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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Thinking about the Printz

The Printz award (or to be more official: the Michael L. Printz Award) is the Newbery of the YA literature world. The only difference is that it can be given to an author from another country (the Newbery requires that the author live in the United States) and the fact that it is for a book published for an audience between the ages of 12-18. This year, the Printz Award will be announced on January 10th, at 7:45 AM Pacific time (since they will be announced at the American Library Association Midwinter Conference in San Diego). While I'm in the hotel conference room yawning up a storm because that's sort of early, well, it will be 10:45 out here on the East Coast. You can even watch a live webstream of the announcements, something I've done in years when I haven't been there in person.

Anyway, this is about the time of the year when I start thinking about which titles from the 2010 publishing year are prime candidates for the award and honor. Nearly every year, the Printz committee (made up of 9 librarians, changing every year) manages to sneak in some real surprises. I may have yelped with surprise when I heard that Libba Bray's Going Bovine won the award last year. Not that I don't think it has literary merit; it just so happened to be a title that left many reviewers divided. Sure, I had favorites going into the announcement, and some of them (like Charles and Emma by Deborah Heiligman) managed to come out as honor titles. Were there titles unjustly ignored? Perhaps, as many people expected Francisco X. Stork's Marcelo in the Real World to come out with, at the very least, an honor sticker. But, you have to think that the awards are the result of hundreds of hours spent reading, dozens spent discussing, and still, it comes down to what nine individuals thought. When I think about the conversations I have had with my fellow Best Fiction committee members, I know how we can really REALLY surprise each other. Titles resonate or disgust other readers in ways you can't always predict. So, I can't really be all that surprised when the results are announced and they don't align with my own selections.

Here are the titles I think have a legitimate chance at the Printz. As January 10th nears, I will make my official predictions. I still have 19 titles to read that have been nominated, so there could be a few last-minute additions. At the moment, my top picks for taking home the big kahuna are: Nothing by Janne Teller, Butterfly by Sonya Hartnett, and They Called Themselves the KKK by Susan Bartoletti Campbell. I read Nothing back at the beginning of the year, and it is a title that has haunted me ever since. It is slight but literary, and absolutely powerful. Both Teller and Hartnett are not from the U.S., but that hasn't been an issue for Printz winners before, with many international authors winning the award (Hartnett had an honor title a few years back). Bartoletti's book would probably be a controversial choice because of the nature of the subject, but it is haunting in its own way, and covers an important aspect of this nation's past. Other titles that I think deserve consideration are: Revolver by Marcus Sedgwick (fantastic historical thriller, international author), The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson (emotionally powerful story about grief, debut author), Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly (part contemporary, part historical fiction, a complete tour de force by an author who already has one Printz honor under her belt), Incarceron by Catherine Fisher (complex fantasy, bombed when first published in the U.K. but had popular and critical success in the U.S.), Crossing the Tracks by Barbara Stuber (this is my dark horse candidate, brilliantly written historical fiction by a debut author). A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner received many starred reviews, but unfortunately, I can't lend it my support. It was the single BFYA-nominated title where reading it felt like pulling teeth. Maybe it's because I hadn't read her other titles in the series, but I would have been hard-pressed to summarize when I finally finished reading it.

Other bloggers have lamented that this has been an off year for YA literature, but I think it's bound to happen occasionally. I think it just so happened that a lot of veteran YA authors had books come out in 2009 and/or 2011, so it's a quieter year. That said, I've discovered some tremendous debut authors, so I'm not overly concerned!

Will post again in late December/early January with my final Printz predictions.

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