“A Step from Heaven” by An Na

I had to laugh as I looked through some of the other reviews of this book — many of them started off the same way I thought I probably would — something like “This started really slow, but I enjoyed it more as it progressed.” There were also quite a few reviews, at least on the first page, that mentioned reading it because they were reading all of the Printz winners….

NEIBORS (my library’s ebook and audio lending library) had this available as an audiobook. I have to be in the right mood to listen to books, so I ended up saving this one until I had finished several of the other books from the 2002 winners. I did have a hard time wanting to listen at first. The narrator, Young Ju, is only four at the beginning of the book, and I didn’t care for the way the story started, which is unfortunate. If I had been listening purely for pleasure, I probably would have given up. I kept going, though, and the story and Young grew on me. But only up to a certain point — because it ended up being more about a family dealing with domestic violence, than a family learning to navigate the US after coming here from Korea. There were certain threads about immigration or their past that would come and go, characters that would be around at one point, but disappear for years, only to reappear again, suddenly. Where had they been all along? Why weren’t they involved again sooner?

And once we reach the ultimate crisis point — after that, everything is seemingly better in an instant? I was listening to the last part through a pretty intense sinus headache (hoping the story would distract me), so maybe that wasn’t the best listening conditions.

I guess that the fact that this was the 2002 award winner had me hoping for more. No time to dwell, though, I have more books to read.

A Step from Heaven Book Cover A Step from Heaven
An Na
Juvenile Fiction
Listening Library
2001
Audiobook
156
Library

The Barnes & Noble Review
In a stunning novel debut honored with the Michael J. Printz Award for excellence in literature for young adults, writer An Na tells the story of a Korean family that immigrates to California in search of a better life, only to find that the American Dream is harder to achieve than they thought. Told through the eyes of Young Ju, who is a preschooler when the book begins and a young woman heading off to college by the time it ends, A Step from Heaven is a moving and sometimes painful tale about cultural differences, family dynamics, and the struggle to survive.
As little Young Ju's plane leaves Korea and climbs high into the sky, she thinks she is headed for heaven. In a way, so do her parents, who believe that America will offer them big opportunities and a more heavenly lifestyle. But life is much harder than they anticipate, and both of Young Ju's parents must work multiple jobs just to make ends meet while they share a house with relatives. Disillusioned and ashamed, Young Ju's father tries to drown the harsh realities of his life in liquor, eventually descending into a pit of alcoholism that turns him emotionally and physically abusive.
Though the family as a unit doesn't adapt well, Young Ju adjusts quickly and soon excels in school. But the shame of her family's poverty and her father's worsening alcoholism leads to several lies and cover-ups that prevent her from ever fully embracing her new life. Caught between two cultures and increasingly isolated by the growing tension within her family, Young Ju eventually finds herself at a crossroads, forced to make a decision that will likely tear her family apart.
A Step from Heaven is an insightful, enriching read that should appeal to teens and young adults on many levels. An Na tells the story through a series of vignettes, using poetic prose and well-drawn characters. And Young Ju's wonderfully engaging voice is a perfect match for the family's evolving reality, ranging from the starry-eyed wonder she has as a toddler to the quiet but hopeful reflectiveness she expresses as a young adult.(Beth Amos)

“True Believer” by Virginia Euwer Wolff

When I started reading this, I did not know that (a) it’s the second book in a series and (b) that it was written in free verse. Both of these were a little off-putting at first, but I need not have feared — I thoroughly enjoyed this book. There was enough backstory built in to the text (and not in an awkward way…) that it didn’t matter that I hadn’t read the first book. And the style of the book was absolutely wonderful.

“You get older
and you are a whole mess of things,
new thoughts, sorry feelings,
big plans, enormous doubts,
going along hoping and getting disappointed,
over and over again,
no wonder I don’t recognize
my little crayon picture.
It appears to be me
and it is
and it is not.”
Virginia Euwer Wolff, True Believer

The main character is 15 year old LaVaughn. She’s smart and funny and struggling to live up to the goal she and her mother have set: she WILL go to college. More than once, she could have made choices that might have changed her path, but she figures things out and is able to navigate through heartbreak and big expectations. I loved reading about her, and I think a lot of teenagers would, too.

And yes, she’s in the inner city and struggling with poverty and gang violence and teenagers having babies and homosexuality. But this was not a preachy book, nor was it a book where I think the reader will walk away feeling like they read a book with diversity and adversity and it was a chore. It was a good story with interesting characters — and yes, I learned a little about someone who is different than me. Especially in these times, with people rioting in Missouri and Maryland of all places, this is clearly not a bad thing.

True Believer Book Cover True Believer
Virginia Euwer Wolff
Juvenile Fiction
Simon and Schuster
2001-02-01
Hardcover
264
Library

2002 Michael L Printz Honor Book

Living in the inner city amidst guns and poverty, fifteen-year-old LaVaughn learns from old and new friends, and inspiring mentors, that life is what you make it--an occasion to rise to.

“Freewill” by Chris Lynch

Written in second person (you walk to the door, you pick up the phone, you can’t sleep, you have to concentrate really hard to keep everything straight….), about a young man who is what I would call an unreliable narrator, except you aren’t really sure if HE is the narrator, or it’s someone else, or perhaps he has a personality disorder? and the voices in his head are talking to him (you?) — needless to say, this book is complicated. This is not a book that very many people are going to love or even like, and a short trip through the notes of other readers on Goodreads confirm that.

I think readers who say it’s a terrible book and shouldn’t have won any awards have probably missed the point. (I’m not saying it’s a great book, and even several days later, as I have let this settle, I’m not sure if I’m going to give it an actual rating, or if I’m going to just let it go.) This was a book that required concentration, and I think it was meant to be extremely unsettling. I think you are meant to walk away wondering what the heck just happened? And is this kid going to be OK?  And even more troubling: how many kids and adults are wandering through our world feeling like this on the inside?

Even the readers that rated this highly on Goodreads seem somewhat conflicted by that response. I’m not sure I would go so far as to actually recommend this one to somebody, but I think I would like to talk to someone else that’s read it, to see what they think. Any takers?

Freewill Book Cover Freewill
Chris Lynch
Death
Bloomsbury Publishing
2004 (originally publish 2001)
ebook
147
Oyster

2002 Michael L Printz Honor Book

Will knows he is meant to be a pilot. But instead he finds himself with a bunch of kids in wood shop, in a school that's known as Hopeless High. Will doesn't know what he's doing there—or mabye he just doesn't want to admit the truth. Once upon a time he made beautiful things like gnomes, whirligigs, and furniture. Now he's driven to create strange wooden totems—and he doesn't know why.

No one knows why local teens are committing suicide, either, one after the other. The deaths all have one thing in common: beautifully carved wooden tributes that appear just after—or just before—the bodies are found. Will's afraid he knows who's responsible for the deaths. And lurking just behind that knowledge is another secret, one so explosive that he might not be able to face it and survive...

Part thriller, part mystery, Chris Lynch's newest book is a rollercoaster ride through a passionate young man's psyche—and an unforgettable emotional journey through grief, guilt, and hope from a writer at the height of his powers.

“Heart to Heart: new poems inspired by twentieth century American art,” edited by Jan Greenberg

A book of poetry is not the easiest thing to review, and honestly, I was a little worried when I saw this on the list for 2002. I have been known to bounce off of poetry in the past…but it’s National Poetry Month, and this turned out to be just the right thing for me to try to read when I unexpectedly found myself in a hospital room last week. (Don’t worry, everyone and everything’s fine.)

I ended up enjoying this quite a bit, at least partly because of the concept. The poems were written in reaction to or inspired by or about pieces of 20th Century American art. I felt like this made the poetry very accessible, seeing the artwork and reading the matching poetry made it easy to understand and relate to them.

This is not a very long book of poems, and I will likely read through again before I return this to the library, to see what i missed my first time through.

I think my favorite is the poem “The Poppy of Georgia O’Keeffe” inspired by O’Keeffe’s 1927 Poppy. (Link shows the picture)

In the carmine extravagance
the skirts of a Spanish dancer swirl
flamenco rhythms, castanets
exuberant dancer
drumming her heels on a wooden floor
staccato barks, deep intricate guitars
the energy pulsing from the dark
surrounds and enters

The poppy is wide open
her petals curve
like the skirts of a mountain
filled with the morning sun
we climb
and reaching the pinnacle shout
like the flower
in strict discipline, in eloquent sartori
in the wild grace of black and red.

Because the poetry is very accessible and includes the visual aspect of the artwork, I think this is a good way to try to get a kid reading poetry. The collection includes lots of different forms of both poetry and art, from free verse to sonnets, sculpture to oil paint, abstract to representational.

Heart to heart Book Cover Heart to heart
Jan Greenberg
Juvenile Nonfiction
Harry N Abrams Inc
2001-04-01
Hardcover
80
Library

2002 Michael L Printz Honor Book

A compilation of poems by Americans writing about American art in the twentieth century, including such writers as Nancy Willard, Jane Yolen, and X.J. Kennedy.

Finished with 2001, #Printzproject

Reading the books from 2001 — overall, it felt like more of a chore than the first batch from 2000 did. Some of that is the novelty of the project wearing off, but some was the books themselves.

I appear to be in something of a minority on my dislike for Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging, but looking at Goodreads, 87% of the people who rated it “liked” it. A good reminder that just because *I* don’t like something doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad — although I didn’t think it was pretty awful. But that doesn’t mean the people that did like it are wrong. Nope, I’m not judging them. Not at all…….

I am glad for Many Stones, which I really did enjoy, and highly recommend.

I don’t have a lot more to say about the other two books that I didn’t already mention in their individual posts (Stuck in Neutral and Kit’s Wilderness).

As I write this post, I’ve already read several of the 2002 books, they are a very eclectic group of books (poetry! a verse novel!). I have one to listen to as an audiobook, and am waiting for delivery of the first book I’ve had to purchase. So far, I’ve found everything at a library or through my Oyster subscription.