2004 Printz Project Wrap-Up Post

I thought I was going crazy and imagining that all of the books were set in New York City — but as I was writing up these posts, I realized I wasn’t wrong. Three out of the five honored books this year were specifically set in New York City. A fourth was in an unnamed urban location, that could very well have been NYC, and while the fifth was historical: it was set in upstate New York, and throughout the book, the main character is dreaming of going to college in New York City.

That fifth book, A Northern Light, was far and away my favorite of this year’s honorees. I had mixed feelings about all of the other books, and while I didn’t actively hate any of them, they definitely won’t be anywhere near the top of my all time favorite Printz books. Which, it just occurs to me, I’ll have to do eventually. A massive wrap-up of everything.

I’ve now read 23 of the 77 books on my list. I wondered if I was going to be able to keep this up, and so far, so good. I’m sure I’ve said before that I’m reading a lot more diversely than normal, which has been a positive experience. I’m really fascinated that I have enjoyed the verse novels as much I have.

On to 2005!

“The First Part Last” by Angela Johnson

The First Part Last Book Cover The First Part Last
Angela Johnson
Juvenile Fiction
Simon and Schuster
2005-01-01 (first published 2003)

2004 Michael L Printz Award Winner


Bobby's carefree teenage life changes forever when he becomes a father and must care for his adored baby daughter.

While I enjoyed the characterization of a young teenage father I thought the tragic part of this was way over the top. When I got done, I felt like I had been manipulated and didn’t care for that.

The chapters alternate between the present and the past, and while it was obviously something was wrong in the present, we didn’t get to know what that was until the end, and when you do find out. UGH. Too much.

I will say, that talking about how his life as a teenage father was well done — and it was great that he was in love with his daughter and took the best care of her he could — which was occasionally short of the mark. But how could it have been otherwise? He was still just a kid himself.

New York City alert: Seriously. Another one. (Not that I’m complaining, but there’s a trend here……)

“The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things” by Carolyn Mackler

The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things Book Cover The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things
Carolyn Mackler
Juvenile Fiction
Candlewick Press

Fifteen-year-old Virginia Shreves has a larger-than-average body and a plus-size inferiority complex, especially when she compares herself to her slim, brilliant, picture-perfect family. But that's before a shocking phone call - and a horrifying allegation - about her rugby-star brother changes everything. With irreverent humor and surprising gravity, Carolyn Mackler creates an endearingly blunt heroine who speaks to every teen who struggles with family expectations, and proves that the most impressive achievement is to be true to yourself.

I was worried, based on the title, that this was going to be like Angus, Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging, but thankfully it was so much better. It had a lot more emotional depth and punch, and the crisis was much weightier. It wasn’t perfect, I’m not sure how you write a book about a girl with body issues and not have it hit the wrong note for someone.

And for as much self-hate as Virginia expressed for most of the book, I thought it ended up wrapping up a bit too neatly.

I’d also like to point out, that I’m not crazy about the whole “all of these books are set in NYC” thing — this one was too!

Spoilers below:










The description references a shocking revelation about her older brother: he is accused of date-rape and is sent home from college. I thought it was interesting to see how this affected not only Virginia, but also her parents. Personally, I thought it was well-handled, and did a nice job of showing how sexual assault affects more than just the principals. I had never really thought about what it must be like for the family of someone accused of a crime like this. As you can imagine, their emotions ran the gamut, and even now I get a little bit of a knot in my stomach thinking about how I might cope in a similar situation. Probably not as well as I might hope.


“Keesha’s House” by Helen Frost

Keesha's House Book Cover Keesha's House
Helen Frost
Juvenile Fiction

Keesha has found a safe place to live, and other kids gravitate to her house when they just can’t make it on their own. They are Stephie – pregnant, trying to make the right decisions for herself and those she cares about; Jason – Stephie’s boyfriend, torn between his responsibility to Stephie and the baby and the promise of a college basketball career; Dontay – in foster care while his parents are in prison, feeling unwanted both inside and outside the system; Carmen – arrested on a DUI charge, waiting in a juvenile detention center for a judge to hear her case; Harris – disowned by his father after disclosing that he’s gay, living in his car, and taking care of himself; Katie – angry at her mother’s loyalty to an abusive stepfather, losing herself in long hours of work and school.

Stretching the boundaries of traditional poetic forms – sestinas and sonnets – Helen Frost’s extraordinary debut novel for young adults weaves together the stories of these seven teenagers as they courageously struggle to hold their lives together and overcome their difficulties.
Keesha's House is a 2004 Bank Street - Best Children's Book of the Year.

Another novel in verse. Before starting this project, I would have completely passed these by. Now, though, I’mexcited when I find that another book is a novel in verse.

This one, though, was just too short and spare for my taste. A lot gets left out when there is just the lines of poetry, and a lot more is left to the imagination, but this seemed too bare bones. I think part of that, for me, was having too many voices — we were following 7 teenagers (I think? It was hard to keep track of them when they each got so little time on the page. I wanted more from each, or fewer voices and more from each one.

What is there, though, is great and important. These are all teens in crisis, with lives and situations very far removed from my own, but not necessarily from many of the students around me.

I’d love to see the teenagers at my school read some of these great books — not necessarily spending 6 weeks wringing every bit out of one novel, but a new novel every week, dipping and tasting. Experiencing different genres and techniques — I bet some of them would find they actually *like* poetry if they read it in a setting like this.

Of course, there’s not enough time and not enough money. Wouldn’t it be nice if we spent millions on books for kids instead of on professional athletes?

“A Northern Light” by Jennifer Donnelly

A Northern Light Book Cover A Northern Light
Jennifer Donnelly
Juvenile Fiction
Harcourt Inc

2004 Michael L. Printz Honor Book

Sixteen-year-old Mattie Gokey has big dreams but little hope of seeing them come true. Desperate for money, she takes a job at the Glenmore, where hotel guest Grace Brown entrusts her with the task of burning a secret bundle of letters. But when Grace's drowned body is fished from the lake, Mattie discovers that the letters could reveal the grim truth behind a murder.

Set in 1906 against the backdrop of the murder that inspired Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy, Jennifer Donnelly's astonishing debut novel effortlessly weaves romance, history, and a murder mystery into something moving, and real, and wholly original.

I’m always fascinated by books that retell a story, whether it’s real or a famous fictional story, but from the perspective of someone other than the typical protagonist. In this case, the story is a murder in 1906, that inspired a book I’ve heard of, but didn’t know anything about (An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser).

In this case, the narrator is a young girl who is working at the hotel where the murder takes place. The story isn’t so much about the murder, though, as it is about this young girl and what her life is like. Quite a bit different than what kids have to deal with now. It’s easy to get down on “kids these days” and how entitled they are. I suppose that isn’t fair, because I’m sure that if they had to do the chores and help with the land and cooking and everything, they’d rise to the occasion, but sometimes….Sometimes, I think they need a reminder about how lucky they really are. I do, too, I suppose.

The book itself with was well written, although it jumped around in time quite a bit, and I wasn’t always sure at the beginning of each chapter where I was in time, that was a little disconcerting. Donnelly did a great job of capturing what life was like in the Adirondacks at the turn of the century, without being boring or preachy or anything like that.

Bottom line: good book, highly recommended.