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

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

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?

“Fat Kid Rules the World” by K.L. Going

I didn’t want to like this book, but it grew on me and it ended up giving me warm fuzzies by the end. Unfortunately, I’ve let a little too much time go between reading it and trying to write about it, and I’m at a loss as to what to say about it.

I might be making this up, but it seems like an overly large proportion of the books I’ve read for this project have taken place in NYC. Don’t get me wrong, I love New York City as a place to visit, but I’m not sure I’d want to live there, or try to raise kids there. But I bet there are plenty of people who look at the life I lead in Iowa and wonder how I survive without Big City Opportunities.

(The answer is, just fine. I have the Internet. And books.)

As with  many of the books that are honored by the Printz awards, this book is full of stuff that us parents probably wish our kids didn’t know about, like sex and drugs, as well as things we wish they didn’t have to worry about, like body issues and death. There’s a lot of hope in this book, too, though, and humor, and that’s the kind of thing that kids who are dealing with scary stuff need to hear about.

“My Heartbeat” by Garret Freymann-Weyr

I am really ambivalent about this book. It was short, and it read quickly, and I enjoyed it while I was reading. Might have even considered it a 5 star book.

However, the more I try to write about it, the more I realize that I have some pretty big qualms about it.

The main character, Ellen, sounded more like 40 than 14.

The families are pretentious, upper class white people living in NYC, who probably have more money than they need or deserve. The parents are mostly absent, leaving their 14 year old daughter to get up to some stuff she’s really not ready for. (But it’s OK, she’s just with this family friend that we’ve known for years….in his house all alone with no parental supervision…..)

No one talks the way book characters talk or think, books take dialogue up a notch. They have to, because no one wants to read dialogue that is 100% true to life. But these teenagers? This was a little over the top for being teenagers. Both in the things they said and thought as well as what they did.

The exploration of sexuality was really thoughtful, and while I’m sure some people hated the ending…once again, I was perfectly fine with the ambiguity. As with most of the books I’ve been reading, I find myself wishing I could talk to the people that picked this for the Printz honor list. What about it made them choose THIS book over any other book written that year?

I will say this: they surely didn’t pick this one for its cover — I can’t even believe how awful the original cover was (it’s the image in the book info. Yikes). Would definitely never have picked it up. The ebook “cover” was clearly done later and is much more in line with what I would have expected and would see on a book being published now.

I guess if you can ignore the cover, and ignore the fact that the main character sounds like a middle aged woman, and not the 14 year old girl she is supposed to be, this short read does have a lot of interesting things to say about being in love, and what love with different people can look like.

“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.