SLJ's Reviews of YALSA's 2019 Morris Finalists

Check out our reviews—all starred—for the recently announced Morris finalists, including two SLJ Best Books.

Below you’ll find all of the starred reviews for the recently announced Morris finalists. Among the works selected for the shortlist are two SLJ Best Books—Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone and Joy McCullough’s Blood Water Paint.

ADEYEMI, Tomi. Children of Blood and Bone. 544p. Holt. Mar. 2018. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781250170972.
Gr 9 Up–Zélie Adebola, 17, remembers the night of the raid in her village 11 years earlier. Her mama was chained by her neck and lynched with other maji by the forces of ruthless King Saran of Orisha. King Saran hates magic and considers it the source of all evil, so he targets and exterminates the maji, who worship ancestors and practice magic. Now, they live hopelessly as servants, slaves, stockers, and prisoners. Zélie strives to bring back magic in Orisha, so she becomes the main target of King Saran’s maji cleansing campaign. She sets out on her spiritual journey with her athletic brother Tzain and pet lioness Nailah. They encounter an unexpected ally. Princess Amari of Orisha escapes from her estate of Lagose after witnessing the murder of Binta, her maji best friend and handmaiden, at her father’s merciless hands. Zélie, Tzain, and Amari go on the run to restore magic in Orisha. Adeyemi’s debut and series opener is a revelation. She has brilliantly woven the Yoruba language and culture into a complex and epic tale. Readers will appreciate the intergenerational cast. Teens won’t feel lost in this lengthy tome because of the excellent use of flashbacks and backstories. The violence can be extreme at times, but it doesn’t feel exploitative, and themes of female empowerment make this especially relevant. VERDICT This extraordinary literary work offers a refreshing YA fantasy with an all–West African cast of characters that should be on every shelf. Donald Peebles, Brooklyn Public Library

KHORRAM, Adib. Darius the Great Is Not Okay. 320p. Dial. Aug. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780525552963. POP
Gr 8 Up– Darius is a bullied American teenager dealing with numerous stigmas. His mom is Persian and his "Übermensch" dad is white. He is overweight. He takes medication for depression. He is a devotee of artisanal tea, Star Trek (all seasons), and Tolkien. And there is an unspoken awareness that Darius is gay. He is certain that he is a constant disappointment to his father who also takes antidepressants, which they both consider a weakness. When his family travels to Iran to see his mother's parents because his grandfather (Babou) is dying, Darius experiences shifting perceptions about the country, his extended family, and himself. Debut author Khorram presents meticulous descriptions and explanations of food, geography, religion, architecture, and English translations of Farsi for readers unfamiliar with Persian culture through characters' dialogue and Darius's observations. References to Tolkien, Star Trek, and astronomy minutiae, on the other hand, may be unclear for uninitiated readers. Despite the sometimes overly didactic message about the importance of chronic depression treatment, Darius is a well-crafted, awkward but endearing character, and his cross-cultural story will inspire reflection about identity and belonging. VERDICT A strong choice for YA shelves. Give this to fans for Adam Silvera and John Corey Whaley.–Elaine Fultz, Madison Jr. Sr. High School, Middletown, OH

MCCULLOUGH, Joy. Blood Water Paint. 304p. Dutton. Mar. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780735232112.
Gr 8 Up –Artemisia Gentileschi, 17-year-old daughter of a mediocre Renaissance painter, assists her choleric father Orazio in his studio, mixing colors but, moreso, trying to save face for him by finishing paintings that he is incapable of completing. Remembering the stories of strong biblical women which her now-deceased mother recounted to her—stories meant to strengthen her womanly resolve in a society that valued only men—Artemisia is determined to be the painter her father will never be; thus, when her father hires Agostino Tassi (Tino) to teach her perspective, she is thrilled to have someone who can help her achieve new artistic heights. As she paints Susanna and the Elders, her relationship with Tino changes, and he assaults her. She becomes determined to bring him to court in an effort to save her honor. Using free verse for Artemisia’s words and prose for her mother’s stories, McCullough’s beautifully crafted text will inspire upper-middle/high school readers to research the true story upon which this powerful piece of historical fiction is based. The poetry is clear and revelatory, exploring Artemisia’s passion for both art and life. The expression of her intense feelings is gripping and her complexity of character make her a force to be reckoned with, both in her times and in ours. VERDICT A thrilling portrait of a woman of character who refused to be dismissed; this belongs on every YA shelf.– Nancy Menaldi-Scanlan, formerly at LaSalle Academy, Providence

Here’s our interview with the author.

STAMPER, Vesper. What the Night Sings. illus. by Vesper Stamper. 272p. Knopf. Feb. 2018. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781524700386.
Gr 7 Up –Fifteen-year-old Gerta Rausch did not know she was Jewish until the day she was picked up by the Nazis and taken to a concentration camp. She lived in Germany with her musician father and was sheltered from the reality outside her home, spending all of her time training in viola and opera. Gerta’s father reveals the truth as they are crammed into a train car. Gerta struggles to accept this news; she knows nothing of Jewish traditions and her only experience with her religion is tied up with hatred, abuse, and slaughter. Being allowed to play in orchestras keeps her alive in both Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen. Although the narrative describes life before liberation, much of it focuses on the postwar experience: life in concentration camps–turned–“displaced persons camps,” lingering hostility toward Jews, as well as the grueling journey many Jews made from Europe to Palestine. The illustration style and muted color palette work beautifully with the text, managing to communicate both despair and hope. The narrative is spare but powerful as it depicts the daily horrors of the camps and the struggle to survive, hold on to humanity and, once freed, understand how to live again. VERDICT This powerful story is an excellent choice for any library. Carla Riemer, Claremont Middle School, Oakland

Ukazu, Ngozi. Check, Please!: #Hockey. illus. by Ngozi Ukazu. 288p. First Second. Sept. 2018. pap. $16.99. ISBN 9781250177964. POP
Gr 10 Up—
Originally created as a webcomic, this tale follows junior champion figure skater and small-town Georgia boy Eric "Bitty" Bittle as he begins freshman year on the Samwell University varsity hockey team. An avid video blogger, recipe fanatic, and pie baker extraordinaire, Bitty is bewildered by his new world of bros, kegsters, and aggressive "checking"—roughness that wasn't allowed in his coed hockey league back home. In addition, he is still unsure how to tell his tough guy team members that he's gay. However, despite some disheartening setbacks, eternal optimist Bitty is determined to overcome his checking anxiety, work his heart out, and win over the guys—and his handsome team captain—even if it means bribing everyone with homemade pecan pie. Although this appears to be a simple sports comic at first glance, it is far more complex. Through a combination of hilarious team banter, foodie humor, and a lovable main character, Ukazu has crafted a compelling story about acceptance, identity, and confidence. She expertly uses bold colors and exaggerated facial expressions, such as Bitty's large eyes, to convey emotion. VERDICT Although casual profanity, a few crass jokes, and some alcohol use make this a comic best suited for mature teens, this endearing volume is a must-have for YA graphic novel collections. Sure to resonate with hockey fans and sports newbies alike.–Lara Goldstein, Orange County Public Libraries, NC

Here’s our interview with the author.

Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.

RELATED 

TOP STORIES

LIBRARY EDUCATION

Kids are using VR to explore worlds and create new ones

COMMUNITY FORM

Kids are using VR to explore worlds and create new ones

COLLECTION DEVELOPMENT

Kids are using VR to explore worlds and create new ones

Get connected. Join our global community of more than 200,000 librarians and educators.