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Reviews of the 2018 Printz Award winners

Winner

We Are Okay
by Nina LaCour
High School     Dutton      234 pp.
2/17     978-0-525-42589-2     $17.99

Alone on a snowy campus for winter break during her first year of college, Marin — who abruptly fled her California home for reasons that only gradually become clear — anxiously awaits the arrival of her best friend for a visit. Marin’s harrowing, heartbreaking backstory illustrates the complexities of a friendship that turns romantic and the knotty relationship between grief and memory.

From the Fall 2017 issue of The Horn Book Guide.

 

Honor Books

 

star2 The Hate U Give
by Angie Thomas
High School    Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins    453 pp.
2/17    978-0-06-249853-3    $17.99

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter lives a life many African American teenagers can relate to: a life of double consciousness. Caught between her rough, predominantly black neighborhood and the “proper,” predominantly white prep school she attends, Starr has learned how to “speak with two different voices and only say certain things around certain people.” This precarious balance is broken when Starr witnesses the shooting of her (unarmed) childhood friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. What follows is a gut-wrenching chain of events that alters all Starr holds dear. New relationships are forged, old ones are severed, and adversaries arise as Starr’s family, friends, school, and neighborhood react to Khalil’s death, including questioning who Khalil was, and whether his death was justified. Between her neighborhood’s “no-snitching” code and inaccurate media portrayals, Starr must decide whether or not to speak out — and her decision could endanger her life. With a title taken from rapper Tupac Shakur’s acronym THUG LIFE (“The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody”), the novel introduces numerous components of the urban experience, “thug life” included. From drug addicts to police officers, most characters are multifaceted, proving that Starr’s world is not all black or white (or black vs. white, for that matter). The story, with so many issues addressed, can feel overwhelming at times, but then again, so can the life of an African American teen. Debut author Thomas is adept at capturing the voices of multiple characters, and she ultimately succeeds in restoring Starr’s true voice. Thomas has penned a powerful, in-your-face novel that will similarly galvanize fans of Kekla Magoon’s How It Went Down (rev. 11/14) and Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely’s All American Boys (rev. 11/15).

From the March/April 2017 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Long Way Down
by Jason Reynolds
High School    Dlouhy/Atheneum    306 pp.    g
10/17    978-1-4814-3825-4    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-1-4814-3827-8    $10.99

Fifteen-year-old Will, immobilized with grief when his older brother Shawn is shot and killed, slowly comes to mull The Rules in his head. There are three: don’t cry, don’t snitch, and “if someone you love / gets killed, / find the person / who killed / them and / kill them.” So Will locates Shawn’s gun, leaves his family’s eighth-floor apartment, and — well, here is where this intense verse novel becomes a gripping drama, as on each floor of the descending elevator Will is joined by yet another victim or perpetrator in the chain of violence that took his brother’s life. Shawn’s best friend Buck gets into the elevator on seven; Dani, Will’s friend from childhood, gets in on six; Will and Shawn’s uncle Mark gets in on five, in a cloud of cigarette smoke. And so it goes, each stop of the elevator adding to the chorus of ghosts (including Will and Shawn’s father), each one with his or her perspective on The Rules. The poetry is stark, fluently using line breaks and page-turns for dramatic effect; the last of these reveals the best closing line of a novel this season. Read alone (though best aloud), the novel is a high-stakes moral thriller; it’s also a perfect if daring choice for readers’ theater. ROGER SUTTON

From the July/August 2017 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

taylor_strange the dreamerStrange the Dreamer
by Laini Taylor
High School    Little, Brown    533 pp.
3/17    978-0-316-34168-4    $18.99    g
e-book ed.  978-0-316-34164-6    $10.99

Lazlo Strange is a lowly librarian with a keen and singular interest in the mysterious city of Weep, which lost contact with the rest of the world over two hundred years ago. When an envoy from that fabled city suddenly appears at the Great Library in the kingdom of Zosma, recruiting the best minds for a formidable but undefined problem, Lazlo manages to finagle a spot on the delegation. Meanwhile, we are introduced to teenage Sarai, who is “godspawn” — half-human, half-god — and who for the past fifteen years has lived in an impregnable metal citadel that hovers in the sky over Weep, ever since the gods were slaughtered in retribution for their brutal acts of sexual violence. Sarai has the power to fragment her consciousness into a hundred moth-shaped pieces and send them down to torment the citizens of Weep with nightmares. Much to her surprise, Sarai finds that, unlike others, Lazlo can actually see her when she enters his dreams, and what starts as an uneasy alliance between enemies blossoms into an improbable romance that will have tragic consequences as the plot draws to its cliffhanging conclusion. Taylor’s work (Daughter of Smoke & Bone, rev. 11/11, and sequels) sits at the nexus of the fantasy, horror, and romance genres. Here she has spun another mesmerizing tale with captivating twists and turns, an array of intriguing characters, strange and beautiful language, and baroque flourishes of the imagination; and, once again, she has set her readers up for an epic finale in the concluding volume of the duology.

From the March/April 2017 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

heiligman_vincent and theostar2 Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers
by Deborah Heiligman
High School    Holt    451 pp.
4/17    978-0-8050-9339-1    $19.99    g
e-book ed.  978-1-2501-0969-9    $9.99

Heiligman (Charles and Emma, rev. 1/09) again examines the impact of a family member on her main subject, this time unpacking the friendship between artist Vincent van Gogh and his brother Theo. After vividly setting the stage with brief sections that introduce Vincent and Theo near the end of their lives, Heiligman takes readers back to their beginnings. We learn of other siblings and of supportive parents; we gain a sense of their childhoods in their father’s parsonage. Structured as a walk through an art museum, the book proceeds through the years, each section a gallery: “Gallery Two: Dangers (1873–1875)”; “Gallery Three: Missteps, Stumbles (1875–1879).” We see Vincent moving restlessly from one job to another, at times acting and dressing oddly, walking huge distances when short on funds, coping with unrequited love, and slowly embracing the life of an artist. We see Theo, the art dealer, struggling with his own trials, consistently supporting Vincent throughout his life. Heiligman mostly employs a present-tense, purposely staccato narration that effectively heightens the brothers’ emotional intensity, their sufferings and pleasures (physical, emotional, intellectual, aesthetic, and spiritual), and, most of all, Vincent’s wild and original art. The layout, which incorporates sketches, subheads, and a generous use of white space, is a calming counterpoint to the turbulent narrative. Documenting the author’s research involving visits to sites, along with academic and primary sources, the extensive back matter includes a list of significant people, a timeline, a bibliography, thorough citations, and an author’s note. The result is a unique and riveting exploration of art, artists, and brotherly love.

From the March/April 2017 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

For more, click on the tag ALA Midwinter 2018.

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