Tag Archives: Authors who are no strangers to nominations (previously nominated writers)

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.)

 

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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.

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!

West of the Moon by Margi Preus

Reviewed for this blog by Rebecca, Case Memorial LibraryWest of the Moon

A dazzling blend of historical fiction, magic realism, and Norwegian folktales, West of the Moon is the story of Astri, a 13-year-old goat girl with loads of gumption. After her mother dies and her father leaves for America, Astri is sold by her greedy aunt and uncle to the loathsome goatherd, Svaalberd, separating her from her beloved younger sister Greta. Threatened with a trip to the altar, she decides it is time to take matters into her own hands. Along with the mysterious “Spinning Girl,” she escapes Svaalberd, rescues her sister, and makes her way to America.

Astri is a fierce and tremendously likeable character, despite the fact that she lies, cheat, steals, and maims to get to America. In fact, none of the characters are wholly good or bad (even the nasty, lecherous goatherd!) and there is a constant questioning of morality that ties in nicely with the fairytale aspect.

This story is less than 200 pages but it feels much longer – in a good way – due to the vivid sensory details and fast-paced action. Preus effortlessly weaves together Astri’s fictional adventure with folktales as well stories from her own great-great grandmother’s diary entries. The result is a rich, engaging, and suspenseful story from start to finish.

Overall, I think this is a beautiful book worthy of all five stars it’s received. However, aside from a very brief threat at sexual violence, I think the subject matter and voice skew too young to be considered a Printz contender. I’m willing to bet this will receive some Newbery attention.

The True Tale of the Monster Billy Dean by David Almond, Plus a Word about Publishing Dates

Reviewed for this blog by Andrea, Windsor Library

Ya know how the good movies always come out toward the end of the year? And movie production companies save them like the treats they are until the summer blockbusters have long since fizzled out?

I got to thinking about what the potential implication of this might be when I started reflecting on the odds of David Almond’s startling new novel, The True Tale of the Monster Billy Dean, published in January. Not so much that publishers might save their critically acclaimed books for later in the year but that perhaps these later-published get recognized more only because they are at the forefront of a committee member’s thoughts due to exposure.

So, I did some (and sometimes deep-sea) researching and a lot of scribbling and fact-checking, what with months in which award-winning books were published and I came up with… absolutely no conclusion. There was no month (or even season) that I could point to and say, “That’s the magic time. There’s our moneymaker.” An obvious point would be that OF COURSE I wouldn’t think the committee members would be so easily fooled into thinking a title is more deserving than another because of when it was released, only that there might be some connection between the awareness of a book and its staying power.

Moving on to Billy Dean.

Billy Dean grows up in a small, English town decimated by war and neglected by the world so that he walks over rubble and destruction with barely a thought. His young mother keeps him a secret (think Emma Donoghue’s Room) where his father, who is shrouded in mystery for the first part of the novel, occasionally visits with declarations of love amid shame. One of his mother’s hairdressing clients discovers that Billy has the ability to heal and uses it to her advantage; whether it’s real or an illusion is Billy’s internal struggle.

Billy’s voice in this book is the most prominent element of this title. His writing skills are abysmal (think Flowers for Algernon); the spelling in particular is like reading a different language whose only guiding rule is phonics. It makes for an intense mental exercise. But it also gives Billy incredible depth as a character, another one of its shining pieces. There are very few characters – I can think of 6 – that play any kind of role in the narrative, but they are all unique, layered, and unusual. Lastly, in combination with these, I’d like to say the setting is indescribable, but when talking about a story, thiswould be a bad thing. These people are living in a post-war community that the rest of the world has forgotten. Clouded in dust and debris, constantly overcast, and above all, quiet. Quiet like the surrounding, claustrophobic mess is absorbing any sound that might squeak out.

Billy Dean is dark, melancholy, haunting. And I’m putting a lot of weight behind it. Like, heavy, medal weight.

Complicit by Stephanie Kuehn

Reviewed for this blog by Sara, Simsbury Library

Complicit will keep you on the edge of your seat and will keep your brain always questioning what’s going on…. You may not know until the very end!

Jamie Henry breathed a sigh of relief when his sister, Cate, went to juvenile detention for burning down a barn. A barn with horses and a girl, Sarah, in it. Cate was known for her “bad ways” and Jamie felt safe for two years. Now Cate is out and wants to see him. She wants him to know the truth.

Honestly, I still don’t quite know what went on in this book. It is a genre that I don’t read often. The quick chapters kept you going and I did not want to put it down. I was constantly asking myself “what just happened? And why?”

Stephanie Kuehn won the Morris Award for her debut Charm & Strange. Can Complicit be an award winner? Does it have what it takes to win the Printz? Maybe. I wasn’t blown away by this book (even though I was sucked in) but it has great criteria. The characters were well developed and I immediately knew Jamie Henry and could feel his panic attacks when they hit him. The voice of the story led you to believe that this thriller is taking you for a ride, mostly with the character Cate. I am sure that the regular psychological thriller readers would recognize more of the elements of the story.