Printz Picks January 20, 2012Posted by ccbooks in Book Reviews.
The ALA Midwinter Awards are just a few days away. I almost never really make a prediction for the Newbery or Caldecott (there’s just too much out there) but I did correctly predict the Printz last year, so here are my two picks–books that I believe both could, and should, win the Michael J. Printz Award for Young Adult Literature.
Stiefvater has done something that I thought was pretty much impossible: made me appreciate the proliferation of paranormal romance books. Because really, how else would a story about killer fairy horses have gotten published? Vampires don’t really do it for me. But a strong, silent guy who loves nothing except his murderous red fairy horse? Yes, please!
The Scorpio Races tells the tale of two teenagers who are both desperate to win the annual Scorpio Race, when the islanders of Thisby catch and race the capaill uisce–fairy horses that swim out of the sea and prey on humans and livestock alike. Puck Connelly made an impetuous decision to race while Sean Kendrick takes it as a given, but each character approaches the challenge with a fierce dedication that draws the reader in. Secondary characters are just as finely drawn and by the end of the book, we feel we have known the citizens of this island all our lives.
Thisby is an island both magical and depressing, and it’s to Stiefvater’s credit that she has created a world that is nowhere near paradise, yet was fascinating to such an extent that I became disappointed when I finished the book and remembered that it wasn’t real, and I couldn’t go visit myself. Stiefvater spends as much time on the romantic beaches and lonely cliffs as on the bustle and tackiness of the parades and stalls all hoping to squeeze as much money out of tourists as possible. But looking through Puck and Sean’s eyes, it is all too clear why they stay here. As Puck says at one point “This island is a cunning and secretive thing. I can’t say what it has planned for me.”
There has been some debate about whether or not this is a young adult book. It follows a similar pattern to many adult books, where one protagonist is a teenager and it follows their particular awakening (in this case, the protagonist is Clem Ackroyd and his awakening is both sexual and political, in the sense that he wakes up to the ways in which nations and wars affect each other). However, Candlewick (LOVE that publisher) has published it as a young adult book. And I can only hope that as a result, teens will read it and contemplate their own families, loves and place in the world and in history.
Life tells the story of three generations in the Ackroyd family: Win, who loses her husband during the First World War, her daughter Ruth, who in the book’s marvelous opening sequence gives birth as an air fight happens overhead, and Clem, who lives a life far beyond anything imagined by his ancestors. One of the great strengths of the book is its depiction of the strict class hierarchies of Britain, even after the Second World War, as people moved away from their families and took up new jobs and new lives. The gap between generations widened, as shown in the character of Win, who, when a telephone comes to the house “..refused, absolutely, ever, to have anything to do with it. If it rang when she was alone in the house, she’d cover her ears and shout, “He ent here!” at it.” Peet excels at finding these moments of sadness and comedy in everyday life, as the world changes. Other reviewers have commented on the slow pacing of the book, but I loved the way Peet broke up the story of Clem and Frankie by bringing in sections of historical fact about the movements of the Americans and Soviets during the Cuban Missle Crisis. While at times it was hard to follow the many different names, places and dates, the contrast between the activities of heads of state and ordinary people in the countryside of England was poignant and moving.
Will either of these books win the Printz? Or will the prize go to Franny Billingsley’s Chime (upcoming post on this book) which everyone else in the world seems to love except me? Many major news outlets cover the Newbery and Cadecott Medals, but the Printz tends to fly a bit more under the radar, so if you’re interested, check out www.ala.org on January 23rd to find out the winner!