Reviews of the 2020 Printz Award winners

Winner

Dig.
by A.S. King
High School    Dutton    394 pp.    g
3/19    978-1-101-99491-7    $17.99

David has never met his father and is tired of constantly moving around with his mom. Malcolm has already lost his mother and is about to lose his beloved father to cancer. Katie deals drugs out of a fast-food drive-thru window and longs for escape from her racist parents. Loretta lives in filth and poverty with an abusive family and copes by obsessively masturbating and imagining her entire life as a performance. The four teens are connected by “The Freak,” a mysterious girl who flickers in and out of their lives with prophetic messages. Interspersed among the protagonists’ voices are vignettes about a wealthy old married couple, whose millions from the sale of a legacy potato farm have brought them no happiness; and two violent brothers hiding a sinister secret. King’s narrative concerns are racism, patriarchy, colonialism, white privilege, and the ingrained systems that perpetuate them — issues that she confronts directly through her characters’ unique (and sometimes twisted) views of their world and the people around them. The author’s trademark surrealism and trenchant prose will speak profoundly to a generation of young people who are waking up to the societal sins of the past and working toward a more equitable future. JENNIFER HUBERT SWAN

From the March/April 2019 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. Read more by and about A.S. King.

 

Honor Books

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me
by Mariko Tamaki; illus. by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell
High School    First Second/Roaring Brook    298 pp.
5/19    978-1-250-31284-6    $24.99
Paper ed.  978-1-62672-259-0    $17.99

This relatable, heart-wrenching, and often funny graphic novel opens with seventeen-year-old Frederica (“Freddy”) Riley’s email to advice columnist Anna Vice. “For almost the past year I’ve been in love with a girl named Laura Dean. Which is the hardest thing I’ve ever been. Because…Laura Dean…keeps breaking up with me.” That self-absorbed, thoughtless Laura Dean is an utterly unsuitable partner for our tender-hearted protagonist is apparent four pages in — but so is Laura Dean’s charismatic appeal. Freddy is so consumed with seeking answers (from Anna Vice; from new potential crush Vi; even from a fortuneteller) as to why Laura Dean keeps breaking up with her and what to do about it that she completely misses what’s been happening in best friend Doodle’s life, at a time when Doodle needs her most. Freddy’s insightful and painfully honest first-person narration, in the form of her journal entry–like emails to Anna, is balanced by dialogue full of witty banter and warm moments of friendship among Freddy’s supportive, queer-centric Berkeley community of friends and mentors (all of whom urge Freddy to forget Laura Dean and find someone who deserves her). Black-and-white panel illustrations with pink accents provide additional characterization and feature a cast diverse in race, gender expression, and body type. By the time Anna Vice writes back near the story’s end, Freddy is well on her way to finding her own solution — one readers will cheer. KATIE BIRCHER

From the July/August 2019 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. Read more by and about Mariko Tamaki.

 

Ordinary Hazards: A Memoir
by Nikki Grimes
High School    Wordsong/Boyds Mills    325 pp.
10/19    978-1-62979-881-3    $19.99

As poetically written as Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming (rev. 9/14) with a story as hard-hitting as Sapphire’s Push. In her author’s note, poet Grimes (winner of the 2017 Children’s Literature Legacy Award) says that memoirs focus on truth, not fact. Because of the childhood trauma she suffered, she has limited memories of her early years but has constructed the truths of her life from a patchwork of recollections; photos obtained from friends and family; and a few artifacts salvaged despite the frequent moves of her impoverished family and time spent in foster care. Overshadowing most of the story, her mother’s mental illness (paranoid schizophrenia), alcoholism, and marriage to an abusive and irresponsible man made Grimes’s early life hazardous. In a childhood in which she had to elude rats in her apartments and bullies and gangs in her neighborhoods and in which she was sexually violated by her stepfather, young Nikki found solace and confidence through her identity as a writer. She was supported and nurtured by her sister, from whom she was separated at age five; by her father, a violinist who immersed Nikki in Harlem’s Black Arts scene; and by an English teacher who insisted on excellence. As her story unfolds (the book is arranged in sections, chronologically, beginning in 1950 and ending in 1966), the striking free-verse poems powerfully convey how a passion for writing fueled her will to survive and embrace her own resilience. “My spiral notebook bulges / with poems and prayers / and questions only God / can answer. / Rage burns the pages, / but better them / than me.” A must-read for aspiring writers. MONIQUE HARRIS

From the September/October 2019 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. Read more by and about Nikki Grimes.

 

The Beast Player
by Nahoko Uehashi; trans. by Cathy Hirano
High School    Godwin/Holt    344 pp.
3/19    978-1-250-30746-0    $19.99

After her mother is killed by Toda, the giant water serpents used in battle in a Japanese-inflected fantasy kingdom, Elin grows up to work with Royal Beasts, the gryphon-like enemies of the Toda. When the divine ruler wants to use Royal Beasts as weapons, however, Elin rebels. An uneven start matures into a compelling, thought-provoking meditation on moral decisions and exploitation of the natural world. ANITA L. BURKAM

From The Horn Book Guide.

 

Where the World Ends
by Geraldine McCaughrean
Middle School, High School    Flatiron    336 pp.
12/19    978-1-2502-2549-8    

REVIEW TO COME

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For more, click on the tag ALA Midwinter 2020.

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