“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.

“A Northern Light” by Jennifer Donnelly

I’m always fascinated by books that retell a story, whether it’s real or a famous fictional story, but from the perspective of someone other than the typical protagonist. In this case, the story is a murder in 1906, that inspired a book I’ve heard of, but didn’t know anything about (An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser).

In this case, the narrator is a young girl who is working at the hotel where the murder takes place. The story isn’t so much about the murder, though, as it is about this young girl and what her life is like. Quite a bit different than what kids have to deal with now. It’s easy to get down on “kids these days” and how entitled they are. I suppose that isn’t fair, because I’m sure that if they had to do the chores and help with the land and cooking and everything, they’d rise to the occasion, but sometimes….Sometimes, I think they need a reminder about how lucky they really are. I do, too, I suppose.

The book itself with was well written, although it jumped around in time quite a bit, and I wasn’t always sure at the beginning of each chapter where I was in time, that was a little disconcerting. Donnelly did a great job of capturing what life was like in the Adirondacks at the turn of the century, without being boring or preachy or anything like that.

Bottom line: good book, highly recommended.

“Hole in my Life” by Jack Gantos

I was aware of Jack Gantos from having looked at reading Newbery winners (Dead End in Norvelt), but I haven’t actually read anything by Gantos before. He was brought up recently when Drew Daywalt, author of The Day the Crayons Quit visited our school: Daywalt studied at Emerson College, Gantos was one of his professors.

I was pleased to see this come up on the list, but had no idea what I was getting in to — and it turned out to be a really fascinating ride! By turns funny, horrifying, touching, and inspiring, this is probably not a book for younger teens, but it was definitely worth the read (um, listen….I found an audio version, narrated by Gantos himself).

There are lessons to be learned, but this was not a preachy book, by any means. Gantos was matter of fact about the mistakes he made, that lead to his year long incarceration for drug smuggling. This is the kind of thing that maybe some parents would prefer their kids NOT know about the authors of the books said kids are reading: but I think it’s great that this is out in the world. He could have made so many other choices, but he figured things out and turned his life around.

Definitely a thumbs up on this one, must add his other books to my reading list…..

“Postcards from No Man’s Land” by Aidan Chambers

This lovely book was the award winner in 2003. It was first published in the US in 2002, but was originally published, presumably in the UK. It won a long list of awards that I think were well deserved.

It has both the elements of a good story with interesting characters that are compelling to read about, as well as lots of food for thought — and classroom discussion. Topics like assisted suicide, war and its affect on people and relationships, sexuality, family, and lots more. I would say this is a book for older teens, because of some of the subject matter, but not because it’s explicit. I think it just needs some maturity.

First and foremost, though, it was a STORY that was kept my interest. I was not bored, and I didn’t feel like I was being preached to at any point. I had guesses (which were mostly right) about some of the things that were going to happen, but I wanted to keep reading and see how things turned out. What choices were made and how they impacted everyone. I’ve found that many of these Printz books have ambiguous endings. Not a lot of happily ever afters, which is OK. Life isn’t exactly HEA, and I don’t always need that in the books I read.

I had a few minor quibbles, for one thing, the cover of this book does it absolutely zero favors. If I were browsing a bookstore glancing at covers, I don’t think I’d ever consider picking this one up. (And yes, I do judge books by their covers to some extent. Don’t you?)

And the title. I’m feeling kind of stupid about my thoughts about the title right now. I didn’t really care for it, I wasn’t sure what it meant, or why it was considered a good choice. Now that I’ve spent a few minutes thinking about it, though, I get it. And of course it is perfect. The significance of postcards isn’t really explained until the very end (though each of the contemporary Jacob chapters are labelled “Postcard” and have a quote.

And “no man’s land” — well, hopefully we all know what that phrase itself means. I’m going to call spoilers on why it’s an apt title for the book.

Should I have admitted that it took me until just now to get it? I guess that’s what I’m going through this exercise. To get myself to THINK more about what I’m reading, rather than just close the book and move on to the next thing. I guess maybe it’s working.

 

“The Ropemaker” by Peter Dickinson

Robin McKinley is one of my favorite authors. Her retold fairy tales are amazing. I knew that her husband was Peter Dickinson, but I never had (or took?) the opportunity to read any of his books. Which, as it turns out, was unfortunate, because The Ropemaker was right up my alley.

That’s the trouble with this project, I keep finding these great authors and adding their entire bibliography to my already super-long to-be-read list!

I love fairy tales and retold fairy tales, and while this wasn’t a retelling, at least not of anything I know, it definitely had a lot of fairy tale qualities about it. I love fantasies with well thought out world building and interesting magic systems, and this had both. There was also a real sense of the endlessness of time — these things have happened before, they’ll happen again.

It’s not perfect, there are some threads of theme that don’t always go anywhere and several characters that are underdeveloped. In fact, at times, you wonder if the author dragged them just because he needed them later, but forgot to give them things to do and much of a character arc until their big moment when they were crucial to the plot.

Overall, I enjoyed it, and the main character, Tilja, was easy to like and want to see succeed.

Diversity in books is a big part of book conversations lately, so I’ve been trying to pay attention to that in the books I’m reading. I didn’t think of it for this book until I was almost done, and it’s strange, because I really don’t remember skin color being a part of the descriptions in this book. With the  names, it’s got a little bit of a Nordic vibe, but I’ve gone back to find descriptions of some of the character, and in the few minutes I’ve spent looking in palces I remember character descriptions, I’m not finding any reference to skin color — just hair. I haven’t looked very hard, but in one particular spot, one of the main characters is described as being “a slim, wiry, muscular man with almost jet black, short, curly hair and a look of fiery pride.” Another woman is described as having “a mass of glossy chestnut hair.”

When I was reading, I think I probably made an assumption — that these characters look like me. If I had a different color skin, though, would I be reading them as looking like ME, or would I assume they were white? It’s a question I can’t answer, but it’s something I will continue to be aware of as I continue to read.