“Chanda’s Secrets” by Allan Stratton

I had to order, and then wait for delivery of this one. It was a quick read, and unfortunately, it was only OK for me.

I didn’t think the execution of the idea lived up to what it maybe could have been. I didn’t think the writing was all that spectacular. On page 6 is this:

“Maybe they shooed her away,” I think.

It’s first person. The whole book is what Chanda is thinking, so I’m not sure why it was necessary to call attention to this with quotes and the dialogue tag. If it had simply read “Maybe they shooed her away.” I wouldn’t even have batted an eye. As it was, this felt clunky and sorted of colored my thinking for the rest of the book.

The setting of this book is a fictional country, but it was inspired by many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, and their struggle with AIDS. I did find the descriptions of what life was like to be interesting. There are so many things I take for granted — this family didn’t even have running water! But I felt like this one was trying a little too hard.

The message was a little too obvious and maybe even heavy-handed. It felt like it was a little too much of a book written to instruct, and possibly be used in lit classes to torture teenage readers.

The whole thing just felt flat and a little one-dimensional. I had trouble connecting to and caring about much of anything in this one, which is too bad, because I felt like I *ought* to be connecting.

“Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy” by Gary D. Schmidt

I feel like I should like this one a lot more than I actually do. Yes, it kept my attention, I didn’t set it aside and moan about having to read it, and yes, Turner, the main character was very likeable. But everyone else seemed like a cardboard character. The bad white guys are very bad. The black inhabitants of Malaga Island, that the bad guys want to get rid of, are all good. Sure, Turner’s Dad comes around a bit, and when his Mom is finally acknowledged as a character that can speak, she stands behind Turner, but where was she sooner? Why did it take Turner’s Dad so long to get his act together for his son?

OK, fine, some of the bad characters weren’t so bad after all, they had Reasons for being like they were, but it all felt very staged, very much a Book with an Important Message.

Needless to say, I was underwhelmed.

“how i live now” by Meg Rosoff

This one started off a little rough for me — run-on sentences, fragments, a young teen just spilling her guts on the page. I was worried it was going to be a slog to get through an entire novel like that. Luckily, though, after awhile, my awareness of the style (which, I later figured out was purposeful, of course…) slipped away. I got drawn in to Daisy’s story and couldn’t put it down.

Eventually, as Daisy is forced to grow up, her voice matured (as voices tend to do, I guess). And at the end, when it switches to a number of years later, the “voice” was completely grown up.

The premise of the book was fascinating. There is a war going on, and Daisy and her cousins (that she’s just been sent to live with) are left without adult supervision. But at the time and even later, when Daisy is grown up, it is never clear who the enemy was. Or why they were fighting. Or what they wanted. Or even for sure how it all ended.

In some ways, that’s what made it all the scarier for me. How often do you hear stuff on the news and come away wondering if you ever really understand why this or that is happening and what it really  means to you, personally? I know I often listen to then news and hear Charlie Brown’s Teacher. I know they are saying words, but it doesn’t seem to be anything that makes actual sense.

Some reviews were unhappy with or offended by the relationship between Daisy and her first cousin Edmund. My first reaction to those reviewers was ….. good grief….get off your high horse…….On reflection, though, it’s not my place to judge what squicks out another reader.  My problem with those readers would only come if they then try to use that opinion to keep others from reading.

Repeat after me: “not for me doesn’t equal this is bad.”

Personally, I didn’t find their relationship problematic. I’m not sure I can picture anyone I know falling for their first cousin, but I know that it isn’t completely unusual. These first cousins are teenagers when they first meet and who are thrown together in extremely unusual circumstances. And nothing is explicit on the page, this is YA after all.

And really, their relationship informed the whole story. For me, it worked. Even now, several days after I read it, I’m still thinking about Daisy and Edmund as characters, as well as the actual mechanics of how this was written, the style shift I mention above. The more I think about this one, the more I’m glad this project gave me the chance to read it.

“Airborn” by Kenneth Oppel

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!