"Outside a dog a book is man's best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read!" -Groucho Marx========="The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." -Jane Austen========="I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book."-JK Rowling========"I spend a lot of time reading." -Bill Gates=========“Ahhh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life, really.” -Jacqueline Kelly=========

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Hunting for the next Printz book...three mini reviews

The Printz Award is the most prestigious book award for YA literature in the USA. Every year groups of readers try to ferret out the best YA books of the year on the hunt for the next winner. This year I am reading YA books which have earned at least three starred (mostly 4+) reviews from the likes of Kirkus Reviews, School Library Journal, Booklist, Publisher's Weekly, Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, and Horn Book. The following three books have all earned at least three starred reviews, yet I don't think any of them will earn the coveted Printz Award. Let me tell you why.

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
Summary: "A young teenager, Xiomara Batista, discovers slam poetry as a way to understand her mother's religion and of her own world." As Xiomara grows into a woman, her mother becomes more and more strict about where she can go and who she can talk to. Her mother wants her to get confirmed at church but mother's religion isn't how Xiomara (X) sees the world. She pours out her thoughts and feelings in a journal, many in poetic style. When she is asked to join the slam poetry club at school, X can't figure out how to attend the meetings after school without alerting her mother that she is skipping confirmation class. Everything seems to fall apart when her mother finds her journal and then her twin brother starts to have problems of his own.

Review: Written in verse, the whole book is one long poem about Xiomata's life. Unfortunately these poems are not special. I am of the opinion if a book is written in verse then the poems need to be special, otherwise the story should just be written in prose. Oddly the slam poems that she performs for the class and for competition aren't included. With all the poems, the ones that count aren't included.  Bloggers who listened to the audiobook version raved about the poetry and think that the book is worthy of Printz consideration. But others who read the print version agree with me that the book's poetry should really sparkle if it is to win an award. Perhaps Poet X will be a contestant for the Odyssey Award for best audiobook for children/teens.

I liked the story line and several of the characters were well flushed out, while others seemed flatter and one dimensional. The conflict: changing body, parental expectations, religious inflexibility all seem to be aspects that teens might be able to relate to.

Source: Print version from public library
Starred Reviews: HB, KR, PW, SLJ
My rating: 4 out of  5.

The Place Between Breaths by An Na
Summary: Grace's mother disappeared several years earlier after she suffered from schizophrenia. Her father, a medical researcher has never given up hope that he can find the cure for the disease which took his wife and Grace's mother away from them. He works night and day at the lab trying to recruit the brightest and best to work on finding a cure. He is so consumed by his work, his mission, he is often distant and distracted at home. Grace, who is also whip-smart, works at the same lab after school as a teen intern. She also tries to navigate life without a mother at school with few friends and fewer support systems. She also worries that she may fall victim to schizophrenia and the reader begins to wonder if she is right as we see her life begin to unravel.

Review: An Na won a Printz Award in 2002 for her novel, A Step From Heaven. She is Korean-American and she often encourages middle school Asian-Americans to harness their creativity and become artists. Her writing is spectacular. The theme of this book of living with mental illness is an important topic that crosses all cultural and ethnic divides. However, this is possibly the most confusing book I've ever read. It is not chronological in its presentation and I had the hardest time keeping track of the "wheres and whens." Also, as Grace's life seems to unravel so does the plot. I was so confused I contemplated abandoning the book altogether but finished it to find out if it finished up well.

I found myself comparing this book to Neal Shusterman's Challenger Deep (2016), which is also about what it is like living with schizophrenia. In both books the reader is given a inward focused porthole to see what the disease is like from the inside. The confusion the reader feels in probably minor compared to what the victim feels like. That said, I still think this book will not be seriously considered by the Printz committee this year. It's confusing presentation is a disqualifier, in my mind.

Source: Print version from public library
Starred Reviews: B, KR, PW, SLJ
My rating: 3 out of  5.

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
Summary: "Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic...But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope." Now Zélie has a chance to change everything and to bring magic back. But it means taking her life into her own hands and also controlling the magic within herself that she doesn't really understand.

Review: Adeyemi is a Nigerian-American writer who drew her inspiration from West African mythology and from Black Lives Matter. She wanted to write a story which drew on beautiful images of black people, rather than the negative ones we often see. "Examples of police brutality, over-incarceration, and over-policing of minority groups are seen consistently in the fictional land of Orïsha, reflecting current American society. Children of Blood and Bone is not a story through the eyes of children, but one that shows the forced maturation of children of color in a country that makes them fear the government power structure that should be protecting them." This fantasy tale has everything I like in a story...beautiful/colorful descriptions and imagery, action, and gutsy characters. The setting is exotic and romantic but also a little familiar. And it redirects the debate on a topic and reframes it to give the reader a new prospective on a current problem.

So why shouldn't this book win the Printz? Maybe it will. Of the the three I've reviewed here this one has the best chance. But it is the first book in a trilogy and ends on a cliff hanger. It also is already in the works for a movie. Often the most popular books of the year, aren't the ones that win the book awards. I say that then have only to look to last year when Strange the Dreamer won a Printz Honor and it is also a fantasy book, the first in a series, so it is certainly not a hard and fast rule. Either way, I do recommend this book for any teens/adults who enjoy reading fantasy and want to learn more about African mythology.

I listened to the audiobook and enjoyed it so much. I was thankful for the help the reader gave me with pronunciation of names and places.

Source: Audio version from Overdrive part of my public library system
Starred Reviews: B, KR, PW, SLJ
My rating: 5 out of  5.

Past Due Book Reviews

10 / 16 books. 62.25% done!


  1. Ooh, I hadn't heard of The Place Between Breaths. I'll have to look for it. :)

  2. I'm curious about audio books; I should try one some time!

    1. Yes, books set in fantasy lands or places with hard names to pronouce are good books to start with.

  3. I love reading your posts about Printz-worthy (or not) books and am so glad you are continuing even though you retired! I have Poet X on my list, but perhaps I need to listen to it rather than read it. It seems truly strange that a book about slam poetry wouldn't include the poems.

    1. I couldn't give up Printz after retirement. I gave to much of myself to it in my career. Though this year I am not sure I hae run across the actually winner, yet. Some years it is so obvious (think Going Bovine and I'll Give You the Sun) and other years, like this one, nothing has wiggled to the top yet.

  4. I actually listened to the audiobook of Poet X and thought it was well done. I loved the themes of body politics/changing, family, and religion, however, when I finished the book I was still left wanting more. I wanted to know more of her brother and her parents. I haven't read Na's latest book but thanks for the heads up on how confusing it is. I also felt disoriented with Challenger Deep too. I still need to read Children of Blood and Bone. I want to read it in print because the world is expansive and complex. I may have to order my own copy of the book. I have a strong feeling it will win the Morris award.


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