Award Winners

Printz Winner :
marchetta1 Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

What you need to know: Jellicoe Road is a complex novel of a girl unraveling the secrets of her past. There are many characters whose inter-relationships are confusing and take a while to sort out (I was on page 417 and was still trying to comprehend a character’s relationship to Taylor). This is a book that demands a kind of sophisticated patience from the readers as the mystery of Taylor’s past emerges. And even some sophisticated teen readers will not like it. I would recommend this book to teen readers, 8th grade and up who enjoy a challenging read and the rewards of a complicated mystery whose pieces fit together like a puzzle.

Here are some reviews and a blog that includes some good insights into the Printz Winner, and reviews of the Printz Honor books follow:

Taylor Markham has been living at the Jellicoe School since her mother abandoned her at a gas station when she was eleven. Taylor’s whole life is a mystery to her-from what happened to her mother and who her father was to why certain people in town are so interested in her well-being. As the Jellicoe School students begin their annual territory wars with the Townies and military school cadets, Taylor is thrown together with Jonah Griggs, the leader of the Cadets. Although they are sworn enemies, Taylor and Jonah have a history and find themselves drawn to one another. Together they begin to unravel the tragic story of the five teenagers who started the territory wars a generation before and how their lives are tightly linked with Taylor’s own. Marchetta, author of the highly acclaimed Looking for Alibrandi (Orchard, 1999/VOYA June 1999) and Saving Francesca (Knopf, 2004/VOYA October 2004), provides yet another great story. The interwoven lives of Taylor and the doomed teenagers from the past create a complex tale with some great twists that readers will not see coming. It is a great choice for more sophisticated readers and those teens who like multifaceted stories and characters. Reviewer: Stephanie Petruso

Taylor Markham isn’t just one of the new student leaders of her boarding school, she’s also the heir to the Underground Community, one of three battling school factions in her small Australian community (the others being the Cadets and the Townies). For a generation, these three camps have fought “the territory wars,” a deadly serious negotiation of land and property rife with surprise attacks, diplomatic immunities, and physical violence. Only this year, it’s complicated: Taylor might just have a thing for Cadet leader Jonah, and Jonah might just be the key to unlocking the secret identity of Taylor’s mother, who abandoned her when she was 11. In fact, nearly every relationship in Taylor’s life has unexpected ties to her past, and the continual series of revelations is both the book’s strength and weakness; the melodrama can be trying, but when Marchetta isn’t forcing epiphanies, she has a knack for nuanced characterizations and punchy dialogue. The complexity of the backstory will be offputting to younger readers, but those who stick it out will find rewards in the heartbreaking twists of Marchetta’s saga.   Daniel Kraus

The YaYaYas Blog

From the prologue:

My father took one hundred and thirty-two minutes to die.

I counted.

It happened on the Jellicoe Road. The prettiest road I’d ever seen, where trees made breezy canopies like a tunnel to Shangri-La. We were going to the ocean, hundreds of miles away, because I wanted to see the ocean and my father said that it was about time the four of us made that journey. I remember asking, “What’s the difference between a trip and a journey?” and my father said, “Narnie, my love, when we get there, you’ll understand,” and that was the last thing he ever said.

As with Undone, I don’t want to give too much away about Melina Marchetta’s Jellicoe Road. If you’re feeling adventurous, I recommend just diving into the book without reading the jacket copy or looking for more information about it. (In other words, don’t expect much plot summary in this review. Shocking, I know! :)) I will say that this is not a book for everyone. I can easily see teens picking this up and loving it, and I can also see teens giving up, even if you warn them that it’s tough going for a while. Myself, I loved this book. Right now, it’s my favorite book of the year. It’s a great book to hand to adults—both those familiar and unfamiliar with contemporary YA fiction—and, I have to say, I wouldn’t be surprised if this at least gets a Printz Honor, assuming it’s eligible for the award. (Although, after this past year’s winner and honor books, what do I know about how these committees think?)

Jellicoe Road is a book that demands a second reading. Partly because the characters and story were so indelibly created that I wanted to continue reading about them, but also because of how the story is structured. Beyond the prologue, which is only two pages long, we’re given no background info about anything. Not about the characters, not about the setting, not about the events that will take place. We read about the various characters and the school and events that play a role in the story, but are in the dark as to their importance, history, and relationships.

The first half of the book is difficult to comprehend because of this. We’re thrown into the middle of, well, something, with no explanation of what’s going on. The various characters aren’t so much introduced as they are captured in the midst of the action, and what background information is given early on about everyone and everything is not contextualized. Things happen, a lot of things, but Marchetta doesn’t place special emphasis on what is essential for readers to pick up on or explain the connections between the various elements. Instead, she gracefully and subtly fills in the blanks as the story goes on, and it’s left to the reader to put everything together. Little by little, as Taylor (the narrator) begins to learn more about the past and about herself, things start to make sense.

I’m a bit afraid I may have made Jellicoe Road seem a bit scary or intimidating. And it does, to be honest, require some effort on the part of the reader, but I also think that there is enough promise of a story, a reason to keep on reading, underlying everything that readers will become aware of, even if they pick the book up on their own with no assurance that it will start to make sense.

I’ve been thinking of the story as a jigsaw puzzle. At first, it’s confusing and perhaps more than a bit overwhelming. Gradually, we start putting the pieces together, in segments that start off small and may not be connected to each other, until we reach the point that we can join everything together, with only a few final pieces left to be put in place. And this, more than anything, is why I feel that it demands rereading. Because as much as I came to love the book the first time around, reading it again, with awareness and foreknowledge of who is who and what happened and why it’s so important, made the story so much richer. And it made me appreciate everything about the book even more: the structure, which was intricate yet seemed so effortlessly done; the prose, which was at times heartbreakingly beautiful, but also deceptively simple; the story, which is about friendship and family and love and loss and forgiveness and connections and learning to live and so much more, since I haven’t discussed the story at all here; and the characters, with all their complications and sorrow and hope, whom I continue to think about.

This is, in a sense, a book that sucks you in right away. I mean, remember the prologue? How could I not finish a book that begins this way? But it’s also a book that requires patience and trust, believing that everything confusing will fall into place and that the time and effort spent reading will be worth it. For me, it more than was.

octavian1Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing by M.T. Anderson

What you need to know: This book is a sequel, and while it contains a prologue that is a synopsis of book one, it is unlikely to appeal to a teen who hasn’t read book one. It is a book for a sophisticated reader who enjoys/loves historical fiction and is not deterred by a prosaic style of the 18th Century. I don’t think many teens younger than High School age would find it as interesting as older teens or adults.

The second Octavian Nothing novel jumps in where the last left off, with Octavian and his tutor, Dr. Trefusis, escaping his former masters and fleeing back to Boston. They fend off starvation during the Revolutionary Army’s siege of Boston and then escape to the fleet of Lord Dunmore, who has promised freedom to any slave who joins his Loyalist army. There Octavian re-encounters former fellow slave, Pro Bono, who had been given away as a gift during the first book. He meets many former slaves who have fled to join this regiment in the hope of securing freedom. Octavian spends his time among harrowing battles, foraging expeditions, and many narrow escapes, collecting the often-horrifying stories of these slaves, events primarily presented as Octavian’s diaries. He realizes just how well treated he was, despite being an experiment. He also learns from Pro Bono more about his mother and who she actually was. Nothing goes well for Lord Dunmore or his army, but in the midst of all the death, loss, and misery, Octavian realizes he is no longer without an identity. He has found his own. Anderson includes an afterward about the historical circumstances that inspired the novel and explains his choice of endings. More cohesive than the first book, it is a wonderfully written story with immersive descriptions of life during the Revolution, but it is still a challenging read that touches on some truly difficult topics. Reviewer: Teresa Copeland

School Library Journal Gr 9 Up
Octavian, the 16-year-old slave whose story began in The Pox Party (Candlewick, 2006), continues his search for identity in this brilliant, affecting, and philosophical sequel. Octavian and his tutor escape from Octavian’s master to relative safety in Boston where Octavian finds work as a violinist in a military band. After hearing of Lord Dunmore’s promise of freedom for slaves, he enlists in the Royal Ethiopian Regiment. Following a loss at Norfolk, they then take up quarters aboard British ships, barely fending off starvation and smallpox. Octavian’s uncertainty and doubt are tangible throughout. His detailed first-person narration is written in the richly expansive 18th-century prose introduced in volume one. He records the story while reviewing (and revealing to readers) his diary entries from the past year, so that “none of this shall pass from remembrance.” He endures abuse, shame, grief, and humiliation, and comes close to despair; however, he is ultimately hopeful that humanity can aspire to more than warring and despoiling. Teens will identify with Octavian’s internal tumult, how he experiences events as being acted upon him, and his transition from observer to participant, from boy to man. More than fascinating historical fiction, this is also a thoughtful and timeless examination of the nature of humanity and a critique of how society addresses (or ignores) identity, freedom, and oppression. Anderson’s masterful pacing, surprising use of imagery and symbolism, and adeptness at crafting structure make this a powerful reimagining of slavery and the American Revolution dazzle.-Amy J. Chow, The Brearley School, New York City

lockhartThe Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks
, by E. Lockhart

What you need to know: This is an entertaining and smart boarding school book with romance, pranks and a strong spirited girl in the John Green style. A book I would recommend to girl readers middle school and up who want something a bit different than the usual chick-lit fare.

Alan Review
Frankie Landau-Banks, a sophomore at Alabaster, a prestigious boarding school, is tired of being taken for granted by everyone. Dad calls her “bunny rabbit” and her family and friends don‘t really think she‘s capable of much. But she suddenly finds herself the girlfriend of Matthew, one of the hottest seniors on campus. Frankie finds out that Matthew is a member of the school’s secret all-male society, the Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds. Frankie is determined to find out what the Bassets do and how to become a Basset herself, so she follows Matthew and his Basset friends. In her own way, she is able to infiltrate the all-male society and send its members on many errands, setting up schoolwide pranks. The best part is that no one suspects the adorable Frankie as having a hand in it. A funny book that will leave you cheering for Frankie, you definitely won’t want to put this one down before she’s through. Reviewer: Jennifer Lee

Kirkus Reviews
This cerebral and offbeat comedy of manners will appeal to fans of John Green’s An Abundance of Katherines (2006). Spunky boarding-school sophomore Frances “Frankie” Landau-Banks is tired of being underestimated by the men in her life, including her upperclassman boyfriend Matthew and his wittier-than-thou friends. Inspired by P.G. Wodehouse’s Code of the Woosters, she infiltrates Matthew’s secret and exclusive male club-The Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds-and, unbeknownst to them, begins orchestrating their elaborate pranks. She hopes the boys will be awed by her ingenuity and finally acknowledge her brains as well as her recently developed body. But Matthew & Co. are less than pleased to discover Frankie’s deception, and she learns the hard way that “it’s better to be alone . . . than to be with someone who can’t see who you are.” Lockhart has transcended the chick-lit genre with this adroit, insightful examination of the eternal adolescent push-pull between meekly fitting in and being liked or speaking out and risking disdain. A funny feminist manifesto that will delight the anti-Gossip Girl gang. (Fiction. YA)

Printz Honor:
pratchett1Nation by Terry Pratchett

What you need to know: A very accessible book for all readers middle school and up. It is not part of Pratchett’s Discworld and stands alone as an excellent, humorous and thoughtful read. Both teen boys and girls will find something to like in this adventure and survival story.

Young Mau is stuck between two identities, boy and man, when his rite of passage into adulthood is thwarted by a deadly storm that wipes out the rest of his island nation. As fellow survivors from disparate places and cultures begin to converge on his home, Mau must not only work to negotiate his own identity, he must also lead these strangers through their own recovery. Mau’s closest ally is Daphne, a “ghost girl,” British royalty whose ship crashed onto the island during the storm. Despite language and cultural differences, Mau and Daphne manage to connect and lead the others by sharing and merging cultural histories, sometime listening to and other times ignoring the loud voices of their ancestors. Although most of what Mau knows has been ruined and much of what Daphne has been taught turned on its head, their leadership forges a new nation, as old truths are questioned and revised. Again Pratchett creates a magical yet familiar world full of fantastic images and difficult decisions. There is a lot going on in the novel-this reviewer could not help feeling as if she were missing something-but there is something to be said for Pratchett’s respect for the young reader whom he imagines can keep up with and find pleasure in the difficult worlds he creates. Dark and sometimes funny, this complex tale asks the reader to consider a variety of issues, from identity and tradition to faith and prejudice. Reviewer: Jennifer Miskec

Publishers Weekly
In Carnegie Medalist Pratchett’s (the Discworld novels; A Hat Full of Sky) superb mix of alternate history and fantasy, the king of England, along with the next 137 people in line to the throne, has just succumbed to the plague; the era might be akin to the 1860s or ’70s. As the heir apparent is being fetched from his new post as governor of an island chain in the South Pelagic Ocean, his daughter, the redoubtable Ermintrude, still en route to join him in the South Pelagic, has been shipwrecked by a tsunami. She meets Mau, whose entire people have been wiped out by the great wave (he escaped their fate only because he was undergoing an initiation rite on another island). She and Mau each suffer profound crises of faith, and together they re-establish Mau’s nation from other survivors who gradually wash up on shore and rediscover (with guidance from spirits) its remarkable lost heritage. Neatly balancing the somber and the wildly humorous in a riveting tale of discovery, Pratchett shows himself at the height of his powers. Ages 12-up. (Oct.)

morselsTender Morsels by Margo Lanagan

What you need to know: This is an emotional roller coaster of a novel, whose first two chapters include herbally induced abortions, incest, gang rape and murder. The rest of the book is about survival, escape and the persistence of love. It is unlikely that boys will find much appeal in this book and I would recommend it to those mature teen readers with a strong appreciation for fantasy and fable, or those who tell you they loved the original stories from the Brothers Grimm.

At the heart of this brilliant novel is the fairy tale Snow White and Rose Red, but Lanagan builds out from it in all directions. When fifteen-year-old Liga’s life in this world becomes unbearable-she has one daughter conceived in incest and is pregnant with another as a result of a gang rape-she intends to throw herself off a cliff. Instead she has an encounter with a strange being and wakes up in her own personal heaven-the world looks the same but without any of the people or things that could harm her. She happily raises her daughters Branza and Urdda there, unaware that the line between her world and the real world is occasionally porous. A greedy dwarf and two bears who are really transformed men are the catalysts for the three women’s journey back to the real world, where they must learn how to live among other people-the good and the bad. Lanagan creates a rich and complex world, packed with fully realized characters. Her writing is so beautiful that even the most brutal and painful scenes are not graphic or sordid but heartbreaking. Older teens, especially fans of fairy-tale retellings, will want to immerse themselves in Liga’s two worlds. This book is one that will stay with the reader for a long time. Reviewer: Sarah Flowers

School Library Journal Gr 9 Up
A traumatized teen mother magically escapes to her own personal heaven in this daring and deeply moving fantasy. The characters, setting, much of the action, and even the very words of the title are taken from the Grimm Brothers’ “Snow-White and Rose-Red,” a sweet story of contrasting sisters who live deep in the forest and whose innocent hearts are filled with compassion for a lonely bear and an endangered dwarf. In the novel, Liga’s daughters-one born of incest, the other of gang rape-first flourish in Liga’s safe world. But encounters with magical bears and the crusty dwarf challenge them to see a world beyond their mother’s secure dreamscape. Eventually the younger one, Urdda, and subsequently her sister and Liga are drawn back into the real world in which cruelty, hurt, and prejudice abound. But it is also only there that they can experience the range of human emotion, develop deep relationships, and discover who they truly are. The opening chapters vividly portray the emotional experience of a boy’s first sexual encounter, mind-numbing abuse by Liga’s father, and a violent gang rape. It’s heavy fare even for sophisticated readers, but the author hits all the right notes, giving voice to both the joys and terrors that sexual experience can bestow without saying more than readers need to know to be fully with the characters. While the story explores what it means to be human, it is at its heart an incisive exploration of the uses and limitations of dissociation as a coping mechanism. Beautifully written and surprising, this is a novel not to be missed.-Carolyn Lehman, Humboldt State University, Arcata, CA


2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. lillian hecker  |  February 25, 2009 at 3:45 pm

    I couldn’t read Jellicoe Road beyond the first 50 pages. I didn’t find the plot or characters interesting enough to want to learn more about them. The war between the groups sounded like similar plot lines in other YA fiction. I guess I missed a good read, but like many teenagers, there was nothing compelling in this uninspiring beginning. to make me want to turn the pages.

  • 2. deirdrea  |  March 10, 2009 at 5:44 pm

    Thanks, John!

    This is SUCH a helpful list! I’ll be sure to link to it from my blog.



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