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Medal Mania: Printz Edition December 12, 2012

Posted by ccbooks in Analysis.
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The year is rapidly speeding toward December 31 and more to the point, toward January 28 and the ALA Youth Media Awards. There continues to be a robust debate over on Someday My Printz Will Come about the most distinguished YA book of the year, but as I look at my own preferences, I find that they fall into several distinct categories.

Books I Liked But Not Quite Enough: 

The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan

This take on the selkie legend had beautiful language and interesting shifts between narrators. My one big problem with it was that we never got to hear the voice of the selkie women themselves. Their story was told entirely through the eyes of others, which was probably partly the point, but it still disappointed me.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Ana is going to kill me. And yes, I loved this book, although looking back, I can’t remember if I actually cried while reading it. There was much in Hazel Grace’s thinking, feeling and general approach to life that I could identify with. But in the end Augustus seemed a little too perfect to me. And the plotting felt like it got a little wonky once they got to Amsterdam, which is probably partly why I haven’t re-read it very much.

Just to be clear, I would be perfectly happy to see either of these win a shiny sticker in January. They just aren’t in my personal top five.

Top Five (Supernatural group):

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

No-nonsense heroine from a family of psychics joins a band of private school boys to search for mystical lines of energy and a sleeping Welsh king. Stiefvater explores themes of friendship, choices and privilege in this story, set in the tiny Virginia town of Henrietta. My only real issue with this book was that, as the first in a series, it left too many plot threads hanging for my taste. I don’t think it’s quite as accomplished as The Scorpio Races, which is a stand alone (see my thoughts on that one from last year) but still a fantastic read.

The Diviners by Libba Bray

Psychics were a theme this year, it seems.  Bray leads the reader through a mystery of dreams that foretell disaster and teenagers who can see the past through objects, all set in the frantic, glamorous and often violent world of New York City in the 1920’s. I thought the biggest strength of this book was the variety of characters, and how Bray made each one compelling in a different way. However, that wide scope was also a weakness, as it sometimes felt like the book had a little too much stuffed into it: too much description, too many mystical happenings, too many murders. Still, after last years’s Beauty Queens and then this, there is no doubt that Bray is now an author whose books I look forward to eagerly.

Top Five (Personal Journeys):

Personal Effects by E. M. Kokie

This is the dark horse, the one I feel has been overlooked. I picked it up off our ARC shelf, liked the cover summary and then once I started the first page, got completely hooked. Matt is not always a likeable character. He struggles with his family history, the weight of other people’s expectations and his own prejudices. And yes, the (mostly) happy ending was perhaps a bit unrealistic, but I felt it was totally earned. The strong voice is what sets this one apart from nearly everything else I’ve read this year. The Morris committee dropped the ball, but I’ve got my fingers crossed that this book will end up with a sticker on January 28.

Ask the Passengers by A. S. King

Here’s another book with a character struggling with identity and the weight of expectations. Unlike the last title, this didn’t come out of left field. I loved both Please Ignore Vera Dietz and Everybody Sees the Ants, which is partly why I’m so impressed that King has come up with another character I love and another surreal device (this time it involves airplanes) that emphasizes her themes perfectly. If you like stories with humor, friendship and characters dealing with the difficulties of self-knowledge, look for this book.

My #1 Pick: 

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

It’s not perfect, by any means. Other readers have brought up its unrealistic aspects and miracle moments that are just too good to be true, and I completely acknowledge those flaws. However, no other book this year has stuck with me like this one, and I definitely haven’t re-read anything else so many times. The central question of the book is terrifyingly simple: Will the two main characters survive? With one shot down behind enemy lines and the other imprisoned, the odds aren’t good. Despite this, Verity and Maddie fight the battle to hold onto hope and their sanity in spite of immense challenges. For its themes of choices, friendship and above all, courage; for its meticulous setting; for the literary references that made me laugh and cry, this one gets my vote as the best YA book of the year. Read it!

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