Honor the Books!

16 03 2010

Since I have no literature class this semester and no teens recommending books to me and no paying work to speak of, I am making my own reading lists these days.  Sure, it’s fun!  But it’s weird.  I can do things like read all the Printz honor books I can get my hands on.  Or make a reading list of the books involved in School Library Journal’s Battle of the Books.  It’s freeing, in some senses, but it’s also much more literary than my usual reading choices.  These are both prizes selected by adults without teen input or consideration of teen opinion.  Then again, I also get to decide if I agree with the judges, which is fabulous fun!  My next post will discuss SLJ’s BoB but now, I’m talking Printz.  Oh, and there will be slight spoilers.

Going Bovine by Libba Bray

That’s the Printz winner, Going Bovine by Libba Bray, which I had the pleasure of reading in the summer of 2009 in the form of an ARC.  I hate to say this but I didn’t love it.  I liked it, I thought the story was okay and great for teens.  But I felt that Cameron’s whole imagined world was see-through.  The conceit is easy to spot.  And their trip to meet the devil, etc.?  Well, that’s a blues story, told extremely well, but still an old old story re-interpreted for teens.  Maybe if I weren’t such a blues fan, I might have liked the retelling better.  It was also incredibly long and drawn out.  Don’t get me wrong, I thought it was a good book, especially for emo boys.  Now, had Cameron turned into a cow rather than just having mad cow disease, I would have totally been there.

As it was, it totally surprised me that this book won the Printz.  I thought that teens would like this book better than adults because the story might feel newer to them.  I was apparently wrong.  It happens.  I also haven’t spoken to any teens who have read the book, so I don’t actually know how they feel about it.

That surprise is one of the reasons I felt like I had to read the honor books.  To compare.  And because I had heard some really good things.  So far I’ve made it through two:

That’s The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey, a book with an incredibly old-school monster book feel and the vocabulary to boot.  It’s billed as a horror book, which is not really up my alley.  Fortunately, most of the horror was through gruesome scenes of fantastical monsters tearing people apart.  Or suspense before they did.  Suffice it to say, it didn’t keep me up at night which, in my book, is just fine!  I don’t need any monster nightmares, thank you.   But teens might really want to be scared and I think they could scare themselves by reading this book in a dark room, alone, late at night.  Or read it out loud at a sleepover.  Then again, maybe not.  It feels more like Frankenstein–a book about a monster we know doesn’t exist.  It’s no Stephen King novel, that’s for sure.

This book was not the book for me either, but this time I understood why it was a Printz honor book.  The writing is really fabulous.  I would recommend this to anyone, teen or adult, who loves old-school monster books.  Not my kind of book, but an incredible read nevertheless.

Now Charles & Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman was much more my type of book.  Science!  Research!  I can’t even imagine the amount of research Heiligman had to do for this book.  I absolutely loved how Darwin’s personal timeline was inserted over the timeline of his scientific work.  Not only that, but hearing about his chronic illness and the insane water cures used to treat it is a great reminder of just how far ahead of his time Darwin was.  Darwin might have been a doctor like his father if only there had been anesthesia!  And his wife, well, we’ve all heard the saying about the great woman behind the great man and this is no different.  She loved him, he loved her and she truly took care of him during his illness.  It’s a romance people!  I’m not sure this book is flying off the shelves into the hands of teens everywhere (not likely) but I think it’s informative, interesting and could be used for a project.  Or to inspire future scientists.  As Darwin proves, you do not have to give up on life, love and children to have a career.

There are two more Printz honor books on my list that I hope my library has (though I can’t tell because the OPAC appears to be down due to recent flooding in NJ).   After I get through those two, perhaps I’ll crown my own winner out of the 5 options.  I should note here that Charles & Emma did win it’s own award, the YALSA Excellence in Non-Fiction Award.  Which means I may have to read those and see.  And the William C. Morris YA Debut Award!  And of course, the SLJ BoB books I’ve been talking about.  As always, so many books, so little time.