“Nation” by Terry Pratchett

Nation Book Cover Nation
Terry Pratchett
Juvenile Fiction
Harper Collins
ebook and audiobook
Oyster and owned

2009 Michael L Printz Honor Book

The sea has taken everything. Mau is the only one left after a giant wave sweeps his island village away. But when much is taken, something is returned, and somewhere in the jungle Daphne—a girl from the other side of the globe—is the sole survivor of a ship destroyed by the same wave. Together the two confront the aftermath of catastrophe. Drawn by the smoke of Mau and Daphne's sheltering fire, other refugees slowly arrive: children without parents, mothers without babies, husbands without wives—all of them hungry and all of them frightened. As Mau and Daphne struggle to keep the small band safe and fed, they defy ancestral spirits, challenge death himself, and uncover a long-hidden secret that literally turns the world upside down. . . . Internationally revered storyteller Terry Pratchett presents a breathtaking adventure of survival and discovery, and of the courage required to forge new beliefs.

This was a reread for me — I had listened to the audiobook version read by Stephen Briggs in 2013. I started listening to the audiobook again, but then decided to switch to the ebook. Pratchett is an author that I find I enjoy best when I listen to someone read it to me — I can’t skim, and have to listen to every word, which, with Pratchett is important. (When I switched to reading it, I did try to be conscious of slowing down my normal pace…)

It’s a little hard for me to separate what I think of this specific book from my feelings about Pratchett’s work as a whole — he’s one of my favorite authors, so he has to really mess up for me to be disappointed. This book did not disappoint. I hope the fact that this one is categorized as “YA” or “teen” doesn’t leave it off of adult’s reading lists, because it would be foolish to dismiss it for that reason. (To be honest, dismissing a book because it’s marketed as YA is just plain dumb, no matter the book, but that’s a different argument.)

I really love this story and what it has to say about death and civilization and friendship and science and magic.

I love Pratchett’s humor and wordplay. I have a few of his books that I haven’t read yet, and I’m not in any hurry to read them, because when I finish reading the final book, there won’t be anymore Pratchett books.

“The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak

The Book Thief Book Cover The Book Thief
Markus Zusak
Juvenile Fiction
Knopf Books for Young Readers

2007 Michael L Printz Honor Book


It’s just a small story really, about among other things: a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist-fighter, and quite a lot of thievery. . . .

Set during World War II in Germany, Markus Zusak’s groundbreaking new novel is the story of Liesel Meminger, a foster girl living outside of Munich. Liesel scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement before he is marched to Dachau.

This is an unforgettable story about the ability of books to feed the soul.

I bounced off this book in the past, and for about the first third of it I was torn about “having” to read it. That’s kind of a long time to stick with a book, but at some point, I was hooked and couldn’t put it down.

I have gotten in a bit of a rut over the years of reading books that are only in certain genres with characters that all had a sameness to them. The books honored by the Printz award are very diverse, with lots of unique perspectives. “The Book Thief” is definitely different — narrated by Death, about a young girl during World War II and the life she leads with her neighbors and foster family, and the Jewish man her family hides for a time.

This is not a quick read with a lot of fast action. It’s unique style does take some getting used to, and some people will probably decide it’s not for them. I loved seeing how books and words left their mark on Liesel and her family, friends, and neighbors. I cared a lot about what happened to everyone, and even though it’s been several weeks since I finished, I still find myself thinking about it occasionally.

“A Wreath for Emmett Till” by Marilyn Nelson, illustrated by Philippe Lardy

A Wreath for Emmett Till Book Cover A Wreath for Emmett Till
Marilyn Nelson, Philippe Lardy (illustrations)
Juvenile Fiction

2006 Michael L Printz Honor Book

Presents fifteen interlinked sonnets to pay tribute to Emmitt Till, a fourteen-year-old African American boy who was lynched in Mississippi in 1955 for whistling at a white woman, and whose murderers were acquitted.

This slim book of poetry was a surprise. At first, because it looks like a child’s picture book. Later, because of the poetry itself.

The name Emmett Till was vaguely familiar, but sadly, not enough to have been able to say who he was. The book description, above, has a short version of his story, for more, I offer you Wikipedia. As I write this, we are 5 days past the murders of 9 African Americans in a church, in a state that still flies the Confederate Battle Flag over its capitol building. Till’s death was a pretty key moment in the history of the Civil Rights Movement. Without going too much further into this rabbit hole, it’s pretty clear that Emmett’s story is still relevant today.

Setting aside the content of the poetry for a moment, the sheer technical artistry of this book made me gasp out loud at one point. It is structured as a heroic crown of sonnets: fifteen interlinked sonnets (a sonnet is a 14 line rhyming poem in iambic pentameter). A crown of sonnets are connected by their first and last lines: the last line of a poem becomes the first line of the next poem, sometimes with slight alteration. A heroic crown takes this one step further: the 15th poem is made up of the first lines of all of the poems. And! The first letters of those first lines in that final poem, spell out RIP EMMETT TILL.

I think that what amazes me about good poetry is the adherence to such specific rules,  in a way that the rules become invisible, the words don’t feel shoehorned into the pattern, they were meant to be there, in that particular structure.

I read this book several weeks ago. I was looking through it just now to refresh my memory about the content. I’m going to include one of the poems without further comment, because I find myself unable to add anything else.

Mutilated boy martyr, if I could,

I’d put you in a parallel universe,
give you a better fate. There is none worse.
I’d let you live through a happy boyhood,
let your gifts bloom into a livelihood
on a planet that didn’t bear Cain’s curse.
I’d put you in a nice, safe universe,
not like this one. A universe where you’d
surpass your mother’s dreams. But parallel
realities may have terrorists, too.
Evil multiples to infinitude,
like mirrors facing each other in hell.
You were a wormhole history passed through,
transformed by the memory of your victimhood.


Marilyn Nelson


Source: Nelson, Marilyn. A Wreath for Emmett Till. Houghton Mifflin, 2005


“Looking For Alaska” by John Green

Looking for Alaska Book Cover Looking for Alaska
John Green
Juvenile Fiction

2006 Michael L. Printz Award Winner

Before. Miles "Pudge" Halter's whole existence has been one big nonevent, and his obsession with famous last words has only made him crave the "Great Perhaps" (François Rabelais, poet) even more. He heads off to the sometimes crazy, possibly unstable, and anything-but-boring world of Culver Creek Boarding School, and his life becomes the opposite of safe. Because down the hall is Alaska Young. The gorgeous, clever, funny, sexy, self-destructive, screwed-up, and utterly fascinating Alaska Young, who is an event unto herself. She pulls Pudge into her world, launches him into the Great Perhaps, and steals his heart.

After. Nothing is ever the same.

I first read this book in 2011. This was the “review” I posted to Goodreads:

I just don’t really have the words for this one. Such a good book. I was bawling over my Cheerios the other day.

Because I had read the book already, the emotional impact wasn’t quite as strong the second time through. You’ll note in the book description that it refers to BEFORE and AFTER, and I’ll admit that as the THING that happens got closer (you can tell, because Miles counts down how many days BEFORE), I read more slowly, and had to put it down for a day or so before I could read through and keep going.

I’m a big John Green fan, so I’m predisposed to like anything he does. I had a harder time with this book, the second time through, though, because my own teenage boys will be juniors in high school in the fall, and as a parent, I can’t help but be horrified by the drinking and smoking and sex that was going on. I want to stick my fingers in my ears and close my eyes and sing really loud and pretend it doesn’t exist.

And it’s hard to write about a book when you have your eyes closed and ears plugged with your fingers. Avoiding this post has stopped me from writing about any of the other books I’ve read — the project was not only to read the books, but to reflect on them. Most of the time, I don’t feel quite up to the task about writing about the really good books, the ones with sentences and paragraphs and chapters that take your breath away.

So, after more. than a week of having read this and trying to say something, I’m going to leave this incoherent mess and move on.

“I Am the Messenger” by Markus Zusak

I Am the Messenger Book Cover I Am the Messenger
Markus Zusak
Juvenile Fiction
Random House of Canada
2006 (first published 2002)

2006 Michael L. Printz Honor Book

protect the diamonds
survive the clubs
dig deep through the spades
feel the hearts

Ed Kennedy is an underage cabdriver without much of a future. He's pathetic at playing cards, hopelessly in love with his best friend, Audrey, and utterly devoted to his coffee-drinking dog, the Doorman. His life is one of peaceful routine and incompetence until he inadvertently stops a bank robbery.

That's when the first ace arrives in the mail.

That's when Ed becomes the messenger.

Chosen to care, he makes his way through town helping and hurting (when necessary) until only one question remains: Who's behind Ed's mission?

I have a copy of Zusak’s book “The Book Thief” sitting on my bookshelf. I bounced off it when I tried it awhile back, and have always meant to try again (I guess that’ll come true here after a few more books….). Having bounced off a previous book, I approached this one with trepidation.

I was fearful for absolutely no good reason because I loved this book. It has that fairy tale quality that appeals to me so much. Was it real or wasn’t it? Does it really matter?

I’ve been thinking for more than a week about what to say when I write about this book, adn I still haven’t come up with anything very good that might express why I think someone else should read this. “Because you should” isn’t very compelling.

The intricate plotting, the lovely language, the likeable characters (who are definitely not perfect…), and the powerful message of doing good, even if the good things is as simple as a buying someone an ice cream cone: all of this combine (with lots of other awesome bits) to make up what I loved about this book. So go read it, because you should.