Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Mock Printz Report

On Saturday I attended the Mock Printz Award workshop at my library. I was the only person out of the 40 or so in attendance who was neither a teen or a librarian, but I tried to blend in. You know, by not shouting out "LOL!" every time somebody said something funny, and stuff like that.

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).

Our winner?

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!


  1. Thanks so much for the detailed report. It sounds like a great time - and interesting to see how sometimes the books that win aren't the ones that are passionately loved but those that everyone can agree on. I liked Little Brother, but it wasn't my number 1 by any means.

  2. Oh wow, thanks for sharing this. A lot of these I need to read! I remember looking at Skim maybe this summer in a bookstore and thinking it looked interesting and then I forgot what it was called and could never locate it again. So thanks for reminding me!

  3. I still haven't read ANY of those! *kicks self*

    Paper Towns is on its way to me, though :D And I'm eyeing Little Brother for the upcoming Read an E-book Week.

  4. That sounds like a lot of fun. I'm glad you were able to blend in and restrain yourself from shouting LOL.

  5. I want to know MORE! Think of me as your out-of-touch old auntie. What is a Mock Printz? (I'm assuming that the Printz award - which I'm NOT familiar with is for YA?) and your library wanted to find out if your community agrees with the real winner? and how did they get such a great turn out? I'm so outside of this, I can't even imagine it. Sounds really cool, though.

    I only go in and quickly exit the local library and the only reading event I participated in made me feel like I was the only one not 72 yo and, of course, I am not a local so no one talked to me except out of curiousity. Not welcoming at all.

    (is it curiosity? it doesn't look right to me. oh well. blame it on me still having the flu.)

  6. Glad you enjoyed my report--I would recommend reading any of these. Even the ones I hated--because other people loved them.

    Good questions, Care. The Michael L. Printz Award is given by the American Library Assoc. for literary excellence in YA lit. The Mock Printz is individual libraries second-guessing which book will win. So this workshop was made up of library employees from around the region, plus whatever teens they could entice (I think there were about 10 of them), and me, because I asked.

  7. That sounds like a lot of fun. No, librarians are not quiet at all! :-)

  8. Very cool. I've only read #2, although Paper Towns is in the tbr pile. The only other ones I've even heard of are 7 and 8.

  9. I hate to bring it down, but your quote in part of this made me curious. The boy who said: "I saw this as a feminist book, and our generation isn't about feminism, we're about equality." As if feminism isn't about equality! Disturbing.

    I am not sure why you quoted it. It really concerns me! Did someone correct him? I mean, I see not liking the book, because it has flaws and all but this statement seems to really miss the point.

    It makes me sad. :(

  10. Renay, thanks for bringing this up. I think his statement may reflect a naivety about the history of feminism, but I didn't find it disturbing. Based on my interactions with these kids and the group of 14-15 year olds that I spend time with, this generation is way ahead of where mine was in terms of their expectations of equality.

    In the book that was being discussed, the main character, Frankie Landau-Banks, infiltrates an all-male secret society that her boyfriend is a part of (she gives them instructions via email, which they think is coming from one of the leaders of the club). Some readers had strong objections to Frankie's goal. My interpretation of what the young man was trying to say was that a girl wanting to become part of an all-male group reflected a traditional feminist attitude, while a girl of his generation would be more inclined to start her own group without distinguishing one gender as being more worthy than the other.

    I quoted him because I find it fascinating that the younger generation has different assumptions and ideas. In the case of this book, they interpreted the author as saying, "Girls should be able to be a part of the boys' groups" and their response is, "No. We want to form new groups, together."

  11. I loved Frankie, I'll be honest, so I'm likely biased. A friend and I are co-reviewing it and I predict 3,000 words or something obscene.

    The context really helps, thank you, and your clarification, too. I think I just stumbled because feminism is equality is feminism, so he's on the right track but chose an odd way to put it. I spent my early time in feminism-awakening-land getting that beat into me by friends. XD I guess that will come to younger people with more discussion and interaction with the world, much like mine did. I shouldn't complain! Boys I went to high school with thought feminists were a collective of lesbians. ;__;

    I love it, actually: many different responses the book has received and how varied the opinions are about it. I haven't read Little Brother, but I have sampled some of Doctorow's fiction, and although he's pretty awesome, I really hope Frankie takes the Printz?

    I am surprised at your #3. I've heard nothing but good things about that book.

    Meanwhile, I wish my library would do something like this. I would be all over it, just like you, neither teen nor librarian. A literary stowaway!

  12. I loved Frankie, too! And personally I didn't think the author was saying that she was perfect or she made the best choices. I read it more like: here's what Frankie felt; here's what she did about it; and here are the consequences, and Wow! That's not what Frankie expected at all!

    Can't wait to read your review.

    Marie, my husband is a library assistant, so I lost that misconception a long time ago, but I was still surprised at how lively the discussion was.

    Softdrink, I think you'll like Paper Towns!

  13. Is it way too forward of me to say that you are just way too cool?!! A. I love that you just invited yourself to attend and had such a great time. B. You shared the story with us. And C. You've actually read (well, almost) all those books.

    I'd love to read all of them, but have only managed two of them to this point. One of which was Missing Girl. Which I actually liked. Didn't over the top love it or anything, but I did love the girls.

  14. Debi, you're more than welcome to tell me I'm way too cool, as often as you'd like. :-) I'm glad you liked Missing Girl. Now you've got me thinking I should have given it more of a chance, though!

  15. I've read three of those books! Yay, Little Brother! I loved that one, and am thinking about teaching it this semester. Frankie and Paper Towns are awesome, too. Now I need to read the others you mentioned...

  16. I think it'd be fun to compare Little Brother to another dystopia, like Brave New World, or 1984. Or Brazil, even though that's a film and not a book as far as I know.

  17. That WOULD be fun. Unfortunately, getting a group of 25 fifteen-year-olds to read one book is hard enough; I think the strain of trying to get them to read two books would probably kill me. :)

    In all seriousness, I do have a few students who are really hard workers and who really enjoy reading. They probably wouldn't balk at that assignment. Thanks for the idea!

  18. Hi Ranay,

    Ali didn't mention that there is very likely a west coast perspective coming through in the young man's comment as well. That is a sort of naivete too, but maybe not quite as alarming. ;-)

    I agree that knowing more about the world would probably change his view. I think it's encouraging that he has a view to change!

    As for your wish that your library would do something like the Mock Printz, all I can say is, make the suggestion. I know not all libraries are equally supported, with dedicated staff, who are clamoring for ways to connect with teen patrons through programming, but give it try!


  19. Cory Doctrow is one of the coolest people in the literary world right now! I read his justification for why he offers Little Brother for free on the net in multiple formats and why he wrote this book in the first place and his politics and his genrosity are just wonderful.