Reviews of the 2021 Printz Award Winners


Everything Sad Is Untrue: (A True Story)
by Daniel Nayeri
Middle School    Levine Querido    368 pp.    g
8/20    978-1-64614-000-8    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-1-64614-002-2    $9.99

Framed loosely as his twelve-year-old self’s responses to a series of school assignments, Nayeri’s fictionalized memoir swirls through his own memories as well as stories from his family history, circling around major events and pausing to include his Oklahoma classmates’ reactions to his tales of early childhood in Iran. This structure means the story takes some time to pick up speed — which it does once it goes into more focused detail about Nayeri’s family’s journey: their quick escape from Iran after his mother’s life was threatened because she had converted to Christianity; his father’s decision to stay behind. The buildup comprises tangent upon tangent — Nayeri alludes frequently to Scheherazade’s stringing together of stories in the 1,001 Nights — but those tangents are absorbing and full of universalizing detail and humor (there’s more than one poop anecdote). This tale is constantly focused on its telling, with references to an imagined audience and reminders of who characters are. The actual audience is a bit of a puzzle, as the twelve-year-old narrator’s tale spans a wide range of ages in his life and those of his family members, and the overall sensibility seems more adult than not. An author’s note acknowledges the fallibility of memory as well as some deliberate alterations; it is, as Nayeri puts it, “both fiction and nonfiction at the same time.” SHOSHANA FLAX

From the November/December 2020 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


Honor Books

We Are Not Free
by Traci Chee
Middle School, High School    Houghton    386 pp.    g
9/20    978-0-358-13143-4    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-0-358-33000-4    $9.99

Chee follows up her successful fantasy trilogy (The Reader and sequels) with this very different work of historical fiction, drawing on her personal family and cultural history for a story of World War II. Beginning in March 1942, three months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, fourteen young people — all but one from San Francisco’s Japantown — chronicle, in interlinked stories, their lives over the course of the next three years. Their first-person, present-tense narratives depict a multiplicity of thoughts, feelings, and experiences, particularly regarding the unjust treatment of Japanese American citizens before, during, and after incarceration in internment camps. The result is slightly disorienting as characters come and go, but the overall effect is nuanced and kaleidoscopic. Gaman is a Japanese word for endurance, a dignified response to adversity; it’s a characteristic most of these young adults exhibit in one form or another: “The ability to hold your pain and bitterness inside you and not let them destroy you. To make something beautiful through your anger, or with your anger, and neither erase it nor let it define you. To suffer. And to rage. And to persevere.” Various graphic elements connect the story to its historical period (drawings, photographs, maps, postcards, telegrams, and newspaper articles), while the author’s note grounds it in Chee’s extensive research and family experience. JONATHAN HUNT

From the September/October 2020 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. 


Apple: Skin to the Core
by Eric Gansworth; illus. by the author
Middle School, High School    Levine Querido   352 pp.    g
10/20    978-1-64614-013-8    $18.99
e-book ed.  978-1-64614-004-6    $18.99

Gansworth, an enrolled member of the Onondaga Nation, grew up on the Tuscarora reservation, making him always “the outsider inside.” The theme of being an outsider appears frequently in this memoir in verse. So does the complicated legacy of Indian boarding schools, which three of his grandparents attended, and the slur “Apple,” meaning “red on the outside, white on the inside” (based in assumptions that the author challenges). Gansworth’s first-person narrative tells a deeply personal story, full of family history and references to popular culture. As in his novel If I Ever Get Out of Here (rev. 9/13), the music of the Beatles is central, with section titles alluding to the band’s history and Abbey Road songs providing poem titles within one section. The full pages of mostly long-lined, sometimes dense verse (including some prose poems) are occasionally relieved by Gansworth’s gouache illustrations, featuring a complex interplay of images from popular culture and traditional wampum belts documenting and celebrating “survival and cultural continuity,” and by photographs gathered from various sources. This introspective memoir confirms by its very existence that, though the boarding schools tried to erase Indian culture, Native peoples “are still / here, / still standing, still walking, one resilient step at a time.” Back matter includes further information about the author’s poetry and art and explains musical connections. DEAN SCHNEIDER

From the November/December 2020 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. 


Every Body Looking
by Candice Iloh
High School    Dutton    416 pp.    g
9/20    978-0-525-55620-6    $17.99 








Dragon Hoops
by Gene Luen Yang; illus. by the author; color by Lark Pien
High School    First Second/Roaring Brook    446 pp.
3/20    978-1-62672-079-4    $24.99

“I’m just not a sports kind of guy,” begins Yang in this comics-format offering that brilliantly combines journalism, memoir, and sports history. Yang, who taught math at Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland, California, during the events of the book, provides readers with an inside look at the school’s elite basketball team’s season as it attempted to win the California State Championship in 2015. Weaving the details of that team’s efforts with a primer on the history of basketball, Yang skillfully juggles the stories of multiple players and coaches as well as his own journey from basketball novice to avid fan. In the appended notes, Yang explains his art and narrative choices chapter-by-chapter with page and panel notations, from the sneakers and the hairstyles of the individual players to times when certain conversations happened differently than depicted. While the action on the court is absolutely transfixing (with page layouts often using trapezoid-shaped panels whose diagonal lines amp up the dynamism), the story shines just as brightly off the court when Yang’s focus shifts to his own dilemmas and profound insights regarding art and storytelling. Single-season reportage is a popular subgenre of sports writing in the adult publishing world (try In These Girls, Hope Is a Muscle for a basketball classic), and here is a perfect entryway into this form for teen readers. A bibliography is also appended. ERIC CARPENTER

From the May/June 2020 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. 


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