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Reviews of the 2019 Printz Award winners

Winner

The Poet X
by Elizabeth Acevedo
High School    HarperTeen    361 pp.    g
3/18    978-0-06-266280-4    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-0-06-266282-8    $9.99

Fifteen-year-old Xiomara, whose name means “one who is ready for war,” has been fighting her whole life. The self-described “brown and big and angry” Dominican girl from Harlem furiously confronts catcalling boys, chafes under her Catholic parents’ restrictive rules, and both adores and resents her “genius” twin brother, who seems to be everything she’s not. She finds moments of peace by writing in her poetry journal, joining a spoken-word poetry club, and exploring a blossoming romance with Aman, her science partner. The slow-burning suspense of what will transpire when devout Mami discovers Xiomara and Aman’s clandestine relationship is eclipsed only by the devastation that occurs when Mami finds and reads Xiomara’s candid journal. But Xiomara must brave Mami’s ire if she is ever going to realize her writing dream. Spoken-word artist Acevedo’s debut verse novel is an arresting portrait of a young poet coming into her own. In nearly every poem, there is at least one universal truth about adolescence, family, gender, race, religion, or sexuality that will have readers either nodding in grateful acknowledgment or blinking away tears. “It almost feels like / the more I bruise the page / the quicker something inside me heals.” JENNIFER HUBERT SWAN

From the March/April 2018 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

 

Honor Books

Damsel
by Elana K. Arnold
High School     Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins     312 pp.
10/18     978-0-06-274232-2     $17.99
e-book ed. 978-0-06-274234-6     $9.99

This original fairy tale begins with Prince Emory on the dangerous quest required to prove himself worthy of his father’s recently vacated throne: saving a damsel from a dragon. But following the successful (off -page) rescue, it quickly becomes clear that our protagonist is the damsel herself, who has no memory of how she got to the dragon’s lair or of her life before it. Emory names her Ama and whisks her away to his walled kingdom to await their wedding day. Initially obliging, Ama soon begins to despair of her captivity and exploitation — and the cruel sense of ownership underlying Emory’s actions. Thematically supporting subplots include the lynx kitten Ama adopts after it is orphaned by Emory; the hawks blinded and tamed by the castle’s falconer; and the servants and villagers entirely at the new king’s whim. Eventually, after meeting the kingdom’s famed glassblower, Ama discovers an unusual aptitude for the craft and much-sought clues to her past. Hints along the way suggest Ama’s true origin and the nature of her “rescue” well before they are revealed, but the conclusion of her tale is nevertheless both surprising and satisfying. Though somewhat reminiscent in plot of Beagle’s The Last Unicorn, Arnold’s wrenching tale is more akin in theme and tone to Lanagan’s Tender Morsels (rev. 9/08) or The Brides of Rollrock Island (rev. 9/12) — lyrical, brutal, and unapologetically feminist. KATIE BIRCHER

From the November/December 2018 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

A Heart in a Body in the World
by Deb Caletti
High School    Simon Pulse    358 pp.
9/18    978-1-4814-1520-0    $18.99
e-book ed.  978-1-4814-1523-1    $10.99

Nine months ago, the boy whom eighteen-year-old long-distance runner Annabelle calls “The Taker” irrevocably changed her life for the worse. Now she has embarked on a run from Seattle to Washington, DC, to try to manage the immense anxiety, guilt, and sorrow that have dogged her since. As she runs her daily sixteen miles, accompanied by curmudgeonly Grandpa Ed in his RV, she battles blisters, cramps, dehydration, and unwelcome memories of her relationship with The Taker. She agonizes over what she could have done differently, and blames herself for making excuses for his behavior. When she meets a kind young man along the way, she is understandably wary. But as she is cheered on by friends, family, and complete strangers, Annabelle’s broken heart slowly begins to mend. When readers finally discover what happened between Annabelle and The Taker (involving a gun and a death), it’s almost anticlimactic. The joy and power of this story is in taking the physical and mental journey with Annabelle as she relinquishes her feelings of self-blame and inspires others to act. Caletti’s lyrical third-person, present-tense narration blends immediate detail with gut-wrenching flashbacks to great effect. An important and legitimizing book for any girl who ever believed a boy was owed her attention and any boy who ever assumed it was his due. JENNIFER HUBERT SWAN

From the November/December 2018 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

I, Claudia
by Mary McCoy
High School    Carolrhoda        418 pp.
10/18     9781512448467     $18.99

Imperial Day Academy’s student senate and honor council wield great authority. When Claudia McCarthy realizes how nasty high-school politics taint these institutions, she charts a path to leadership with the goal of improving things; eventually her motivations shift. Claudia’s narrative alternates with transcripts from a school hearing and therapy sessions. In this retelling of Robert Graves’s I, Claudius, points about power and corruption resonate in a cut-throat private-school setting. MEGAN LYNN ISAAC

From the Spring 2019 issue of The Horn Book Guide.

 

For more, click on the tag ALA Midwinter 2019.

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