Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Printz Award Winners: 2005

It's taken me a while, but I've finally made it through the books from 2005 that "exemplify literary excellence in young adult literature," according to the American Library Association.

Meg Rosoff, how i live now
Honor books:
Kenneth Oppel, Airborn
Allan Stratton, Chanda's Secrets
Gary D. Schmidt, Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy

Oppel's Airborn: I don't know where I've been that I hadn't heard of this guy's work before, but this fantasy novel was right up my alley. It's set on an alternative Earth where zeppelins are the dominant form of travel, and follows the adventures of Matt Cruse, a cabin boy on one of the spaceships. These adventures include rescuing a damaged air balloon, encountering pirates, crashing on a lost island, and discovering a new species of winged creature. Although the adventure is great fun, it's Matt's relationship with his co-discoverer, Kate de Vries, and his struggle to finally accept his father's loss that make this a great read. (Airborn also won the Canadian Governor-General's Award for Children's Literature.)

Stratton's Chanda's Secrets: Another Canadian author, a completely different genre. Set present-day in an unnamed African nation, the novel follows teenager Chanda as she tries to unravel many of the secrets that surround her family and friends. She doesn't really have secrets of her own, except that she suspects the truth about her mother's illness: HIV/AIDS, the initials no one around her will discuss even though it is ravaging her neighborhood. Omigod, you may be thinking, AIDS in Africa, this is one of those "issue novels." But it isn't, really, because Chanda is a real character and we learn about how the disease affects her family and her country through her experiences, not through any lectures. The facts are dire, but the ending is hopeful, making for a satisfying read.

Schmidt's Lizzie Bright: Oh, how I wanted to love this book. Schmidt is a Michigan author, and I enjoyed his more recent Newbery Honor book, The Wednesday Wars. And Lizzie is a historical novel with an unusual setting—an island town off the coast of Maine in 1912—something that usually hooks me right away. And it's not that I didn't like the characters (a minister's son who feels he doesn't measure up, an African American girl from a nearby island who befriends him) or enjoy the writing. But somehow every time I put the book aside, I wasn't in any hurry to pick it up again. And as I got further into the story, I understood why: because the novel is based on real events, I knew it wasn't going to end well. Bad things were going to happen to these nice characters—really bad things. Worse things than I'd imagined, really. So while the story was interesting, and built tension, and developed all the characters (even some initially "bad" ones), I wasn't in the mood to read the sad (but admittedly logical) ending. Excellent book, just not what I wanted to read just then. (Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy also earned a Newbery Honor citation.)

Rosoff's how i live now: I'd actually read this a year or two ago, because the premise sounded so intriguing: an American girl is visiting relatives in the English countryside when war breaks out and she and her cousins are left alone to manage on their own. I love post-war/apocalypse stories (maybe I'll blog about that later), and this one was very enjoyable, with a different angle (the teen in a foreign country) I hadn't seen before. The voice was very strong in this first-person narrative, and so Rosoff could break all sorts of rules that writers are always told to follow, the main one being "show don't tell." Her narrator, Daisy, relates the whole story from her own point of view, and so there's little dialogue (except what she summarizes) and many scenes she's telling second-hand. While normally I'd get annoyed when someone breaks this rule, Daisy's voice was so strong and compelling that I didn't really notice. In addition, the story itself goes along at breakneck pace, and Daisy's growth as a character is natural and organic. It was an extremely entertaining book, even the second time around, when I knew what was going to happen.

So how I would have voted this year? I'm not ashamed to admit the two genre books were my favorites, and I think the fierce, original voice of Rosoff tips the scales in her favor. Again, it's interesting to note that as in 2004, there was no overlap between the Printz and the National Book Award lists. This, although three of the five books (but not the winner) were for young adults. But if I were to read all those as well, I'd never get to the end of these posts! I'm making progress on 2006, already, so look for that in a couple of weeks.

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