“Airborn” by Kenneth Oppel

Airborn Book Cover Airborn
Kenneth Oppel
Juvenile Fiction
Harper Collins
2004-05-11
Hardcover
368
library

2005 Michael L. Printz Honor Book

Sailing toward dawn, and I was perched atop the crow's nest, being the ship's eyes. We were two nights out of Sydney, and there'd been no weather to speak of so far. I was keeping watch on a dark stack of nimbus clouds off to the northwest, but we were leaving it far behind, and it looked to be smooth going all the way back to Lionsgate City. Like riding a cloud. . . .

Matt Cruse is a cabin boy on the Aurora, a huge airship that sails hundreds of feet above the ocean, ferrying wealthy passengers from city to city. It is the life Matt's always wanted; convinced he's lighter than air, he imagines himself as buoyant as the hydrium gas that powers his ship. One night he meets a dying balloonist who speaks of beautiful creatures drifting through the skies. It is only after Matt meets the balloonist's granddaughter that he realizes that the man's ravings may, in fact, have been true, and that the creatures are completely real and utterly mysterious.

In a swashbuckling adventure reminiscent of Jules Verne and Robert Louis Stevenson, Kenneth Oppel, author of the best-selling Silverwing trilogy, creates an imagined world in which the air is populated by transcontinental voyagers, pirates, and beings never before dreamed of by the humans who sail the skies.

After 23 books, we finally reach the first of the Printz honored books that I have read before. It’s been awhile, I remember checking it out from the town library a number of years ago, and had loved it then. I have also read and enjoyed it’s sequels.

I read so many books, though, that I often don’t remember specifics about a particular book. As I began to reread, some of the details came back, although partway through I realized that I was mentally confusing it with another steampunk series by a completely different author. (I was expecting certain things to happen and then realized no, wait, that was in Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld — another series that I thoroughly enjoyed…)

I’m a big fan of books that reimagine what our world would be like with different technology. In this case, our main character, Matt Cruse, is a cabin boy aboard a massive airship. Cruse is clearly destined for greater things, and has to contend with pirates, shipwrecks, never before recorded flying creatures. The book is fast-paced with tons of exciting adventure.

He is paired with a wealthy young passenger, Kate, who is a great “Mighty Girl” character. She is smart and independent and not at all happy with the restrictions her society is trying to place on her as “just a girl” who should content herself with doing “ladylike things.” She’d much rather emulate her grandfather and have adventures and discover new things.

I enjoyed this book the first time, and I was glad to see that it held up to a reread and was just as good the second time.

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)
ebook
144
Oyster

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
2011-05-10
256

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:

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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
Macmillan
2003-04-02
Hardcover
116
Library

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?