Monthly Archives: October 2013



Huh. So when you said in your last post that I had given Winger 5 stars on Goodreads, my immediate response was “Really?” And I went and looked it up, because I honestly don’t remember it as a 5-star type of read. I must have been swayed by the fact that it was a lot better than anything else I was reading around the same time!

So what was it about Winger? Well, as you can see from the post I wrote not too long after I had read the book, I liked the relationship dynamic between Ryan Dean and the two girls. You have a good point about the one-dimensionality of Megan, but I actually saw that as the one-dimensionality of Ryan Dean’s approach to girls at the age of 14. And that seemed perfectly reasonable to me. But I do agree with you that I was never totally convinced that these 16- and 17-year old girls were so interested in the 14-year-old Ryan Dean.

I’m with you on the Joey story line. He was way too perfect (if one can be “too” perfect!) and I felt  somewhat manipulated by what you call his martyrdom. I also agree that the ending felt rushed and incomplete.

So obviously I’m not the one to defend this book, despite my earlier enthusiasm. In fact, I don’t remember all the details well enough to bring up counter-arguments, even if I were so inclined.

And that actually says something interesting about the process of evaluating books, doesn’t it? Or at least it demonstrates the importance of re-reading when one is responsible for giving awards! Our immediate feelings of being engrossed in a book can often give way to more realistic analysis once some time has passed.

– Mom


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You gave Andrew Smith’s Winger 5 Stars on Goodreads, and seemed pretty enthusiastic about it several months ago, but you seem to have cooled on it a bit recently, writing that you think there are better Contemporary titles out there.  I finally got around to reading it, and I have to say that while I acknowledge the book has several superficial strengths, I found it to be deeply lacking.

Characters and Voice

Ryan Dean was a fairly well drawn character with a strong narrative voice (although I thought he was kind of a horrible human being, but that’s beside the point), but every other character was either a stereotype or a two-dimensional cardboard cut-out:

  • Chas the jock/jerk (who, incidentally, seemed like a perfectly good guy, and I would have thought his jerkiness was all in Ryan’s head, except that Smith went out of his way to have both Joey and the rugby coach note that Chas was a jerk)
  • Seanie the “techie” with the weird sense of humor
  • Joey the magical, perfect, gay friend, who then became a glorious martyr
  • Casey the closeted homophobe
  • Megan, the sexual object. I mean seriously:  she was never given any reason for being attracted to Ryan except a vague “she liked smart guys.”  And she wasn’t just using him to get to Chas because she is shown to be genuinely crushed when Ryan Dean breaks it off.  I found that whole plotline and character immensely implausible, and maybe slightly sexist since Megan was given no other characteristics besides “sex object for Ryan.”
  • Annie. Well, maybe Annie was a bit more fleshed out, but I still can’t tell you much about her beyond that she likes to run, is “creative”, and is in love with Ryan Dean.

Back to Ryan Dean, though. Although he certainly is well characterized, such that you know who he is, there are still some problems in terms of how he changes throughout the novel. First, there is the annoying repetition. “I’m such a fucking loser” gets old – actually it grated on me the first time he said it. Same goes for his not terribly funny takes on Mrs. Singer.  Next, although his behaviors change a bit by the end of the novel–the long string of apologies at the dance; his commitment to Annie and refusal of Megan–I didn’t really pick up on anything within his narration that gave me reason to believe in these changes as part of his character rather than just trying to get what he wanted.

I was also troubled by the characterization of Ryan pre-novel. What exactly was he supposed to have been like and how had he changed? He’s gotten into fights before, but he is in O-Hall for using a cellphone? Does he really love rugby? This was a big tell-not-show aspect of the book for me.


Those last two characters bring me to plot. Much of the plot was motivated by the “love triangle” between Megan, Annie, and Ryan Dean. I agree with what you said about Ryan Dean being a plausibly immature teen, but I object to the entire concept of this plot on the grounds that it is completely and utterly implausible. Why are these two beautiful, (we’re given to believe) smart, popular girls interested in Ryan Dean, who is two or three years younger than them? I don’t buy it.

Obviously more important is the completely bizarre turn at the very end of novel, with the murder of Joey. What is going on here? If this is supposed to be a major part of the book, why is so little time given to the aftermath? It just seems tacked on to an entirely different novel. Either that, or Smith just decided the book was too long and lost interest in pursuing the ending. Either way, we get no real understanding of how this event affects Ryan Dean or anyone else.

This gets back to Ryan Dean’s characterization, too.  Does he feel guilty for not following up on his feelings of unease the night of the dance? Why didn’t he follow up on them anyway? Wasn’t it exactly in his character to go into the girl’s dorm and find out what was happening, even though he (thought he) knew better? Smith is strangely silent on the issue of Ryan Dean’s guilt–not that I think it is Ryan Dean’s fault, only that it would be an obvious place for a sensitive, smart kid’s mind to go under the circumstances.


Another boarding school novel. Do we believe it? Is there anything that distinguishes the school from every other boarding school we’ve read about?

OK – that’s enough for now. You and our commenter Lauren both thought much more highly of this book. What’d I miss?

– Mark

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Genre vs. Content


I have many thoughts on your recent post. First, I think you’re off on the number of Contemporary Realistic Fiction titles we’re looking at. Looking at my long list of 16 titles, I see:

  • Pieces (I don’t remember any magic realism – readers correct me if I’m wrong)
  • The Lucy Variations
  • Reality Boy
  • Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass
  • Winger

That’s a pretty healthy chunk. Meanwhile, looking at Printz awardees, Beth Fama showed a pretty tremendous bias toward Contemporary Realistic last year, especially among the winners.  It’s true that many of these center around more or less tragic events, but I think that is a somewhat separate issue from genre, closer to the issue which has come up on places like Someday My Printz Will Come with regard to the elusive Printz-worthy humor titles. For example, if you want romance this year, let’s look at Eleanor & Park, which is “historical” fiction in the sense that it takes place 30 years ago, and certainly involves some weighty issues, but nevertheless fits the bill of a romantic comedy fairly well.

To take it from another perspective, you say “It seems, though, that in order to be considered a ‘serious’ book, contemporary realistic fiction needs to have some really major tragic event going on.” But I would argue that the same applies to other genres as well.  For example, among the 7.5 Historical Fiction titles on Beth’s list, we have 1.5 on World War II; 3 about slavery/race relations; 1 about a horrific murder; one about alcoholism and depression; and Revolver. Not a cheery group.

The fantasy titles are a bit better, but we still have tales of apocalyptic or dystopian societies; murderous horses; monsters; ghosts; and Margo Lanagan (twice).

So, I guess the point is that to be considered as “serious”, regardless of genre, a book needs to include some heavy-hitting, usually depressing, events and themes. Why that is is a whole other question that I think can probably be traced very far back in the history of Western (and possibly non-Western) art, which is a bit beyond the purview of this blog.

– Mark

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Contemporary realistic fiction


I just read The Beginning of Everything, by Robyn Schneider and I have some things to say about it, but first I want to say a few words about contemporary realistic fiction, of which this is an example.

So why is it often so hard to think of contemporary realistic fiction as award-worthy? Looking at the list we have started to compile for our Mock Printz, the only ones that are straight contemporary realistic fiction are The Lucy Variations and Winger. Maybe Pieces, although am I mis-remembering or was there a bit of magical realism in that? 17 & Gone is contemporary, but there’s definitely some fantasy/magical realism going on there.

I think one of the problems is that often realistic fiction is pretty much straight romance. I’m thinking here of books I enjoyed very much this year like This is What Happy Looks Like (Jennifer E. Smith), Just One Day and Just One Year (Gayle Forman), The Moon and More (Sarah Dessen), and The Infinite Moment of Us (Lauren Myracle). It seems, though, that in order to be considered a “serious” book, contemporary realistic fiction needs to have some really major tragic event going on.

Well, interestingly enough, that’s sort of the thesis of The Beginning of Everything. BeginningNarrator Ezra has a theory–stated in the very first paragraph–that “everyone has a tragedy waiting for them . . . that everyone’s life, no matter how unremarkable, has a moment when it will become extraordinary–a single encounter after which everything that really matters will happen.”

Despite the fact that when you try to describe this book, it does sound a bit like (as one Goodreads reviewer said) a Taylor Swift song, there really is a lot more there there. So, basic plot line: Ezra finds his shallow girlfriend ch,eating on him, gets into a car accident that ruins his tennis career, and meets a new girl (who isn’t exactly a manic pixie dream girl, but comes close), and realizes how much better life is this way. Except, of course, it isn’t quite that simple, and it definitely doesn’t end the way you think it will.

There were a number of things I especially liked about this book. It does a pretty good job of depicting smart kids and the way they talk. (Incidentally, having just read Jenni Fagan’s Panopticon, I was especially intrigued by the various references in the book to Foucault and his analysis of society as a panopticon.)I liked the way these kids knew Foucault, but also Harry Potter and Seinfeld. I liked the relationship between Ezra and Cassidy, and between Ezra and Toby, who had been Ezra’s best friend in elementary school, before Ezra became “cool.”

The whole Ezra-was-once-cool-but-now-he’s-not thing, though, I had a bit of a problem with. I wondered how true-to-life it is. I know it’s a cliche that high schools have these cliques–jocks, nerds, drama geeks, etc.–but is that really true? Even in Orange County? I mean, when I was in high school, there were plenty of athletes–especially tennis players!–who were also smart kids and debaters. And clearly Ezra was already a smart kid, because he was in AP classes. So I find it a little hard to believe that simply by not being on the tennis team any more, he has become an outcast from his friends.

On the other hand, that was part of the point of the story–Ezra was the one who felt he was the outcast, and he was himself already pulling away from these so-called friends, as witnessed by the way he was distancing himself at the end-of-junior-year party that led to his car accident. And that distancing may have been what led his old friends to more or less abandon him after the injury.

At its essence, this is a coming of age novel, as Ezra starts to really think about what it is that he is interested in and what it is that he wants to do. There’s a great scene in which he and Cassidy spend a day off school just dropping into classes at the nearby university. They accidentally end up in an organic chemistry lecture, and something just clicks for Ezra, and he gets excited and starts to see possibilities for the future. It isn’t referred to again, except that it is just one example of the way that Ezra’s horizons are beginning to expand.

So the more I think about this book, the more I like it. I think it’s stronger Printz contender than, say, Winger, to mention one of our other contemporary realistic fiction possibilities. So, take a look at it, and let me know what you think.

– Mom

p.s. Spoiler alert: there’s dead sibling in this book, too!


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Mock Printz Titles – Mark’s Take


I think you’ve covered the major bases for books we’ve discussed on this blog. I like to push the age discussion a little (if only to annoy Karyn Silverman 😉 so I’d like to see a 10-14 title on our list.  I haven’t read a ton of those, but the one that stands out for me is The Water Castle, by Megan Frazer Blakemore.  I haven’t read Fangirl, but our readers seem to have nixed that one.

I also haven’t gotten to September Girls or Yaqui Delgado, though I’d be happy to plow through any of them for discussion’s sake.  I think considering that neither of us liked Maggot Moon much, we can’t give it much of a fighting chance.

I recently finished Rose Under Fire and Winger, and I may post further on them, but personally I’d vote against either one.  On the other hand, I’m open to discussing them, so we can leave them on the list for now.

So that leaves us with an A-List of 10 titles that one or both of us is ready and willing to defend:

  • Yellowcake, by Margo Lanagan
  • Pieces, by Chris Lynch
  • Far Far Away, by Tom McNeal
  • Corner of White, by Jaclyn Moriarty
  • Primates, by Jim Ottiviani
  • Eleanor and Park, by Rainbow Rowell
  • Midwinterblood, by Marcus Sedgwick
  • 17 & Gone, by Nova Ren Suma
  • Boxers, by Gene Luen Yang
  • The Lucy Variations, by Sara Zarr

And a B-List of 6 books we either need to read or need reader support on:

  • The Water Castle by Megan Frazer Blakemore
  • Reality Boy, by A.S. King
  • September Girls, by Bennett Madison
  • Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, by Meg Medina
  • Winger, by Andrew Smith
  • Rose Under Fire, by Elizabeth Wein

To cut that down to 8-10 titles, we need reader input.  Tell us which books you want to discuss and/or see us discuss.

– Mark


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End of the Year


We’re into the final quarter of the year, and it’s time to start thinking seriously about our idea to do a Mock Printz meeting in January. I feel like I haven’t read nearly enough  books this year to do it right, but I’m willing to give it a shot, based on books we’ve both been impressed with, and suggestions from others.

Here’s what Nina said in discussing Heavy Medal’s Mock Newbery criteria:  “We strive for a shortlist that people can actually get their hands on and read, and that provides a     broad and interesting discussion.  We also want to include titles that we really think are good contenders, and your comments help us figure this out.”

Given that, I think we probably need a shortlist of 8-10 titles, which should be manageable to discuss in an afternoon.

I’d also like to find out who among our readership live in the Bay Area and would be interested in participating. We’re thinking about the afternoon of Sunday, January 19, which is just a week before the actual awards are announced. It’s a long weekend–that Monday is Martin Luther King Day. So if you think you might want to attend (you don’t have to make a final commitment yet), let us know in the comments, or email one of us offline ( or

So here’s my first list of possibles, based on books we’ve talked about here so far this year; I’m more than open to suggestions, especially if you or any of our readers has any inside scoop on books to be released in this final quarter of the year.

17 & Gone, by Nova Ren Suma

Yellowcake, by Margo Lanagan

Pieces, by Chris Lynch

Midwinterblood, by Marcus Sedgwick: My take and yours

Primates, by Jim Ottiviani

Boxers and/or Saints, by Gene Luen Yang

Corner of White, by Jaclyn Moriarty

The Lucy Variations, by Sara Zarr

Eleanor and Park, by Rainbow Rowell

Winger, by Andrew Smith

Rose Under Fire, by Elizabeth Wein

We’ve briefly talked about Reality Boy, by A.S. King. Include it?

I still haven’t read Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell (4 starred reviews–I have it on hold at the library) or September Girls,  by Bennett Madison (5 starred reviews–also on hold). Any thoughts from anyone?

Far Far Awayby Tom McNeal also has 5 starred reviews, but you thought it had some pretty fatal flaws. Again, include it?

I think we  both thought Maggot Moon was both flawed and too young.

I haven’t read Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, by Meg Medina, which has 4 starred reviews.

And where’s the nonfiction? Is there anything out there that is really YA nonfiction this year?

What have I left out? What should be removed from this list? What absolutely has to be discussed?

– Mom


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