SLJ Reviews of the 2024 Printz Award Winner & Honor Books | Youth Media Awards

The SLJ reviews editors rounded up our reviews of the books lauded at the 2024 Youth Media Awards. Here, the reviews of the Michael L. Printz Award and Honors winners.

The SLJ reviews editors rounded up our reviews of the books lauded at the 2024 Youth Media Awards. Here, the reviews of the Michael L. Printz Award and Honors winners.

Michael L. Printz Award 

The Collectors: Stories ed. by A.S. King. Dutton. Sept. 2023. 272p. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9780593620281.
Gr 9 Up–An astonishingly all-star cast of authors take extremely creative interpretations of the idea of collections and collectors in this volume of strange stories. These are 10 of YA’s most beloved writers including King, the anthology’s editor. From Anna-Marie McLemore’s ethereal, quietly violent collection-inspired fairy tale to Jason Reynolds’s heartbreakingly honest, tender, and illuminative entry, which is itself a piece of a larger collection, each of the strong-voiced authors included has distilled the essence of what they do best into something “defiantly creative.” The pieces found here are ones of experiences (G. Neri’s “Pool Bandits”), things that fit in jars (e.E. Charlton-Trujillo’s “La Concha”), things that are created (Reynolds’s “A Recording for Carole Before It All Goes”), and things that are stolen (David Levithan’s “Take It From Me”). The pieces differ in format, as well—other than prose, there is a screenplay (Randy Ribay) and an illustrated, experimental piece (Cory McCarthy); one is set in 1976 (Neri), one in 2021 (M.T. Anderson). The collectors themselves are all searching for something; some of them find it. Though the stories differ in so many ways, each author brings a sense of reverence for the theme to their entry, resulting in brutally heartfelt moments with incredible emotional depth that feel like a cohesive whole. King’s argument in the introduction that all collections are art and collectors are artists certainly holds true here; masterfully collected and worth slowing down to absorb. VERDICT An anthology for every collection.-Reviewed by Allie Stevens


Michael L. Printz Honors

Fire from the Sky by Moa Backe Åstot. tr. from Swedish by Eva Apelqvist. Levine Querido. Oct. 2023. 216p. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781646142484.

Gather by Kenneth M. Cadow. Candlewick. Oct. 2023. 336p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781536231113.
Gr 7-10–Gather is a stray dog who may have a little Airedale in him; the running joke in Cadow’s debut is that everyone encountering Gather has a new guess about his mixed breed. Ian, or Dorian Gray Henry, is a white, rural Vermont teenager who has a level of self-awareness that draws readers in from the start. “She’s tired, but she’s not high,” is what Ian notices right off about his mother, just home from the hospital. He sees through Aunt Terry’s story, that his mom has finally “had some work done on that bad back of hers.” Although Ian’s mother attempts to stay clean, the struggle is vicious, and the narrative works to keep readers off-balance and keening for information, just as anyone who has ever lived with an addict has to. There are no straight stories with that disease, but the one here is full of sensory images and descriptive notes about this corner of rural New England—the “little copse of junipers” and “the cold November rain”—that anchor readers as they untangle exactly what a large bounding dog has to do with a frail, opioid-scarred mother. The novel covers food insecurity, poverty, and making do with little, but also grudging love of scattershot family, and Ian’s wry but upbeat fix-it attitude rolls with really hard punches. He is wise beyond his years, but he has had to be; his slow-motion long-way-around conversational style demands patience of readers, especially in the early chapters. Book talk it and tell teenagers to hang on. It’s a great ride. VERDICT The ground constantly shifts in this extraordinary keyhole view of addiction and its ongoing aftermath; Cadow takes his time, but delivers a realistic and compelling novel.-Reviewed by Kimberly Olson Fakih

The Girl I Am, Was, and Never Will Be: A Speculative Memoir of Transracial Adoption by Shannon Gibney. Dutton. Jan. 2023. 256p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780593111994.
Gr 11 Up–Given the enormous amount of literature dedicated to the good fortune or tragic-torn stories of orphans, Gibney hits hard with her part-memoir, part-speculative fiction, pastiche-approach to set the record straight and unravel the everyday pain of growing up biracial, adopted, with people who are not her birth parents. There is rage, there is research, there is speculation of what could be. Gibney tells her own story, with old photographs, letters from Children’s Services, unfamiliar artifacts for outsiders (such as a letter of “non-identifying information” about her birth parents), holiday cards from mom, and a detailed family tree. Fans of Girl, Interrupted will be primed for this journey. Some segments are written in strike-through; others analyze pop culture depictions of other adoptees, such as Loki in The Avengers. But throughout the exploratory, experimental text, there is the narrative thread of a young person figuring out the real story, finding a center of truth in a pile of documents, a heroic journey to find home, a place to belong, an endeavor to re-inhabit the lost love of a tragically creative, mentally ill birth father and well-meaning, flawed birth mother. VERDICT An authentic journey for adoptees who are not allowed to feel sad but thrust into a stance of gratitude for a life they were given and for all readers who, after a loss, are reconstructing their identities.-Reviewed by Sara Lissa Paulson

Salt the Water by Candice Iloh. Dutton. Oct. 2023. 288p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780593529317.
Gr 9 Up–Cerulean Gene lives in two worlds: at home where their parents have always nurtured and encouraged them, building a warm, accepting environment too open for them ever to fill, and at school where they’re too loud, too smart, and too free to possibly fit into the small, rigid space. When the pandemic swelled and schools were closed, it seemed for a moment that the educational system might evolve, but soon the old paradigm asserted itself, and now Cerulean and their like-minded group of friends are stuck in a system that seems determined to make them small. Mr. Schlauss, a young and arrogant white teacher, is constantly watching and waiting for Cerulean to make even the slightest mistake. After a confrontation with Mr. Schlauss leaves Cerulean’s future at school uncertain and a tragedy shatters their home, Cerulean must find a way forward in a world that is unwilling to expand. Iloh’s lyrical words, impactful text formatting, and raw emotion imbue this story with authentic joy and pain. Although a sudden ending may leave readers with more questions than answers, this timely exploration of the many shortcomings of the U.S. public education system will be sure to generate much discussion among students and teachers alike. All major characters are Black, and Cerulean and several of their friends are queer. VERDICT A heartfelt lament for what America could be but chooses not to, this is a must-purchase for high school libraries. Recommended for fans of Ibi Zoboi and Amber McBride.-Reviewed by Catherine Cote

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