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I’m going to yet another Mock Printz in January (and a Mock Newbery, but more on that later).  This is my…fourth?  I starting going in 2007, which doesn’t seem all that long ago, but 2007, 2008, 2009, and this one will be 2010.  Okay, I can count!

Here’s this year’s reading list:

Links are to my reviews here.  I just finished listening to If I Stay, so I’ll have a review up soon.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see Wintergirls pick up the award (mock and/or real) in January – the writing is really excellent – but gosh, I just didn’t like it.  I know that’s not an award criteria, but I’d rather see Marcelo or North of Beautiful get a shiny sticker.  Although I almost want to reread those two to see how they hold up, after I’ve read the rest of the list.  Perhaps on audio – Marcelo, at least, is out on audio.

I enjoyed Heroes of the Valley, but I would never have considered it for the Printz.  Maybe because it felt a bit younger to me, or just because it didn’t have that ‘wow’ quality, I’m not sure.  I’m looking forward to the discussion on that one.

Now it’s time to get cracking on the rest of the list – I’ve of Madman Underground on my shelf, and it’s enormous.  I’m looking forward to the Mary Pearson, since I loved The Adoration of Jenna Fox, and Crazy Beautiful sounds really interesting but hasn’t come into the library yet.  I’ll keep updating as I read through the list.

Another review I neglected to post, for another Mock Printz title. Gosh, I still love that cover.
Marcelo In The Real World Marcelo In The Real World by Francisco X. Stork

I ought to have reviewed this while it was fresh in my mind, because it’s an excellent older YA and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see it pick up some awards, or at least be considered. It’s almost a five-star book in my mind, although I didn’t quite fall head over heels for it. But it’s a meaty book with a lot going on. First, it’s fascinating to see the world through Marcelo’s eyes, and it almost makes you feel like an anthropologist in your own culture. Then there’s a bit of a legal drama to make the story move along, but without detracting from the characters, which are one of the real strengths of the story. Throw in Marcelo’s thoughts on religion and spirituality, and you’ve got a book that isn’t quite like anything else I’ve seen. It’s not for the youngest end of YA looking for a fun story – apart from lots of strong language and references to sex, adultery, etc., the themes are just so much about going out into “the real world” and grappling with big questions of responsibility and ethics. I would suggest this to adults who don’t think they’d like YA. And isn’t the cover just gorgeous? It’s even better in person.

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I read this one back in June, but I never posted my review here. It’s on the Mock Printz list this year, and I’m pleased as punch.

North of Beautiful North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley
I’m almost tempted to make this a 5 star book because it seems like such a perfect example of what a YA novel should be. It’s thoughtful, but never slow. The characters feel real, growing and changing in believable ways. The setting always serves the story, whether it’s small-town Washington or big-city China. It deals with race and family and adoption and mistakes and physical appearance and growing up and art and emotional abuse and all kinds of other topics in a way that doesn’t feel preachy or after-school-movie-of-the-week or like too many issues were crammed into one story. I strongly recommend it to anyone who likes strong contemporary YA stories. Okay, I talked myself into 5 stars – not because it’s my favorite book ever, but because it does what it’s trying to do so well.

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Lips Touch Lips Touch by Laini Taylor

I can’t argue with the National Book Award nomination for this one. Taylor’s fantasy never feels derivative, even though she acknowledges various sources of inspiration for each story. Each fantastical premise is alluring and disturbing and fascinating in its own right, creating a sense that anything could happen. The illustrations are a great match to the stories, giving a sort of preview of each story, but they’re also great to turn back to once you get into the stories. Both the world building and character building are accomplished, and the sentence-level writing is often exquisite and evocative.

While I recognized certain similarities – particularly the quality of imagination, more than specific elements – to Faeries of Dreamdark Blackbringer, these stories are pitched more to a young adult audience. The combination of romance and darkness brings to mind the recent crop of stories about fairies, I can’t think of anything else as finely done as this one. Which isn’t to say that it’s difficult or inaccessible – readers looking for pure plot and fantasy world-building will find plenty here to keep them enthralled.

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Look at Me Look at Me by Anita Brookner

“Problems of human behavior still continue to baffle us, but at least in the Library we have them properly filed.” When I came across this line on page one, I was sold. I’d picked this up on a whim months ago, after cataloging several Anita Brookner titles for the library (in my old position, when I processed most of the adult fiction). Then I let it sit on my shelf for ages, since it seemed quiet and slow in comparison to all the shiny new books I had checked out. And it is a fairly quiet novel, one of those that requires you to pay attention to each sentence, but rewards that attention with beguiling insights into human nature. There’s not much in the way of plot – it’s all about interpersonal relations, friendship, how we choose to live our lives, loneliness, the chance of romance – but once I got into it, the book was hard to put down. I abhorred a few of the characters from the get-go, and although I had a feeling they wouldn’t get their comeuppance, I had to find out how things were resolved.

Recommended to readers who like character-driven stories where you don’t necessarily love the characters, and also to readers who appreciate a book that forces them to slow down and read every sentence.

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Front and Center Front and Center by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

I considered waiting for the audio version of this one, after having reread Dairy Queen and The Off Season on audio recently – the kind of audiobooks where you’re reluctant to get out of the car because you just want more more more – but impatience won out and I gobbled this down as soon as my library hold came in.

And I certainly wasn’t disappointed. I love DJ’s voice, and here it’s as convincing and endearing as ever. We don’t have much in common, DJ and I, but I love spending time with her. While it’s hard to suppress my giddy love of these books in order to look at them with a reviewer’s eye, one strength that immediately comes to mind is the way that Murdock puts the reader into the mind of a sports player. Whether it’s football, in the first books, or basketball here, I actually begin to understand the appeal. Sports could cease to exist in the real world and I wouldn’t blink an eye, but DJ’s descriptions make basketball training and the chance of a college scholarship compelling. I can’t help but be impressed.

I would definitely read the books in order, starting with Dairy Queen. While the plot stands more or less alone, a lot of character development happens in the earlier books that helps you understand what’s going on here. Plus, the more time you have with DJ and her family, the better. My only complaint is that I hear the series is over. Boo. This is definitely a series I’ll reread.

While DJ is a high school junior, and there’s a bit of romance to the story, there’s nothing that would make this inappropriate for middle school readers.

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