Five books published in 2013 recently were rewarded for their outstanding contributions to Young Adult literature. Four of these books were runners-up to the winner of the American Library Association’s Michael L. Printz Award, which is given to the “best book written for teens, based entirely on its literary merit.”
Many past recipients have become well-known novels, including Walter Dean Myer’s “Monster,” Markus Zusak’s “The Book Thief” and Daniel Handler’s “Why We Broke Up.” “Looking For Alaska’s” win in 2006 was a huge career launch for author John Green, who has become one of today’s biggest Young Adult authors. Previous winners span all genres, and this year’s list is no exception.
Winning this year’s top honor is “Midwinterblood” by Marcus Sedgwick, with a subject far from the expected. After all, vampire novels are rarely praised as high-quality literature. But push all “Twilight” jokes aside; “Midwinterblood” is one roller coaster of a love story. The novel twists through the lives – and past lives – of two lovers. Eric is a journalist reporting on the mysterious island of Blessed, where he meets and instantly falls in love with the beautiful Merle. But it turns out this isn’t the first time they’ve met. In fact, the story’s seven parts each tell of a time when Eric and Merle loved each other in the past, and in many unusual ways. The stories all intertwine into one brilliant connection – a truly twisted love story.
The first of the four runners-up, “Eleanor & Park” by Rainbow Rowell, tells an all-too-realistic love story, and that’s what sets it apart. The two title lovers are misfits; Eleanor is a bigger, redheaded girl plagued by poverty and an abusive stepfather, while Park is isolated by his half-Korean race and love of wearing eyeliner. The two bond over the music and comic books that set them apart from others. And while intimacy is limited to words and hand-holding, their love seems stronger than any other. Eleanor and Park are brave enough to love each other in a world that seems only to want to separate them. This novel is sure to captivate readers with its beautiful and painful realism.
Clare Vanderpool is no stranger to literary awards; her first novel, “Moon Over Manifest,” received the 2011 Newbery medal and her sophomore novel, “Navigating Early,” follows the same track. The Printz runner-up tells of a unique friendship between two boys, Jack and Early. When his mother dies, Jack is sent to a boarding school in Maine where he meets a strange boy named Early, who reads the numbers of pi as a story and is obsessed with the rumored “Great Appalachian Bear.” The post-World War II time frame gives a new perspective to Early’s behavior, which went undiagnosed at the time but would likely be considered Asperger’s syndrome today. Yet Early’s strange ways do not deter Jack from befriending him. The two embark on a quest to find the seemingly mythical bear, a journey filled with slightly too convenient parallels to Early’s pi story. Nevertheless, it is a heartwarming story of friendship and ideal for younger teen readers.
“The Kingdom of Little Wounds” by Susann Cokal brings a mix of dark fantasy and adventure to the list. The story centers on royal seamstress Ava and her mute nurse friend Midi, who come to realize the extreme injustice of the kingdom they live in and desperately want to fix it or get out. This is far from a fluffy and whimsical fairy tale, filled with raunchy themes that often verge on too inappropriate for the typical Young Adult novel. However, the topics are handled maturely and are quite eye-opening to real societal problems of the time period. The book is definitely better suited to older teens, but its subject should not be a deterrent for prospective readers.
The potential for a new classic dystopian novel can be found in “Maggot Moon” by Sally Gardner. In this novel’s alternate world, 1950s Britain is controlled by an oppressive force, the Motherland, reminiscent of Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany. Standish Treadwell is severely dyslexic and ruthlessly bullied, surviving in this harsh society only because of his best friend Hector. But when Standish and Hector find something that the Motherland has been hiding, Hector is taken away. Standish embarks on a 100-chapter journey to get his friend back – and perhaps make a stand against the society they live in as well. Standish’s unorthodox way of thinking makes the first-person novel even more moving, and you’ll soon find yourself pulling for this young antihero.
Like every award, there always are complaints that some books were snubbed. Here are some popular books published in 2013 that didn’t make the list:
• “Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock” by Matthew Quick: The author of “Silver Linings Playbook” crafts a profound journey into the mind of Leonard Peacock on the morning of his 18th birthday. His plans for the day include killing his former best friend and then himself, but first he would like to say goodbye to some friends.
• “Reality Boy” by A.S. King: King has received a Printz honor in the past, but this one is deserving as well. As a child, Gerald Faust was forced into the world of reality TV and is now suffering the mental consequences years later.
• “Boxers & Saints” by Gene Luen Yang: Actually two separate volumes, these graphic novels tell two parallel stories on either side of the Boxer Rebellion. These are not your typical graphic novels; they tell a heartbreaking and historically accurate story.
No matter what type of book you enjoy, these Printz honorees surely include something to try. And don’t forget to explore new books this year; who knows, they just might make next year’s list.
Kathryn Krawczyk is a senior at Lockport High School.