward, haven’t-we-all-been-there moments that add a charming quality to the reading experience. It fits in well with other contemporary, realistic, amusing high school fiction.

When I think about general qualities of this one, I think it fits in well with some of the other titles that have been recognized in the past. Vera Dietz, Frankie Landau, Why We Broke Up all come to mind when thinking about the realm in which Vigilante Poets exists and yet these other titles also embody bigger ideas and opinions than this one. This book is snarky and fun. But I don’t think it has the staying power to be considered award-worthy.

Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero

Reviewed for this blog by Sara, Simsbury Library

Told in diary style, Gabi, A Girl in Pieces, is a story you won’t forget. Gabi’s dad is a meth addict, her best friend Cindy is going to be a teenage mom, and her other best friend, Sebastian, is coming out to his family. Gabi is fat and finds emotional comfort in foods. Filled with realistic teenage drama (but not the cheesy kind), Gabi’s story tells one of hope and how she discovers her inner self through creative writing and poetry.

Gabi wants to go to college. Not just any college but Berkeley. She wants to get out of her town and live someplace where she can leave this all behind. Filled with even more drama than described above, including death of a loved one, her mother getting pregnant, falling in love for the first time, and her aunt telling her she will go to hell if she does anything “bad”… Gabi’s story is one to take to heart and one that will lift you up!

I LOVED this book and just finished nominating it for the Morris Award. This story really drew me into Gabi’s life. She tells the story so personally. Since it is told in diary format, we really get to know what she is thinking. It reminded me of how I wrote in a diary when I was a teenager – no holding back! Gabi is also hilarious and there were many times I was laughing out loud.

Could it win the Printz? I think it hits many of the criteria. The story is solid and the themes are real. This is a teenage girl’s life living in Southern California. These are her family members and friends. Yes, teens get pregnant by not being careful (or other reasons, not spoiling). Yes, parents can be addicted to drugs. All believable stuff. Gabi’s voice is honest, full of life, and doesn’t stray from her personality. Supporting characters were also fully developed and I would love to see how they all end up (a sequel?) I truly enjoy the diary format, I always have.

I cannot wait to see what else Quintero writes!