Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Dreams of Signficant Girls

Vivian is a New Yorker, an aspiring chef of Cuban-Jewish descent; wild, "unhinged" Ingrid hails from Canada, and Shirin is a wealthy Iranian princess. The three girls meet at a Swiss boarding school in 1971 and return for two more summers filled with conflict, romance, and friendship. Related in the alternatiing first-person voices of the three young women, Cristina Garcia's DREAMS OF SIGNIFICANT GIRLS seems, at times, a teen version of a jet-setting potboiler by Judith Krantz or Jackie Collins; Shirin isn't just wealthy...she's so fabulously rich that her father springs for tuition for the other two girls, has their suite professionally decorated, and ships Arabian horses "via the Persian Gulf and the Arabian and Red Seas, then through the Suez Canal, across the Mediterranean, and up along the western coast of Italy to the French Riviera" just for the girls to ride during their month at summer school. Ingrid isn't just talented with a camera, but becomes a famous teenage photographer after shooting nude studies of her two BFFs. (Ingrid's sister, who is so unnecessary to the plot that she need never have been introduced, turns out to be a tennis prodigy.) Vivian's not just a good cook...she ends up competing in an international culinary competition. The sex scenes -- here is seventeen-year-old Ingrid describing her fifty-something art dealer lover -- are right out of Krantz as well: "We spent hours in bed. We took baths together. We rubbed scented lotions all over each other. We fed each other fruit and cheese, stark naked." Although the characters of the girls are well-differentiated, in both behavior and first-person narrative voice, they are pretty much done in by a plot forced to live up to the novel's lofty title. Every conflict they face is "significant" and oversized -- suicide, abortion, homosexuality -- while some of the plot twists hinge on coincidences that wouldn't make it out of a Writing 101 class. One, involving a connection between Vivian's and Ingrid's fathers, even has Ingrid saying, "What were the odds of this? Like one in seventeen trillion?" She later comments, "If I wrote this in a book, no one would believe me." She's right.

PRINTZ-WORTHY: No way. Unless the judges are swayed by the author's pedigree (which includes a National Book Award nomination for her adult novel DREAMING IN CUBAN) this book won't merit any "significant" attention from the Printz committee.

What do YOU think?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Where Things Come Back

So yesterday I was reading the Someday My Printz Will Come blog , which discussed potential Printz contenders. Among the comments was this one from Jennifer Hubert Swan:

Please don’t forget my favorite YA title of the year so far, Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley!

I thought, “Oh dear.”

Then I read this suggestion from Stephanie Wilkes:

I second Jennifer with Corey Whaley’s Where Things Come Back!

And I thought “Oh dear, oh dear.”

Just below that, Lisa McMann chimed in:

And I third it!

“Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.”

This might be one of those years -- one of those years when everyone is raving about a book that just leaves me cold. When I saw a sudden flurry of positive comments about this title, the way I did yesterday, it makes me think momentum is building. Will Where Things Come Back be a National Book Award nominee in just a few hours? The finalists will be announced just after noon on the radio and posted here. Will it wearing a shiny gold or silver Printz sticker come January?

I'm hoping not.

The protagonist of John Corey Whaley's novel is seventeen-year-old Cullen Witter, who finds it "very difficult to deal with the boredom brought on by living in Lily" -- Lily, Alabama, populartion 3,947. Actually, life in Lily may seem fairly hectic to the average reader, considering all that goes in this story -- including the death of Cullen's druggy cousin, rumors that Lily might harbor an extinct Lazarus woodpecker, and the sudden disappearance of Cullen's rather mystical younger brother Gabriel. The story of Gabriel's disappearance is related in alternate chapters that take place in Africa, as well as Georgia, and dip into such topics as missionary life, suicide, teenage marriage, and a missing book of the Bible. The story is busy and the characters remain frustratingly distant. (It doesn't help that narrator Cullen frequently goes off into third-person tangents, referring to himself as "one," as in: "When one enters the kitchen to find his mother, father, and best friend all seated in front of a stack of uneaten pancakes, he knows that something strange has happened.") And while sex is usually a Big Deal in the life of your average teenager, Cullen's blase attitude about not one, but two different sexual affairs is so offhand that the book feels more like an adult novel about teens, rather than a YA story written for teens. Though the complex plot is intriguing, the remote characterizations, many unfinished subplots, and cold storytelling may not appeal to the targeted teenage audience.

PRINTZ-WORTHY? Well, it's certainly different from most current YA novels, which alone may merit the book award consideration. But it's also a book that sacrifices everyday emotion for "high concepts" and "big ideas." If the Printz committee sways that way, it may stand a chance. But I won't be a happy camper.

What do YOU think?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick

It's fun, it's fast, it's like a wild teenage movie pressed between the pages of a book...but is Joe Schreiber's Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick Printz-worthy?

Only if you think that American Pie was Oscar-worthy.

But there's a reason I'm putting the book up for discussion here. Read on.

The story is narrated by Perry Stormaire, a high school senior being bullied into college and career by his upwardly-mobile lawyer dad.
Not a "prom-type guy," Perry plans to spend the evening of the dance playing a gig in Manhattan with his garage band -- until the foreign exchange student living with Perry's family makes it known that she wants to attend prom with Perry as her date. Gobija Zaksauskas is from Lithuania, suffers from epilepsy, and dresses for the big night in a "traditional Lithuanian ceremonial costume" which includes a brown wool skirt decorated with stripes and clovers, a large animal-pelt handbag, and a kerchief tied under her chin. After a brief, disastrous stop at the prom, Gobi insists that Perry take her into NYC, where she directs him to a popular night club and emerges from the restroom "in a little black dress and wraparound sunglasses...hips snapping back and forth like a metronome beneath the stretchy fabric." It's about this time that Gobi reveals she's an international asssassin, who expects Perry to chauffeur her around the city while she ices five foes.

From then on, the narrative kicks into nonstop action -- tires squealing, machine guns firing, bodies bouncing off car hoods, pitbulls snarling, and helicopters descending from the sky -- accompanied by the type of funny, yet totally unbelievable, dialogue we've heard in a million buddy movies ("You shot him. You totally just shot that guy back there. I think I'm gonna throw up.") though one particular line about women is so crude it will probably have to be cut from the script in order to get a PG13 when the inevitable film of Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick is made.

Slight and slick, the novel's one nod toward literary luster has each chapter cleverly structured to answer an essay question from a college admissions form ("Tell us about one of the best conversations you've ever had (Stanford.)" Otherwise this book reads like a treatment or pitch for a movie.

PRINTZ-WORTHY: Not by a long shot fired from one of Gobi's guns!

So why are we featuring this Crazy European Chick in a Mock Printz blog? Because a friend who knows a lot about YA fiction insists this book has Printz potential. And since this same friend was the only person I know who predicted Going Bovine would win the Printz a couple yeara ago, I've got to listen to her.

Yeah, I've learned to listen to her....no matter how much I disagree with her.

What do YOU think?