Our task was to narrow eleven notable 2008 YA books down to one award winner and an honor book or two. After receiving instructions, we sequestered ourselves in groups of 6-7 for two hours of discussion. Our group had five adults and two bright and thoughtful teen girls. We had less than ten minutes to discuss each book and you wouldn't believe how much ground we covered in that time. We agreed on a lot, disagreed on a lot, and at the end of two hours we each cast our votes.
Then we reconvened in the large group, reported on our top three books, and then launched into a rather raucous discussion about the various contenders. There were very strong feelings on either side for MadApple and My Most Excellent Year, in particular. Where librarians got stereotyped as mild-mannered, I will never understand.
Librarian A: MadApple is a beautiful account of the descent into madness.
Librarian B: What's madness is that she didn't have an editor!
Teen A: Notice how all the people who loved this book are adults?
Teen B: I know, right?
Teen C: Can we talk about Little Brother now?
After the discussion we each got to vote on our top three again. I changed my #3 vote, but kept the first two the same.
The book that won was not everyone's favorite book by any stretch, but it had the distinction that nobody hated it. Even people who didn't love it acknowledged that it had an important and unique theme, a strong voice and setting, and characters that drew the reader in. Even those who loved it acknowledged that it wasn't perfect (unlike a couple of other books, which some had fallen for so hard that they seemed blind to their imperfections).
Yep, it's one of the two that I didn't get around to reviewing: Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow. This was my personal #3 in the final vote. I didn't expect to like this book and I did, mostly because the protagonist was a great narrator. Some people thought the large amounts of technical information were tucked in nicely, others thought there was too much explanation. Everyone who spoke felt that Doctorow made an imaginary situation very believable and made a strong statement about the very real anti-terrorism measures that have been happening in the U.S. since 9/11.
Here are the rest of the books, in order of the points they received.
2. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks This was my #2. This one sparked interesting discussions about feminism: what it is and isn't, and whether it's a useful concept to the up-and-coming generation. Most of the teens loved this, but those who didn't, felt that Frankie was hard to relate to and that there was too much emphasis on being accepted by the boys. One boy said, "I saw this as a feminist book, and our generation isn't about feminism, we're about equality."
3. My Most Excellent Year. Listening to people rave about this actually made me feel a little queasy. The teens said the characters (who I described in my review as "sit-com characters") were exactly like people they know at school; people loved the pop culture references and the fact that it was a happy book. Those of us who didn't love it agreed that we're looking forward to his next book. Just please don't make me ever read this one again.
4. Paper Towns. This was my #1. Nearly everyone loved this book and I'm surprised it didn't get more points. Some people said it was over-hyped because they and their friends had adored Green's other books so much. Others felt that his protagonists are too similar and he needs to branch out more (others vehemently disagreed).
5. Skim This graphic novel was popular among many, especially for its art work.
6. Black Box. This was my personal #3 in the initial vote. The main criticism others had was that the main character wasn't given enough emphasis. The focus was on her sister and then her boyfriend. I loved this book but found that when it came to discussing it, I couldn't remember precisely why, which in itself is telling, I think.
7. MadApple. The teens, who were intelligent and not at all frothy (one of the girls in our group said she prefers authors like Sinclair Lewis to YA books), were of one mind on this: not a teen book. The people who loved it were mostly over 50.
8. The Adoration of Jenna Fox. Some liked it, some didn't. Everyone hated the ending.
9. Last Exit to Normal. Most people liked this one a lot, but had criticisms of it. One of the male teens said it read like a Lifetime movie.
10. Missing Girl. I couldn't read this one, I put it down after page 50. The combination of creepiness with too many protagonists was more than I was willing to stomach, and I'd just put MadApple down at the time and needed to read something I could enjoy. Most people found it more palatable than I did.
11. Sunrise Over Fallujah. Everyone agreed this was good, and an important book--like historical fiction but contemporary. I think it was the lack of depth of the minor characters that kept it from rising to the top of people's lists.
This whole experience was great fun, and also there were cookies and fruit. My favorite part was talking to the teens about the books that were written for them. I hope I get to invite myself again next year!