Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Ship Breaker

Bacigalupi, Paolo. Ship Breaker. New York: Little, Brown & Co., 2010. Print.


Breaking down ships ain't all that's breaking. Bones, backs and spirits follow closely behind in this hard life in a dystopian future where American reaps what they've sown, a catastrophic life for many. Nailer is looking for a way out.


In writing Science Fiction and Fantasy, the world-building is a huge part of it, and the creativity and amazing work done by Paolo Bacigalupi -- here in this dark, cruel dystopian world of America -- is so very visceral one can not help but think how much more it takes to craft a story such as this. 

Not only have you a quest -- the hero's journey -- but you have the character arc of a fully drawn protagonist, Nailer, along with great supporting characters -- Pima, Sadna, Tool, Lucky Girl -- a fantastically evil villain -- Richard Lopez (Nailer's own father), and one amazingly tale. This is so much harder to accomplish than realistic fiction, where the writer just draws from experience for the setting, people, etc. There is nowhere near the level of imagination and research in a realistic novel as there is in any good sci-fi/fantasy. I am in awe of writers like George R. R. Martin, Suzanne Collins, Veronica Roth, Christopher Paolini and J.K. Rowling. Building worlds that work, and are plausible -- with problems and conflicts that are inherent to that world, and are key to the working plot -- takes serious talent and a layered imagination! My hats off to Mr. Bacigalupi for joining their ranks.

Nailer is a teenage boy with problems far beyond anything a teenager today deals with. With the coastal area of futuristic America he lives in reduced to a third-world slum, Nailer works in what amounts to a back-breaking job on 'light crew' breaking down beached oil-burning freighters of the past just to survive. He lives in a shack with a horrifying father who drinks, gets high and gleefully beats him as if it were a game. Every day, Nailer risks his life for a job that he could lose at any second on the whim of an evil crew boss or an accident deep in the bowels of a ship's vent system. Most of his crew members and community are untrustworthy, but a select few luckily have his back. 
When a storm beaches one of the beautiful white clipper sailing boats Nailer only dreams about, he and trusted crew member Pima think their luck has changed and brought them the Lucky Strike salvage of their dreams. When they discover a rich "swank" girl alive in the wreck, it is a deal changer. Kill her? Ransom her? Help her? This moment is the moment that changes everything.

Genre: Dystopian/Science FictionFantasy, Coming of Age

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Alexie, Sherman. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.  New York: Little Brown & Co., 2007. Print.


Junior has to get off the rez if he doesn't want to die a drunk Indian. 

Reason for Nomination:

Every reason! Sherman Alexie is a master storyteller. It is funny, bittersweet, insightful, irreverent, and it's a damn good story. Plus, it has wonderful little cartoons added to give it that "graphic novel" element, but with really great writing and dialogue, something I think the graphic novels lack.

Arnold Spirit is Junior, a fourteen-year-old Spokane Reservation Indian trying to make it in a world that has tried to sequester and kill off all that's left of his own kind. But his own kind is doing a good job of hurrying their own demise by drinking themselves dead first. 

An intelligent, book-loving, thoughtful, sensitive geek, Junior is a keen observer of people and of life, and draws cartoons to touch on what is universal in humanity. As he says, a cartoon is understood by anyone, speaking any language. Every teen can relate to them, as well as Junior's search to find his place in an often hostile world.

Junior takes a long-view of life on the rez, and sees that his only chance to thrive -- hell, even survive -- is to make it on the outside, by first attending a white school. But that means being a traitor to his own kind, and worse yet, his best friend. His journey to find his identity in a white world without losing the parts of himself and his heritage that are Spokane Indian is a tightrope act with dizzying ramifications.

Genre Categories: Humor, Alex Award Winner, Adult-Market Author, Censored/Challenged, Multicultural, Coming-of-Age/Search for Identity, Problem Novel/Realistic/Edgy Fiction.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Book Thief

Zusak, Markus. The Book Thief. New York: Knopf, A Division of Random House Children's Books. 2006. Print.


How the lives of a teenage book thief, an accordian player, and a Jewish fist fighter intertwine during Nazi Germany,
as narrated by "Death." 

Justification for Award Rejection:

I do admit, it is a good story, the plot is good and interesting and I am even partial to historical fiction. But it doesn't deserve a Printz. Here is why:

To be Printz worthy, first and for most, it really should be YA, and it should be fantastic YA.
For a yes vote, there HAS to be emotional connection to the protagonist of the story. That protagonist must resonate with the reader and have a character arc, meaning they must start at the beginning one way, and by the end of it be forever altered, showing an arc of growth that the teen reader can not only relate to, but journey with themselves. For it to be really great, that journey must feel profound. 

I am asking all of you to get your inner teen lens on.

Historical fiction is a tough sell to teens, but can be done. The only way I've seen it ever work on a teen is when it is written in FIRST PERSON NARRATIVE, or a close Third Person. Today's teen will only crawl back in time if they can crawl into the teen's head that is telling the story. And the story better hold elements of coming-of-age that teen reader can fully relate to.

Let's view The Book Thief through that teen lens.

It is entirely plot driven, and it is very unclear who the protagonist is. The reader is in no way intimate with the protagonist.

As a device for writing in Limited Omniscient Point-of-View, the author chooses Death as the narrator. At first I thought this was going to be interesting, but we never learn a damn thing about Death as a character, but for the predictably trite snarky "grim reaper" comments. Now, teenagers are extremely interested in death, as proven by risk-taking behavior, fascination with all things vampire, etc. If I was going to write a YA book with Death as the one speaking, Death would be the PROTAGONIST. Because Death would be one interesting dude to talk to. 

A teen might ask Death:

How did you become Death? Is it just a job given you by God? Or given you by the Devil? Was it a punishment? Or do you enjoy doing it? How long have you been doing it? Who did it before you? Have you ever been talked out of taking somebody? If so, did you get in trouble for it? Were there fateful ramifications, like upsetting the time/space continuum? Have you ever gotten attached to a human? If so, why? Did you then spare them death because of that attachment? Do souls that kill others (as in Hitler) go straight to Hades, or are they serving a necessary job for other souls to grow, and so actually fulfill some weird type of villain casting in this 3D world we call reality? What happens to us when we do go with you, Death?

So, in my opinion, the "Death" narrating this story is so pathetically ill-used -- not fully drawn. Other than the couple times he interjects his snarky "death humor" his limited "2D voice" fades right into third person narrative -- SO DAMN IRRITATING.

Who then, is the PROTAGONIST? Is it Leisel? Hans? Max? Hans is the most sympathetic character; I liked him quite well. However, he was a middle aged man, with possibly a character arc, but this limited omniscient point of view left me, (and I strongly believe, any teen reader) very distanced from him as well as all of the characters, on an emotional level. Liesel shows no real character arc, and especially not one of YA. There is no character here for the teen to identify with, emotionally or otherwise.

What would this book have looked like if it was told in (changing) First-Person Narrative? If first Leisel told the story, then other chapters were given to Hans being the Protag, then Max? I think I would have loved to hear Rosa in first-person. However, a wise writing teacher once told my class sternly, if you have a character that you as a writer, are giving a tic, or a word/phrase that they like to say, to identify with them, you must use them SPARINGLY -- you need to realize that one "Dude" in dialogue counts for ten. The very same goes for "Saumensch" or "Saukerl." Rosa (and later even Liesel) whips these out so much that by the tenth time I read them I started to wonder if it was the first (or only) German word Zusak ever knew.

Speaking again of IRRITATING, there is nothing I hate more than a writer that is trying to hard with the prose. I'm all for lyrical writing, if it is well done, but if a writer is using descriptive words that not only do not apply, buy obscure meaning, that is just irritating as all hell and says to me they are trying way too hard. The same goes with using a word in the wrong tense. ARRRRGGGHHH!

Examples, so you don't think I'm full of crap:

"You will be caked in your own body." (Location 21) Caked? Really?

"A gang of tears trudged from her eyes." (location 252) Gang? Trudged? Trying too hard.

"Liesel was tempted to ask her the meaning, but it never eventuated." (location 284)
 Why would you use the word eventuated? Why?

". . . eyes were swampy and brown. Thick and heavy." (location 2478) When thinking of eyes, what do you think swampy means? Or thick?  Just annoying.

"the mayor's wife was sitting hunch-drunk over at the desk." (location 2813) 
I have no idea!

There were some verb-tense situations also, but I unfortunately did not highlight them. Believe me, they were there, and I think it was purposeful, like a "break the rules because I can" thing, just like sentence fragments are used, often to good effect. The verb-tense errors did not work. At all.

Finally, let's talk length. I'm all for a good fantasy or adult novel being 500 plus pages long, but if you are doing YA, and it is 400 or more pages, it damn well better be a fantasy. They let you have that many pages due to the necessary world-building that goes into fantasy/sci-fi. But at 576 pages, with no clear protagonist, this historical fiction was WAY TOO LONG for YA. I am an avid reader. I consume books as a favorite past-time. I love YA as a preferred genre to both read and write in. I was very excited to read this because it was so highly recommended by y'all. Instead of zooming through this, I was falling asleep every time I picked it up within 10 pages, so it took me forever to slog through it. That is why The Book Thief does not deserve our Mock Printz Award.

Genre: Printz, Historical Fiction, Coming of Age, Fantasy. 
(I challenge all of these but the Historical Fiction heading.)

If I Stay

Forman, Gayle. If I Stay. New York: Dutton Books, A member of the Penguin Group Inc., 2009. Print.


 It seems like Mia has everything. Cool parents, a best friend, a fantastic boyfriend, a shot at getting into Juilliard as a cellist.  If tragedy wiped out half of your equation, could you go on? Is the choice yours? Mia has to decide to stay in the world, or take her chances with the next.


Mia is a seventeen year old classical cellist with cool rockers for parents, a dedicated best friend, and an emo-core musician boyfriend on his way to stardom.
Yet still she doesn't feel like she "fits" into her life. Even her little brother is blond like her parents, but she's brunette. Her parents seemed to have a bit of difficulty adjusting to her classic geeky leanings. Mia wonders why Adam loves her, when he could have any one of all the cool rocker girls that follow him at his gigs, that can easily "rock-talk" when she can't. Adam's shows and his whole scene leaves Mia uncomfortable, even though she does loves him. 

Forman starts If I Stay with supporting characters that are so one-dimensional and saccharine, they don't ring true. The dialogue was at first completely irritating and predictable. Maybe Forman does this to make the protagonist Mia's life seem perfect and normal, so that when the tragedy hits it will have more of a jarring impact. The problem is, this beginning could cause a reader to stop before they even get to the good part. 

If the reader should persevere, the story will lose a few of the offending characters, and Mia's inner voice will find its depth and promise. Told almost entirely in backstory (exposition), If I Stay manages to stay in first person narrative by allowing Mia's consciousness, (or soul), to follow her people around, allowing her to eavesdrop on happenings outside of the view from where her physical body is stationed. Foreman breaks the "rules" with all this exposition, but does manage to drop in the shining moments of Mia's life's memories just when needed, allowing the reader to judge, along with Mia, whether she has enough to stay for.

From the YA perspective, I wonder what the story would be like if the protagonist had more problems in her life, like many teens really do, making the question of "staying" more of an unknown quantity. Mia isn't a girl with any kind of moral dilemma, not the kind some teens struggle with. Still it is a well-written story, and has a few moments of beautiful prose, and still manages to wring a few tears toward the end. I just would not log it as one of my favorites. 

Genre Category: Coming of Age/Search for Identity, Romance

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Tell The Wolves I'm Home

Brunt, Carol Rifka. Tell the Wolves I’m Home. New York: The Dial Press, imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., 2012. Print.


Only spend time with the best people. Words to live, (and die) by.

Justification for Mock-Printz Nomination:

We all live with the fear of not ever truly being known. Many of us live quietly on the fringes of our lives or at the edges of others’, so to find someone that gets you, really gets you -- on a soul to soul level -- is rare; it’s like being struck by lightning. This isn’t about romantic love, or parental love, but about soul love. 

It is also about loss, choice, and moral dilemma. About jealousy, regret, and letting go with dignity. About forgiveness, recognition, and the beauty that exists all around us in the small things. It is about acceptance, blindness, and fallibility.

To minimize this story by limiting it to it’s plot details would be like trying to reduce the ocean to letters on the periodic table. What I can say is that I forgot I was reading a story, written by a writer -- a work of fiction. For me, this book is alive and the people in it are real -- more raw, vivid and filled with human emotion than anyone I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. Because most of us will never let anyone climb in this close, give anyone this much honesty, this sharp of a shameless look inside, as seen here, from June. I had to flip around after reading this book to see if it was true, a memoir perhaps, based on the author’s life. Even if it is not, June, Finn, Greta and Toby live for me. Carol Rifka Brunt has done the impossible as a writer -- she has birthed real people, real souls -- with words from her own. And with that, they lift right off the page.

Genre Categories: ALEX Award Winner, Multicultural (LGBTQ), Realistic/”Edgy”/Problem novel, Romance. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Chbosky, Stephen. The Perks of Being a Wallflower. New York: Gallery Books, A Division of Simon & Schuster Inc. 1999. Print.


LIfe as a watcher has its perks, but to really live, Charlie is going to have to get involved.


In The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Charlie is a profound thinker with a deep-down wrong done to him by someone he loved greatly, and he struggles through his coming-of-age experience as mostly a passive observer of life, until things push him over the edge, and he must engage, with often explosive and reverberating results. His journey from passive to active participant can't begin until he stops running from this truth and reconciles the past with his present.

Chbosky uses the literary device of having his protagonist, Charlie, tell Perks through letters he writes addressed only to an anonymous "friend", but this is used to further enhance the sense of Charlie's passivity, by distancing the reader, making them another observer in Charlie's world.

Perks may have swearing, sex, homophobia, molestation, abortion, suicide, depression, anxiety, drinking, drugs, etc., which I'm sure garnered it attention from crazed censors who think monkey see monkey do, but it was and still is a highly accurate portrayal of the teen experience. It was also honest, potent, relevant, and profoundly bittersweet, and Charlie's words express what every teen struggles with: being alone, connecting with others, and finding strength to go on in a world that doesn't always have a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Genre: Challenged, Censored and Banned Books, Realistic/"Edgy"/Problem Novel, Multicultural (LGBTQ), Coming-of-Age/Search for Identity.