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YALSA Hub Challenge January 21, 2014

Posted by ccbooks in Book Reviews.
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Despite the fact that my interest in the ALA Youth Media awards borders on obsession, I’m not actually a librarian. I’m certified to work in K-12 school libraries in Virginia, but so far, I haven’t applied for any jobs because I’ve been doing other things. Still, I read all the online material posted by School Library Journal, and this month I’ve been adding YALSA’s blog The Hub to my daily to-read list. I decided to take on the challenge they posed of reading all the finalists for the William C Morris Award (given to a debut YA author) and the Excellence in Non-fiction Award before the YMAs are announced January 27. I’m in the middle of rehearsals and have nowhere near enough time to write full reviews, but here are my brief reactions to each book.

Excellence in Non-fiction Award finalists: 

Courage in Color: Great piece of history, but not compelling enough to really stick with me. The most interesting part for me was the balloon bombs sent by the Japanese, which made me wonder what other crazy things people did during wars that have been hidden from the public?

Imprisoned: I loved the book Farewell to Manzanar as a teen, so this was familiar territory to me. A fantastic overview that I hope LOTS of people read.

The President has Been Shot: Meh. It wasn’t bad. But I wasn’t blown away. It’s nowhere near as compelling as Kennedy Assassinated! The World Mourns: A Reporter’s Story, which was one of my favorites in high school.

The Nazi Hunters: THIS one was compelling. I knew the sketchiest of outlines of this part of history; it was told with precision, great pacing and just enough detail. Great to pair with fiction by Elizabeth Wein.

Go: A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design: This one was also exceedingly fun. If I had the time, I would love to work through this with an art class of kids and have them try all the challenges and project.

William C Morris Award finalists: 

Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets: It took me a REALLY long time to get into this. Partly it  felt too close to Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock, another book this year with a depressed teenage boy protagonist. In the end, I was engaged, but overall the characters didn’t really stick with me.

Belle Epoque: Similarly, I had just read The Painted Girls, an adult title set in the same time period so that may be why I found this kind of underdeveloped. It was fun, with a nice happy ending for everyone, but not thematically very deep, at least to me. And first person present tense narrators always bug me more in historical fiction for some reason.

In the Shadow of Blackbirds: Great historical detail in this one–I haven’t read so much about the 1918 flu epidemic since A Time of Angels, by Karen Hesse. Occasionally it felt like just a string of strange facts though, and the plot was a bit meandering for my taste. I did like the main character though, and I’m interested to see what else this author writes.

Charm & Strange: I read this one in one day at the bookstore and it’s a testament to the strength of the prose that I never got distracted by anything else. Once again, a damaged teenage boy narrator (yet again in present tense) who in some ways reminded me of A. S. King’s narrator in Reality Boy. Good pacing and tightly focused characterizations put this one at the top of my list.

Sex and Violence: Past tense narration, finally! The main character of this story (Evan), while just as damaged as the narrator of the previous title, has more of a sense of humor and a wider circle of people helping him. The book covers a much longer period of time too, which means he gets farther along in his healing process. I loved this one for the humor, the authentic teen dialogue and the nuanced handling of the themes which the title states so blatantly. Now to figure out how I’m going to sell it to people who won’t buy books with the word ‘sex’ in the title.

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