Read 300 Books, Vote for Three | Pondering Printz

Jonathan Hunt offers picks for this year's Printz Award—including nonfiction, graphic novels, and books for young teens—and reminds us that serving on award committees isn't for the faint of heart.

Pondering Printz logoYou know that occasional feeling you have—the feeling that as much as you’re enjoying this book right now, in the moment, that you’ll really need to read it again, quite possibly immediately, to gain a true measure of its genius? That’s the feeling I got while reading Pet by Akwaeke Emezi, and for that reason I’ve tagged it as the leadoff hitter in my Printz batting order.

Pet coverThis slender yet powerful novel is set in a progressive utopian future, but not everything is as perfect as it seems at first glance. When the young teenage protagonist, Jam, conjures Pet, an otherworldly creature with an insatiable appetite for hunting monsters, the suspenseful plot is set in motion. While Emezi is an adept storyteller, what really sets this novel apart is its fearless treatment of child abuse.

Pet may strike some people as too young for the Printz, but even if the primary audience is middle school readers, it’s squarely within the Printz range. I would say the same for Queen of the Sea by Dylan Meconis, which is the story of Margaret, another young teenage protagonist on a quest for truth. Isolated in a convent on a remote island, political intrigue nevertheless swirls around her until her true identity is gradually revealed. A gorgeously rendered graphic novel, this historical fiction is set in an alternative England and inspired by the childhood of Queen Elizabeth I. My only quibble here is that the end is really just the beginning.

Queen of the Sea isn’t the only strong historical novel this Fountains of Silence coveryear. Previous Pondering Printz columns have rightfully called out both Julie Berry’s Lovely War and Stacey Lee’s The Downstairs Girl, but I would be remiss if I didn’t also put in a plug for The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys, which may be the best of the bunch. Set during Francisco Franco’s rule over Spain, this ambitious crossover novel features complex characters, lush prose, the promise of romance, and enough secrets and lies to break your heart several times over.

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me by Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O’Connell was also previously mentioned, and I’d like to second this outstanding graphic novel about the dangers of toxic teenage dating relationships. Freddy knows her girlfriend is not good for her, but cannot seem to make a clean, permanent break.

On the Come Up coverLike everybody else in the universe, I was really looking forward to Angie Thomas’s sophomore novel, On the Come Up, and while it was everything I would have hoped for—I loved returning to the same neighborhood, but with different characters—I still thought The Hate U Give was a better book (not that that kind of thinking matters to the Printz committee). Then I proceeded to read several dozen young adult novels and, as I sat down to write this column, I realized that most of them paled in comparison, not just in terms of literary merit but also sheer reading pleasure.

So what’s missing? I had a hard time choosing a nonfiction candidate that I felt the committee would take seriously, given its poor track record with the genre. I do like Laurie Halse Anderson’s memoir Shout, but wonder if that’s for its Torpedoed coverown merits or because I’ve read everything she’s written and appreciate the insights into her entire body of work (not just Speak). Deborah Heiligman has already won Printz Honors for Charles and Emma and Vincent and Theo and she has another excellent book in this year’s Torpedoed, but I worry that it will strike some people as too young for the Printz (but just right for the Newbery).

I’m up to seven picks, and the committee can only recognize five at the most, so I’m going to quit now. I always tell people that award committees are not for the faint of heart: you read 300 books, you love 30 of them, but you only get to vote for three.


See also:

Transforming the Canon | Pondering Printz 

New Year, Past Winners | Pondering Printz

Jonathan Hunt is the Coordinator of Library Media Services at the San Diego County Office of Education. He reviews for The Horn Book Magazine and presents seminars for the Bureau of Education & Research.

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