The Michael L. Printz Award for
Excellence in Young Adult Literature

 

 

2009 Award Winner

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta   YA MAR
Taylor Markham isn’t just one of the new student leaders of her boarding school, she’s also the heir to the Underground Community, one of three battling school factions in her small Australian community (the others being the Cadets and the Townies). For a generation, these three camps have fought “the territory wars,” a deadly serious negotiation of land and property rife with surprise attacks, diplomatic immunities, and physical violence. Only this year, it’s complicated: Taylor might just have a thing for Cadet leader Jonah, and Jonah might just be the key to unlocking the secret identity of Taylor’s mother, who abandoned her when she was 11. In fact, nearly every relationship in Taylor’s life has unexpected ties to her past, and the continual series of revelations is both the book’s strength and weakness; the melodrama can be trying, but when Marchetta isn’t forcing epiphanies, she has a knack for nuanced characterizations and punchy dialogue. The complexity of the backstory will be offputting to younger readers, but those who stick it out will find rewards in the heartbreaking twists of Marchetta’s saga. Grades 9-12.

2009 Honor Books

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume II, The Kingdom on the Waves, by M.T. Anderson  YA AND
The story begun in The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation; v. 1: The Pox Party (2006), a National Book Award winner and a Printz Honor Book, continues in this volume, which offers more awe-inspiring reinterpretations of America’s birth. After escaping the members of an Enlightenment college, Octavian, a teenage black slave, flees with his sympathetic tutor to the imperiled city of Boston, where the pair pose as loyalists to the Crown. As the war escalates, Octavian joins a Loyalist navy regiment that promises freedom to African Americans and enters into battle against the Patriots. Aside from a few essential interjections from others, Octavian narrates in the same graphic, challenging language used in the previous book, which Anderson has described as a “unintelligible eighteenth-century Johnsonian Augustan prose.” But readers need not grasp every reference in the rich, elegant tangle of dialects to appreciate this piercing exposé of our country’s founding hypocrisies. Even more present in this volume are passionate questions, directly relevant to teens’ lives, about basic human struggles for independence, identity, freedom, love, and the need to reconcile the past. Viewed through historical hindsight, Octavian’s final, wounded optimism (“No other human generation hath done other than despoil, perhaps we shall be the first”) will resonate strongly with contemporary teens.
 

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, by E. Lockhart  YA LOC & YA Playaway LOC
In the summer between her freshman and sophomore years, Frankie Landau-Banks transforms from “a scrawny, awkward child” with frizzy hair to a curvy beauty, “all while sitting quietly in a suburban hammock, reading the short stories of Dorothy Parker and drinking lemonade.” On her return to Alabaster Prep, her elite boarding school, she attracts the attention of gorgeous Matthew, who draws her into his circle of popular seniors. Then Frankie learns that Matthew is a member of the Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds, an all-male Alabaster secret society to which Frankie’s dad had once belonged. Excluded from belonging to or even discussing the Bassets, Frankie engineers her own guerilla membership by assuming a false online identity. Frankie is a fan of P. G. Wodehouse’s books, and Lockhart’s wholly engaging narrative, filled with wordplay, often reads like a clever satire about the capers of the entitled, interwoven with elements of a mystery. But the story’s expertly timed comedy also has deep undercurrents. Lockhart creates a unique, indelible character in Frankie, whose oddities only make her more realistic, and teens will be galvanized by her brazen action and her passionate, immediate questions about gender and power, individuals and institutions, and how to fall in love without losing herself. Grades 7-12.

Nation by Terry Pratchett YA PRA
“Somewhere in the South Pelagic Ocean,” a tidal wave wipes out the population of a small island—except for Mau, who was paddling his dugout canoe home after a month spent alone, preparing to become a man. The wave also sweeps a sailing ship carrying Daphne, an English girl, up onto the island and deposits it in the rain forest, where Mau finds her. Over the months that follow, they learn to communicate while welcoming more people to their shores and building a community of survivors. Mau searches for the meaning behind his people’s gods, while Daphne applies her nineteenth-century knowledge of science and history to the many puzzles she discovers in this unfamiliar place. Broad in its scope and concrete in its details, this unusual novel strips away the trappings of two very different nations to consider what it is people value and why. Certain scenes are indelible: Mau’s nonverbal communication to Daphne that a pregnant woman has landed, and she must help with the birth; or the terrifying yet awesome descent into a cave. Quirky wit and broad vision make this a fascinating survival story on many levels. Grades 7-10.

Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan
After a horrific upbringing, 15-year-old Liga and her two daughters are magicked away into another world, which differs in one crucial aspect: it is utterly safe and free from surprise. In time, though, the old world intrudes upon their quiet heaven, and Liga and her daughters must face a painful reunion with reality. At its essence, this is a story about good and evil, not at all unusual for a fantasy, but there isn’t a single usual thing in the way that Lanagan (who won a 2006 Printz Honor for Black Juice) goes about it. As in Red Spikes (2007), Lanagan touches on nightmarish adult themes, including multiple rape scenarios and borderline human-animal sexual interactions, which reserve this for the most mature readers. She employs a preternatural command of language, twisting it into archaic and convoluted styles that release into passages of absolute, startling clarity. Drawing alternate worlds that blur the line between wonder and horror, and characters who traverse the nature of human and beast, this challenging, unforgettable work explores the ramifications of denying the most essential and often savage aspects of life. It isn’t easy, but this book is nevertheless a marvel to read and will only further solidify Lanagan’s place at the very razor’s edge of YA speculative fiction. Grades 10-12.