Current Events Reflect Current Reads | Pondering Printz

Each month until the 2021 ALA Youth Media Awards on Monday, January 25, our Pondering Printz column will feature expert predictions and analysis of this year's Michael L. Printz Award by former committee members. This month our columnist asks, how can this year’s Printz Award contenders help us process our world?

Pondering Printz logoEach month until the 2021 ALA Youth Media Awards on Monday, January 25, our Pondering Printz column will feature expert predictions and analysis of this year's Michael L. Printz Award for Young Adult Literature by former committee members. This month our columnist asks, how can this year’s Printz Award contenders help us process our world?
 
It’s September, which means it’s time to kick off this year’s Pondering Printz. Of course, this is not our ­normal start of the school year or book award speculation. After months of a global pandemic, a summer of Black Lives Matter protests, and continued fallout from #MeToo, I find myself asking, how does what is going on in the world, and more specifically in our country, impact my reaction to the books I’ve been reading?
 
Reading is how I process the world—my feelings, my thoughts, my opinions—so this is a question that I can’t easily answer. I would argue that the best books should always elicit an emotional reaction, teach you something, and help form and reform your thoughts and ­opinions. Printz Award winners and honorees of the past have given me insight into the lives of rape survivors, civil rights icons, Korean immigrants, the work of Charles Darwin, and so much more. Ultimately, the books that I have found to be the strongest contenders for this year’s Printz Award take on the issues of our country today in ways fictional, historical, and personal.
 
Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You, Jason Reynolds’s adaptation of Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning, is the book I’ve been recommending to everyone. Reynolds, a previous honoree for Long Way Down, has a gift for making complicated ideas accessible to all readers. Not only did I learn a lot from reading this book, it has reshaped my thoughts about U.S. history and the foundations of this country. This is a must-read.Girl, Unframed cover
 
Deb Caletti, a previous Printz honoree for A Heart in the Body of the World, fictionalizes the real-life murder of actress Lana Turner’s boyfriend, Johnny ­Stompanato, in Girl, Unframed. A sense of doom permeates the ­summer Sydney spends with her bombshell-actress mother and her mother’s questionable boyfriend. This novel explores the sexualization of women and toxic ­relationships through the lens of a girl coming into her own ­sexual awareness. As the story barrels toward its inevitable tragedy, we are left to wonder, who is the real victim?
 
[Read: Pondering the Printz Award on Its 20th Anniversary]
 
What happens when you volunteer for the Purity Club so that you can get the girl of your dreams? In Lamar Giles’s Not So Pure and Simple, Del finds out that putting a girl on a pedestal is not the way to do it. Giles tackles toxic masculinity and teen sexuality with unexpected depth, character development, and humor.
 
All Boys Aren't Blue coverA memoir-manifesto, George M. Johnson’s All Boys Aren’t Blue is a raw, emotional read. Although the author does not shy away from honest and painful stories about race and queerness, this is a story filled with joy. Family, love, and self-acceptance are the foundation of this beautiful narrative that will reassure readers they are not alone.
 
Elana K. Arnold, a previous Printz honoree for ­Damsel, has written another thought-provoking, feminist novel in a reimagining of “Little Red Riding Hood.” In Red Hood, the villains are boys (or men) who turn into wolves as a physical manifestation of the violence they perpetrate against women. Having her period imbues Bisou with the power to fight these wolves and end the cycle of violence against women. Arnold deftly takes the idea of menstruation as a weakness and turns it on its head. Full of lush imagery and powerful women who own their choices, this is a fairy tale like no other.
 
One of the issues our society is grappling with today is how we reconcile someone’s achievements with who they were/are as a person. In The Rise and Fall of Charles Lindbergh, Candace Fleming shows us exactly who Lindbergh was—a hero of aviation, a grieving father whose son’s kidnapping and murder was the “Crime of the Century,” a Nazi sympathizer, and a controlling husband. Through her exhaustive research and compelling prose, we see the entirety of Lindbergh, a man who soared to greatness but was ruinously flawed as an individual.

Kefira Philippe is the librarian at Nichols Middle School in Evanston, IL. She has served on YALSA’s Best Fiction for Young Adults and the 2017 Printz Committee.

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