“John Lennon: All I Want Is the Truth, a Photographic Biography” by Elizabeth Partridge

John Lennon: All I Want Is the Truth, a Photographic Biography Book Cover John Lennon: All I Want Is the Truth, a Photographic Biography
Elizabeth Partridge
Juvenile Nonfiction
Viking Childrens Books

2006 Michael L. Printz Honor Book

An award-winning biographer paints a vivid picture of John Lennon's life, from his tumultuous childhood in London to his rock-n-roll career writing, recording, and performing music with the Beatles, revealing how he struggled to come to terms with fame, marriage, and his artistic mind.

So, I’ll admit: I was a little dubious about reading a biography of John Lennon. I had to buy it, too, because it wasn’t available from any of my library choices, or online. Having read it, I still wonder at why, exactly, this was chosen as an honor book. It was good, but I would love to know what made it award worthy in the minds of the Printz committee.

Everyone knows about The Beatles, right? Snips and bits of their stories, their musical is inescapable. This biography was a well-written overview of Lennon’s life, filling in little details about the other band members as they came in to his life.  It came as no surprise that he and the rest of the band spent most of their time high as kites. I’m not sure, after reading this, the Lennon was a very *nice* person. Not that that matters, but I don’t think I would have wanted to know him personally. It’s also apparent that he wasn’t a very happy or content person. I got the impression that part of the reason he drank and did so many drugs was to self-medicate.

One of the reviews I read on Goodreads was from someone who wished she hadn’t read it, because it completely ruined him for her. These days of all access via social media and paparazzi have definitely changed a lot of how we view and interact with those making the art we consume. (And by art, I mean music, movies, books, and everything else). Anyone can make a fool of themselves via Twitter or Tumblr or anything else, and it’s hard to separate our opinions of the person with the things they create. There are more than a few authors I refuse to read because of their behavior, but I don’t think that my enjoyment of the music of Lennon and The Beatles is going to be affected by learning in more detail what kind of people they were.

The book itself was very well-written, I thought it was a fairly quick read, the inclusion of photos kept the pages turning. Again, though, I’d love to know why this was thought to be one of the best books written for teens in 2005/2006.

Here’s something that I should probably be embarrassed about: one of my favorite childhood memories is watching the movie Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. You know, the one that starred Peter Frampton, the BEE GEEs, Steve Martin, George Burns, and etc.

I thought I’d try to redeem myself by picking my favorite Lennon song, but I can’t pick just one, apparently. How about you, dear reader? What’s your favorite?

“Black Juice” by Margo Lanagan

Black Juice Book Cover Black Juice
Margo Lanagan
Juvenile Fiction
Harper Collins

2006 Michael L Printz Honor Book

As part of a public execution, a young boy forlornly helps to sing his sister down. . . . A servant learns about grace and loyalty from a mistress who would rather dance with Gypsies than sit on her throne. . . . A terrifying encounter with a demonic angel gives a young man the strength he needs to break free of his oppressor. . . . On a bleak and dreary afternoon a gleeful shooting spree leads to tragedy for a desperate clown unable to escape his fate. In each of Margo Lanagan's ten extraordinary stories, human frailty is put to the test by the implacable forces of dark and light, man and beast. black juice offers glimpses into familiar, shadowy worlds that push the boundaries of the spirit and leave the mind haunted with the knowledge that black juice runs through us all.

This was such a strange little collection of short stories. All of them started right off in the midst of strange locations or strange cultures, and you had to just figure things out as you went along. And by the time you did, the strange, disturbing little story was over. Everything was very dark and mysterious, and I was sure if I was supposed to like or loathe the protagonists. A little of both. The theme was about tapping into those dark places that everyone has, that you don’t want to quite admit to harboring inside you.

Short stories are interesting, because it seems like authors can sometimes play more with really strange stuff — ideas that would be hard to maintain for an entire novel (in one, the protagonist is an elephant, communicating telepathically with his fellow elephants as they take off in search of their lost keeper). The imagination on display in all of these stories is what fascinates me, and makes me despair, yet again, for seeming to have so little imagination of my own to come up with something unique.

Lanagan is an Australian author, and the other-ness of the little bits of worlds she has created in these short stories is a wonderful change of pace from all of the recent books about New York City.

Her book, Tender Morsels shows up in the 2009 list of honor books, and I’m looking forward to that, as well.


“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.

“Chanda’s Secrets” by Allan Stratton

Chanda's Secrets Book Cover Chanda's Secrets
Allan Stratton
Juvenile Fiction

2005 Michael L Printz Honor Book

Chandra struggles with the deaths of those around her and the shame of being molested as she continues her education and cares for her siblings and friend Esther, amidst the poverty and AIDs epidemic that plague her African homeland.

I had to order, and then wait for delivery of this one. It was a quick read, and unfortunately, it was only OK for me.

I didn’t think the execution of the idea lived up to what it maybe could have been. I didn’t think the writing was all that spectacular. On page 6 is this:

“Maybe they shooed her away,” I think.

It’s first person. The whole book is what Chanda is thinking, so I’m not sure why it was necessary to call attention to this with quotes and the dialogue tag. If it had simply read “Maybe they shooed her away.” I wouldn’t even have batted an eye. As it was, this felt clunky and sorted of colored my thinking for the rest of the book.

The setting of this book is a fictional country, but it was inspired by many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, and their struggle with AIDS. I did find the descriptions of what life was like to be interesting. There are so many things I take for granted — this family didn’t even have running water! But I felt like this one was trying a little too hard.

The message was a little too obvious and maybe even heavy-handed. It felt like it was a little too much of a book written to instruct, and possibly be used in lit classes to torture teenage readers.

The whole thing just felt flat and a little one-dimensional. I had trouble connecting to and caring about much of anything in this one, which is too bad, because I felt like I *ought* to be connecting.