“Tales of the Madman Underground” by John Barnes

Tales of the Madman Underground Book Cover Tales of the Madman Underground
John Barnes
Juvenile Fiction

2010 Michael L Printz Honor Book


Tales of the Madman Underground


Tales of the Madman Underground

Wednesday, September 5, 1973: The first day of Karl Shoemaker's senior year in stifling Lightsburg, Ohio. For years, Karl's been part of what he calls "the Madman Underground" - a group of kids forced (for no apparent reason) to attend group therapy during school hours. Karl has decided that senior year is going to be different. He is going to get out of the Madman Underground for good. He is going to act - and be - Normal. But Normal, of course, is relative. Karl has five after-school jobs, one dead father, one seriously unhinged drunk mother . . . and a huge attitude. Welcome to a gritty, uncensored rollercoaster ride, narrated by the singular Karl Shoemaker

This big book was a little scary to start, the cover material did not make it sound like a book that I would enjoy, and it was a long one to boot. It was also a little slow to start, and I let myself get distracted by a couple of other things. Once I got going, and really got into it, though, I was hooked on Karl Shoemaker’s story.

Fair warning: there’s quite a bit of profanity, and he is a teenage boy who thinks a lot about girls. It’s also set in the 70s and there’s a lot of horrible stuff that happens to Karl and his friends. I know, I know. I’m really selling it here.

The stuff that makes the book so good is that Karl is a wonderful character. He’s not perfect, but I really loved him, and while there’s a lot of heartbreaking and scary situations, there’s a lot of hope and friendship and beautiful writing.

I would have chosen this over “Going Bovine” as the winner of the Printz award, personally. Definitely recommended to older teens and adults.

“Tender Morsels” by Margo Lanagan

Tender Morsels Book Cover Tender Morsels
Margo Lanagan
Juvenile Fiction
Knopf Books for Young Readers

Michael L Printz Honor Book 2009

Tender Morsels is a dark and vivid story, set in two worlds and worrying at the border between them. Liga lives modestly in her own personal heaven, a world given to her in exchange for her earthly life. Her two daughters grow up in this soft place, protected from the violence that once harmed their mother. But the real world cannot be denied forever—magicked men and wild bears break down the borders of Liga’s refuge. Now, having known Heaven, how will these three women survive in a world where beauty and brutality lie side by side?

This is not a book for everyone, and I don’t think it’s appropriate for younger teens. It starts off with some very disturbing events, and while some reviewers felt these were gratuitous, or too explicit, they didn’t feel that way to me (and I have a pretty low tolerance for that kind of thing in the books I read).

The prose was beautiful, and while it was based on a fairy tale (Snow White and Rose Red), it felt very original and unique to me. I’m a sucker for retellings and expansions of fairy tales, and I loved what Lanagan did with this.

One of the things I like about reading from the list of Printz books is that they aren’t just from US authors — Lanagan is Australian, as is Marchetta (author of the winning book from 2009), and it’s nice to see at least a tiny bit of world perspective. Even more would be better.

I’m glad to have read this and Lanagan’s previous award-winning book of short stories.


“The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks” by E. Lockhart

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks Book Cover The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks
E. Lockhart
Juvenile Fiction
August 25, 2009

Michael L. Printz Honor Book -- 2009

Frankie Landau-Banks at age 14:
Debate Club.
Her father's "bunny rabbit."
A mildly geeky girl attending a highly competitive boarding school.

Frankie Landau-Banks at age 15:
A knockout figure.
A sharp tongue.
A chip on her shoulder.
And a gorgeous new senior boyfriend: the supremely goofy, word-obsessed Matthew Livingston.

Frankie Landau-Banks.
No longer the kind of girl to take "no" for an answer.
Especially when "no" means she's excluded from her boyfriend's all-male secret society.
Not when her ex-boyfriend shows up in the strangest of places.
Not when she knows she's smarter than any of them.
When she knows Matthew's lying to her.
And when there are so many, many pranks to be done.

Frankie Landau-Banks, at age 16:
Possibly a criminal mastermind.

This is the story of how she got that way.

The reviews are mixed on this one: it seems like readers either liked it or loathed it — some thought it had a great feminist message, others thought it’s message was terrible.

Personally, I thoroughly enjoyed this one, and found myself wanting to put it in the hands of all of the teenage girls I know (and I know a lot of them….).

Is it perfect in it’s feminist message? Probably not, but what I found compelling was the questions Frankie asked — questions that I wished more girls ask about the status quo and about boys and the way the world works.

It helped me that it was funny (at least, I thought it was, my sense of humor isn’t entirely mainstream…), and that it was a boarding school book — I’m a bit of a sucker for those.

I borrowed this one from the school library, and need to see if I can suggest it to a few girls of my acquaintance.

“Jellicoe Road” by Melina Marchetta #printzproject

Jellicoe Road Book Cover Jellicoe Road
Melina Marchetta
Abandoned children
Harper Collins

Michael L Printz Award Winner 2009

I'm dreaming of the boy in the tree. I tell him stories. About the Jellicoe School and the Townies and the Cadets from a school in Sydney. I tell him about the war between us for territory. And I tell him about Hannah, who lives in the unfinished house by the river. Hannah, who is too young to be hiding away from the world. Hannah, who found me on the Jellicoe Road six years ago.

Taylor is leader of the boarders at the Jellicoe School. She has to keep the upper hand in the territory wars and deal with Jonah Griggs—the enigmatic leader of the cadets, and someone she thought she would never see again.

And now Hannah, the person Taylor had come to rely on, has disappeared. Taylor's only clue is a manuscript about five kids who lived in Jellicoe eighteen years ago. She needs to find out more, but this means confronting her own story, making sense of her strange, recurring dream, and finding her mother—who abandoned her on the Jellicoe Road.

The moving, joyous and brilliantly compelling new novel from the best-selling, multi-award-winning author of Looking for Alibrandi and Saving Francesca.

Not that anyone’s wondering, but I have continued to read, even though I pretty much completely stopped posting. I’ll be honest: I got completely bogged down by a book, and let it derail me. I’ve also been reading some other stuff.

(My arbitrary reading goal for 2015 is 100 books. I’m at 93 and it’s just the end of September….)

This book, “Jellicoe Road” — I had a hard time with this one to start. I did NOT get the appeal until I was about halfway through and then I couldn’t put it down. It was about that point that I realized that the ebook edition I was reading was lacking in formatting or notation that would have made things make a lot more sense. The book switches between different narrators, from different time periods, and there was absolutely NO delineation. I believe that in the print versions, the text was set in different typeface (or italics, or something?) — what a difference that would have made!

It’s been almost 2 months since I actually read this, and I see that when I marked it in Goodreads, I only gave it 3 stars. In the time since, I guess I have reimagined what I thought of it, because I was sure I had rated it higher.

So here’s the struggle with having waited so long to write about this book: I’m not sure what to say! It was good, it was award-worthy, and if you do read it, make sure you read it on paper, so that you aren’t completely confused for half the book about what’s going on!

“The White Darkness” by Geraldine McCaughrean

The White Darkness Book Cover The White Darkness
Geraldine McCaughrean
Juvenile Fiction
Harper Collins

2008 Michael L Printz Award Winner

I have been in love with Titus Oates for quite a while now—which is ridiculous, since he's been dead for ninety years. But look at it this way. In ninety years I'll be dead, too, and the age difference won't matter. Sym is not your average teenage girl. She is obsessed with the Antarctic and the brave, romantic figure of Captain Oates from Scott's doomed expedition to the South Pole. In fact, Oates is the secret confidant to whom she spills all her hopes and fears. But Sym's uncle Victor is even more obsessed—and when he takes her on a dream trip into the bleak Antarctic wilderness, it turns into a nightmarish struggle for survival that will challenge everything she knows and loves. In her first contemporary young adult novel, Carnegie Medalist and three-time Whitbread Award winner Geraldine McCaughrean delivers a spellbinding journey into the frozen heart of darkness.

This was….a strange and intense book. Having gone on my own little adventure a few years ago, on a rafting trip through the Grand Canyon, I find reading about other adventurers to be very captivating. Not that my adventure in any way compares to what Symone, the main character in this book, experiences when she goes on a “vacation” to Antarctica.

From the start, you suspect that something is off, and the whole book is one big descent into madness. I found myself unable to look away as everything horrible happened, and just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, it did, and in ways I didn’t expect.

This is another one of those books that won’t be up your alley if you don’t like unreliable narrators, or need happy endings for your books.