“The White Darkness” by Geraldine McCaughrean

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.

“Your Own, Sylvia” by Stephanie Hemphill

I was not expecting to like this book at all, and honestly, there was a fair amount of dread on my part before starting it.

Poetry? About Sylvia Plath, the poet? I’m not smart enough for that — for poetry. This is my high school English experience still haunting me. Not surprisingly, poetry is not as hard as I once thought, and if nothing else, this Printz project has gotten me to read plenty of it!

I don’t consider myself any kind of judge of poetry, so I don’t know if Hemphill’s poetry is any good or not, but everything about this book worked for me. I know that the author was fictionalizing the thoughts and accounts of Plath’s life, but it drew me in, and made me want to learn and read more. Plath’s own novel and poetry are now on my TBR list.

 

“Dreamquake” by Elizabeth Knox

Awhile back, I looked ahead to all of the books on the list, figuring out if I could borrow them from a library, read them on Oyster, or purchase a copy. At the same time, I discovered that this book, “Dreamquake” was part two of a “duet” — so I grabbed a copy of the first book as well, and I am so glad I did. Despite what the blurb says above, you DO need to read the first book to enjoy the second (in my opinion).

The first is Dreamhunter, and I actually felt like it was the stronger, more interesting of the two books. I think it if had been one complete book, with a little bit of paring down, it could have been even better. But that’s just me, and I’m not the author or her editor with their vision of what they wanted the books to be.

I’m always very jealous of books that have such amazing world-building — jealous because I could only wish to be so clever and come up with so much detail.

Some people probably won’t like the ending, it’s a little too neat, but I’m letting my overall satisfaction with the pair of books as whole carry me through on this one. Glad I read it and glad to continue to get read authors from other countries.

“An Abundance of Katherines” by John Green

I use GoodReads to keep track of books. Sometimes, I check reviews of books I’m thinking of reading, some books go on the TBR list regardless of what others think. Others don’t make the cut. For some books, these Printz books in particular, I wait to look at reviews until I’m done reading, I want to avoid having preconceived notions of a book if I can.

I’m always interested in reading what people who didn’t like a book have to say, this helps me clarify what I think — maybe the thing that someone else hates is the thing that made a book work for me. Occasionally, other reviews make me change my mind. I’ve read reviews that point out something problematic about a book that I had enjoyed, and have ended up feeling differently, disliking the book after the fact.

All of which is to say: having read t”An Abundance of Katherines” before, and enjoying originally and on the reread, I read reviews by people who didn’t like the book with humor. I find myself wondering if we even read the same book! I saw words in these reviews like: “boring” or “predictable” or “characters were unlikeable” and my favorite “the math part was dumb.”

I thin k there’s a pretty fine line about predictability in books — in many genres, books follow a pretty specific formula. When you pick up certain books, you can expect certain things to happen by the end, and for many readers, it’s not the end of the story, it’s the journey to get there.

Do John Green books have a kind of template or a formula? I think so, yes, and that’s exactly why some people keep reading his books. But to me, that doesn’t make them boring or pointless, it’s what happens along the way that matters. It’s the conversations and insights about life, love, relationships, and why we’re even here that keep me reading.

As far as likeability of characters go — I didn’t have a problem with this book, personally, but that’s what makes the world go round. If everybody like the same people and things, I think it’d be pretty boring. I’m also quite sure I’ve said before that making a character “likeable” isn’t necessary for creating a character that people care about.

Readers expect their authors to keep up their end of a bargain or a contract. We come to certain genres and books knowing we’ll get a specific outcome. Sometimes, the author will appear to break that bargain, resulting in books getting tossed across the room, but then we go pick the book up, keep reading, and find out that the new thing the author gave us was even better than what we thought we wanted. Some authors do just plain destroy the bargain and for no good reason, and I don’t have a lot of patience for that.

To me, his promise is to make his readers feel  something, to experience and learn something new about ourselves. I think John Green keeps his end of the bargain, even if unexpectedly, and I know I’ll keep reading.

“The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Vol I: The Pox Party” by M.T. Anderson

This book has shown up on lists of books I might like on Oyster and Goodreads for awhile. I wasn’t really sure it was up my alley, especially after I had bounced off of a different book by Anderson.

Once again, though, this project of reading Printz books has not led me astray (honestly, of the 41 books I’ve read so far, I’ve really only hated one, and the other 4 that I’ve rated low or not rated at all were more victims of…not being my thing or disappointment rather than hatred).

This is a very unusual book, and it won’t be for very everyone. It’s set in Revolutionary America, and the language is pretty flowery. The story itself is strange and disturbing, and as a reader it was a bit….well, like watching a car crash. You don’t want to see, but you can’t help yourself, and wonder what it says about you that you are so compelled.

It has gotten easy, at a remove of many years, to romanticize the founders of our country, but this book is a reminder that those men weren’t saints. They wanted freedom, but for those who looked like them. Octavian is a slave from Africa, being examined for his intellectual capacity, and despite what he could achieve (which was pretty impressive!), the deck was stacked against him. No one really thought he was actually a human, and the so-called experiments “proved” this.

The first part of the book is a little slow, as it follows Octavian when he is young. The pace picks up towards the end, and ends in a cliffhanger. Luckily for me, the second book in the series is a 2009 Printz Honor Book. I would read it anyway, but this way, it’s sooner rather than later.