Thursday, January 29, 2015

Printz and other Youth Media Award Predictions, 2015 Edition


It's been a tough year for me in terms of keeping on top of Printz discussions and wanting to think about what the potential contenders for this year could be. You may or may not remember that after successfully petitioning to get on the Printz ballot and earning enough votes from my peers, I was elected to be a part of this upcoming year's committee. But because of changes in YALSA policy, which essentially put a gag order on any sort of online discussion of eligible titles -- meaning not even making book lists or recommending titles -- I decided to step down from the committee.

This wasn't an easy decision, but in time, it got easier. With work at Book Riot picking up and with knowing how much I enjoy talking about books here, on Book Riot, and in other online venues, it would be too hard for me to not talk about any 2015 YA titles at all. As much as it was a dream to do the Printz committee, personally and professionally, it's more important for me to advocate for books and for readers. Keeping quiet for a year on every new book felt like a disservice.

And more, after thinking long and hard about the things I discussed in that post about stepping down, I chose not to renew my membership or continue involvement with YALSA. While I support those who are active and engaged with it, and while I will continue to talk up and champion the work members do, the organization as a governance doesn't need my money or my time anymore. I'm finding far more value and personal/professional development in other venues.

All of that is to say at length what I said in the first sentence of this post: keeping on top of Printz talk has gone to the back burner for me. I've watched starred review sheets, and I've dipped in and out of reading the Someday My Printz Will Come blog. I had quite a bit to say about Grasshopper Jungle, but beyond that, I've been more of a lurker than a commenter. Even though I've not been super engaged, I do have to reiterate what I said last year: I think the 2014 crop of YA was weak. There were few standouts that screamed Printz. Many more debut novels screamed Morris to me, instead.

That said, I'll definitely be in the audience on Monday for the Youth Media Award announcements, and because it's a game I can't stay away from entirely, I thought I'd throw out quickly some of the Printz titles I think have a shot, as well as a few titles I think may see honors in other categories.


Printz



This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki: This one just...I have a feeling about it. I suspect the fact it earned a pile of stars doesn't hurt its cause, either. Admittedly, this is a book I felt more strongly about in terms of its art than I did its story, and I'm curious how this one holds up under multiple reads and with strong scrutiny. This book also graced a number of "best of" lists when 2014 came to a close.

Complicit by Stephanie Kuehn: Did this fall off people's radar? I think it's interesting we saw little talk about it throughout the year. I think this book is even better than Charm and Strange, and I think the writing is tighter, the story more gracefully woven, and it shows a little more experience than her debut. This got three starred reviews, and I suspect because Kuehn was a Morris winner last year, this will be talked about for a while by the committee.


 


I'll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson: I was really underwhelmed by this one personally. I felt it was really overwritten, but it's earned a pile of starred reviews and it showed up on numerous "best of" lists this year. It's literary and it's risky, probably especially in how it's written.

Glory O'Brien's History of the Future by A. S. King: An interesting phenomenon I noticed this year is that some titles seemed to have been forgotten about or weren't talked up a whole lot in terms of their awards potential. The latest King book is one of them. Glory O'Brien earned 6 starred reviews and popped up on best of lists at the year's end. But why aren't more people talking about this one? I'm not 100% sold on this being a Printz title in a year where there are stronger books (I think King's written better than this one), but this year, I think there's a great shot for this particular title. While I know Printz doesn't compare among titles, this is a standout.




Then there's the Andrew Smith question I keep coming back to.

I'm not entirely sure why Grasshopper Jungle earned more attention this year than 100 Sideways Miles. We know Miles made the National Book Awards long list, but it's Grasshopper Jungle that seems to be getting much more Printz buzz. I've not yet seen a really compelling essay -- and I crave one -- comparing and contrasting these two titles, their reception, and what they say about Smith's risk taking and (sometimes) repetitive storytelling. (I'd also not mind a really great essay about his weakness in writing female characters, but that was sort of hashed out a bit in the comments on the Someday post).

Here's where I say the thing that many might disagree with: I don't think either of these are Printz titles this year.

I think Andrew Smith absolutely, positively has a Printz book in him. I don't think either of these titles are it. Maybe it'll be one of next year's two titles. Maybe it'll be a title after that. But I think both Grasshopper Jungle and 100 Sideways Miles are imperfect enough that they're not going to go the distance. But the reason we keep hearing about them and the reason people keep talking about Smith and why he's putting out two titles a year, one each from different publishers, is he's talented, he's prolific, and he's doing some risky, innovating, and compelling story telling.

If I were to call out a potential dark horse for Printz this year, it'd be The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone by Adele Griffin. Depending on how Printz looks at age this year and how young they'll go, I wouldn't rule out a mention for Jacqueline Woodson's brown girl dreaming. Same with Kwame Alexander's The Crossover, which I would absolutely love to see get a mention from the Newbery Committee.

I also still stand by my comments from the predictions post in June that I think We Were Liars will fall apart on subsequent reads and won't go the distance.



Morris Award

I've only read two of the Morris titles this year, so I can't talk at length about their merits comparatively. But I can say my heart would love to see this one walk away with the award:




Schneider Family Book Award

The Schneider award, for those who aren't familiar, honors a book that "embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience." I haven't read enough books that could be eligible this year, but I did read one I think absolutely fits the bill and would be surprised not to see honored:





Stonewall Award

The Stonewall honors works relating to the LGBTQ experience for children or teens. This is a category I feel like there are quite a few solid possibilities. I almost think there's more to talk about here than there is for the Printz this year. The two standing out to me though are these two:


 


I could easily see this committee spending quite a bit of time with Grasshopper Jungle and I'll Give You The Sun. I also think the non-fiction side of this award will be talking about Beyond Magenta.



What do you think? Big titles I'm missing out on? Titles I should be thinking about? Other categories that have standout titles? I'm looking forward to seeing what comes down on Monday -- the YMAs are always a lot of fun to hear and even more fun to talk about afterward.




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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

I Don't Get the Hype

Like a lot of readers, I fall prey to the hype machine every now and then. A few of these books - hyped by publicists, readers, critics, or all three - have become some of my favorite reads: Cinder, Code Name Verity, Grave Mercy.

But some of them will leave me scratching my head, wondering what I missed that everyone else saw. Below are a few semi-recent reads with a lot of buzz that just didn't work for me. What hyped books didn't work for you?



Half Bad by Sally Green
This was a Cybils nominee and I listened to it because it had been getting great reviews from trade journals and lots of praise from places like Time Magazine and the New York Times. It was also highly praised in England, where it was first published. It's about a magical culture that has white witches and black witches - the white witches are good and the black witches are bad. The protagonist is half-code, meaning one of his parents was white one of his parents was black. Reviews praise the voice, and I agree that it's good, but the story was so nonsensical to me. I never got a full understanding of why white witches were good and black witches were bad. Their behavior didn't indicate anything of the sort, either subtly or cut-and-dry (aside from the Big Bad, Marcus). And I don't think that was intentional; it reads more like a sloppy oversimplification for the sake of story, one that doesn't work. As a result I wasn't able to buy into the premise at all. I'm still flummoxed by this one many weeks after finishing it, and bemused that so many people seem to love it.

Angelfall by Susan Ee
This was a Cybils finalist and a huge self-publishing success (it got picked up by Amazon publishing, along with its sequels). I thought the story - about killer angels and the girl who gets caught up in their war - was a winner, but the writing was so poor. It was pretty painful to read and I wouldn't have finished it if it weren't a requirement for me to do so.

Going Bovine by Libba Bray
This Printz winner is divisive, but I honestly don't know what the judges see in it. This was also one that I listened to on audio. It was rambling, extremely long, mostly incoherent, and bereft of meaning or depth. Deliberate confusion does not equal literary merit. Here's my original Goodreads review from 2010 and I stand by it: Pretty terrible. I can think of only two possible things that might have made me enjoy this book: a narrator who was able to infuse some spirit into all the wackiness instead of just sounding sarcastic all the time; or me having read Don Quixote, because clearly I have missed something. I thought the book would never end.




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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A Couple of Quick Reviews


Stray by Elissa Sussman
Elissa Sussman’s debut novel reworks the Cinderella story in a pretty unique way. Rather than focus on the orphan girl or her stepsisters, Stray focuses on the fairy godmother. In Sussman’s world, young ladies are to keep to The Path – a strict set of rules for behavior – and if they don’t, they’re exiled. All girls have some level of magic within them, but The Path mandates that they exercise tremendous control over it and basically never use it. Aislynn, unfortunately, can’t keep her magic contained, and at the ball where she hopes to meet a prince and fall in love, she loses control. She’s sent a school to learn how to be a Fairy Godmother to some other princess, a school where The Path is enforced even more strictly. It’s Aislynn’s last chance. If she fails at this task, she’ll be exiled – she’ll be a stray.

I really liked the premise of the book, and thought the main idea behind The Path – that girls must always restrain what makes them unique, what makes them magical – was an interesting one that rings true even in our own non-magical world. Magic is a fantastic metaphor for so many things: girls’ voices or bodies or talents or smarts or humor or anything else that might make men uncomfortable, and therefore must be locked away. I also liked the twist on the fairy godmother, which was quite creative and not something I’d seen before.

There were also some pretty major problems: sketchy world-building (I never quite understood how the magic system worked), a lot of loose ends that just seem dropped rather than deliberately unresolved, and rough, unpolished writing. Stray has some great ideas, but I don’t think anyone would be surprised it’s a debut. Still, the faults don’t completely outweigh the good stuff; this is a worthwhile read. Recommended for readers looking for feminist fantasy or fairy tale re-tellings.

Review copy provided by a friend.



Starlight's Edge by Susan Waggoner
I am such a sucker for alien books, so I was immediately drawn to Susan Waggoner’s first novel in this series, Neptune’s Tears. Though it had a terrific concept, the book as a whole was pretty mediocre. And yet, there I found myself several months later, reading the sequel, eager to find out what happened next to the characters. That’s the problem (can you call it a problem?) with books with great ideas – even when they’re executed poorly, the ideas are still great.

This is a big spoiler for those of you who haven’t read the first book – it turns out the “aliens” that landed on Earth in the 23rd century were not aliens at all. They’re humans from 1,500 years in the future, sent back to rescue Earth’s literature and art before it’s mostly destroyed in a series of imminent meteor strikes. I was a bit bummed that there weren’t any aliens, but I didn’t care that much because instead I had time travel, and that’s nearly as awesome. In this sequel, Zee travels to David’s home time, leaving everything behind that she’s ever known.

There are a fair number of time travel books around in the YA world, but not many that take it as far as 1500+ years in the future. The opportunities for futuristic technology are really exciting to think about, and Waggoner does provide some cool stuff. Reading about Zee’s acclimation to this unfamiliar time is intriguing. There are other time travelers from the past and they form a sort of support group, giving the reader a window into lots of different time periods, not just Zee’s and David’s. The story takes a turn in the later part of the book, where David travels back in time to Pompeii – another idea that I loved.

The problem with this book, and with its predecessor, is that not much is fleshed out. The books are very short and there’s a lot of plot. They feel more like an outline than a novel. I never got a great feel for the characters and what made them tick. There are interesting details in both time periods, but neither feels fully-formed and alive. There’s just too much shoved into not enough pages. Still, I enjoyed the read, and it wasn’t a bad way to spend a couple of hours. Readers who can’t get enough of time travel may find this worth their time.

Book borrowed from my library.







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Monday, January 26, 2015

Hardcover to Paperback Makeovers: 6+ Changes To Consider

It's a new year, and with that comes another round of cover makeovers, many of which are books that came out in hardcover last year. I've pulled together just a few of the changes I've seen popping up and I've saved a pile more for future posts.

Some of these redesigns in paperback are winners and some of them don't seem to change much about the hardcover. In some instances, maybe the hardcover is all together better. One of the more interesting trends I've noticed is where the hardcover was unique -- either a design or completely font-driven -- and the paperback makeover turns into a stock photo of a girl. It makes the paperbacks blend together, as it's hard to sometimes differentiate one girl from another on those covers, whereas a cover that has the title written across it largely or features some other memorable image just stands out more on the shelf and stands out more in my head.

Let's dig in. As usual, the original hardcovers are on the left and their paperback incarnations are on the right.



Tease by Amanda Maciel came out in hardcover last spring, and the design of this one was really noteworthy. It looks like a gray cover with the title in cursive across it, but in person, it's extremely shiny. Both the silver-y background and the pink-red title text pop in the treatment of the hardcover design.

The paperback, out April 28, goes in a completely different direction. The title is still the focal point of the cover, though rather than pop like it does on the hardcover, it's more subdued in white. It's also in a completely different -- and I think less effective -- font. Where the hardcover didn't include the blurb on the front cover (they were on the back), the paperback makes use of the Hopkins blurb at the top left corner. I'm not really inspired by the stock image used here at all. It looks like a million other side-profile girl faces on YA covers. It's hard for me to tell whether the new look is meant to draw a different audience or not. I can't figure out whether it's appealing to teen readers more or less, as the girl herself looks older than a teenager.

The hardcover of Tease is the better cover here, hands down. Neither cover necessarily hints at what's going on inside the book, though.





Elizabeth Scott's Heartbeat cover went through a few design tweaks before the final hardcover version appeared.  Though it's a cover of a couple kissing, the way the title is treated makes this one pretty memorable. The design is eye-catching and in thinking about how this book looks face-out on a shelf, it's really appealing. The hardcover plays into the idea there's a romance in the book -- and there is -- even though the romance isn't the driving force of the novel.

And perhaps that's the reason for the paperback redesign, due out March 1. The makeover on this one goes to a stock image, and rather than play up the romance, this one plays up the grief aspect of the story. The girl is off-center, and she's looking off in the distance. Her body language is one that's sad or longing, and that fits with the story itself. Unlike the hardcover, which did everything in all capital letters, the paperback redesign went with putting everything in all lowercase letters. There's a certain understatement to that and aesthetically, it's really appealing. It's quieter. That said, the paperback is almost forgettable -- it's a girl on the cover with nothing super distinguishing or remarkable about her. It doesn't feel fresh or new.

This one is tough to call a better cover on in terms of what it tries to tell the reader about the story, but in terms of straight eye-catchiness and memorability the hardcover does it better.




Scholastic has been rolling out redesigned covers for Siobhan Vivian's backlist, and her first YA novel, A Little Friendly Advice, will be seeing the paperback makeover treatment on shelves March 31.

The hardcover for this one is straightforward and simple. This is a book about friendship and a group of girl friends, and Ruby, the main character, receives a polaroid camera for her 16th birthday. That gift translates onto the hardcover, as each of the girls are depicted in a polaroid image. There's a nice sense of each personality in the four photos, even though they're all stock photos. More, all of the girls look like they're teenagers.

The paperback maintains the feel of the hardcover, but it makes it even fresher. There are still four girls, and they all look quite similar to the original girls. But what really stands out -- and what Scholastic's done with the other redesigns of Vivian's covers -- is that these girls look like they're 16. Where the girls on the hardcover do look like teens, there's zero question about the ages of the girls on the paperback. They aren't wearing styles that are dated, either, meaning that this cover has a long shelf life ahead of it, despite being a cover with people on it. I love, too, that the main character is looking right at the reader.

While I think both covers for A Little Friendly Advice are good, the paperback is a really nice, fresh update of the original. For readers who didn't pick this one up the first time around, this will be especially appealing and exciting.

For those who haven't seen the other redesigns, here are the updated looks for Not That Kind of Girl and Same Difference.




I always thought the hardcover of Jon Skovron's Man Made Boy was pretty great. I love the big Frankenstein hand, and more, I love that it's holding the title of the book itself. The font for the title is made up of circuitry, and I think the heart in place of an "O" was a clever touch. There's no need to talk boy book or girl book, but this book cover definitely has a masculine feel to it, and I think with that feel, there's appeal to guy readers especially. This cover, faced out, should go. Even with a heart on it. The heart is malfunctioning anyway.

But the paperback for Man Made Boy, due out July 7, takes what the hardcover does well and amps it up even more.  In a lot of ways, this cover feels powerful because it's so understated. Where the hardcover is a bit loud, but packed with fun detail, the paperback is one cohesive image. More, though, I love how this cover undermines gender. We get that in the hardcover with the heart, but in the paperback, we get it because the image replicates doll pieces (do those push-out dolls still exist today?). Interestingly, the paperback ditches the big John Corey Whaley blurb in honor of a tag line, and it's much more effective and useful to me as a reader -- "A boy among monsters, a monster among people -- a hero above all." I know what this story is going to be about more with that than I do praise for the story.

Also interesting: the author is introduced to readers as the author of This Broken Wondrous World, which is the sequel to Man Made Boy and also features a similar cover treatment . . . but publishes nearly a month after the paperback is released. Maybe that's a placeholder, but if it isn't, that seems weird to be advertising an author by a book not yet published.

Both of these covers are pretty good, but because the sequel is going with a similar look to the paperback, maybe the paperback is a winner for cohesiveness.





Here's a much-needed, very well-done, and memorable cover change for 21 Proms, an older anthology of short stories by 21 authors. The original cover on the left isn't bad at all. It gets right to the point of the book: these are stories about prom. The authors on the cover include all contributors, rather than just the biggest, most well-known names (at the time -- this book published in 2007). It's a stock image, and the tag line fits for the collection.

The redesign, which came out December 31, does in a bit of a different direction but without sacrificing the feel of the original or getting away from the purpose of the anthology. The cover, which is an illustration, highlights the stories within the anthology. You don't just see heterosexual couples represented here -- there are multiple gay couples, as well as a lesbian couple, as well as individuals who are without a partner, as well as groups. There's a nice range of representation on the cover, which is fitting with the content itself. One interesting and noteworthy change, though, is that because of how the illustration takes up so much of the cover, the author listing has been pared down greatly to just the biggest, most recognizable names in YA. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it's an interesting change nonetheless.

The paperback for 21 Proms is a winner here. It's fresh, it's contemporary, and it'll give life to this anthology for another generation of teen readers and prom story enthusiasts.





I wasn't a huge fan of the cover for Lucy Christopher's The Killing Woods when it came out last year. It's not a bad cover by any means, but it's kind of forgettable amid a ton of YA book covers featuring a shadowy person running through the woods. The tag line was kind of interesting, especially because it got to what was really going on in the story itself. This wasn't so much a book about woods which were deadly, but rather, about the deadly games played in the woods.

The paperback redesign, which came out December 31, changes the cover quite a bit, while still maintaining a sense of foreboding to it. We've got the woods in the background, but rather than being blue, they've been made into a deep red color. And rather than feature a haunting moon, there's a bird on a branch -- keeping with the fact birds are a hot cover feature, this isn't too surprising, even though it doesn't play a role in the story. What the redesign does that I love, though, is the title font. If anything, the new font is what gives this cover the sense of fear to it. I'm an even bigger fan of the typerwriter font for Christopher's name.

While neither cover knocks it out of the park, I think the paperback is a little more my taste. In terms of audience appeal, this is a tough one. The hardcover mimics a lot of adult thrillers in how it looks, which could be a draw for teen and adult readers. The paperback is quieter and more "literary," which almost makes it feel like it's reaching for more adult readers, rather than teen readers.





I'm less interested in talking about the paperback redesign for Miranda Kenneally's Breathe, Annie, Breathe than I am about the fact this is the fourth incarnation of this book's cover. The hardcover, on the left, came about after two previous designs were nixed after being revealed. Here's what the two original-but-ditched hardcover designs:




After seeing so many designs of this one, my mind is muddled with which is the real one and which isn't the real one. I wonder if that's part of what drove the decision to choose yet another design for the paperback? If anything, though, the final paperback look fits with the look that the rest of the very loose "Hundred Oaks" series has going for it, with romance being what the driving image force is. If it hadn't been redesigned, it would have been the only book that was just a girl on the cover.




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Friday, January 23, 2015

This Week at Book Riot



Here's a look at this week's posts over on Book Riot:





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Thursday, January 22, 2015

Cover Reveal: The Death and Life of Zebulon Finch, Volume 1: At the Edge of Empire by Daniel Kraus

We have never done a cover reveal before on Stacked, but we're doing one today for a book that sounds spectacular. I've been enjoying Daniel Kraus's books, and I'm really looking forward to what he's got in store in 2015 for us. First up is Trollhunters, a horror novel out June 30 and co-written by Guillermo del Toro. 

Then in the fall, October to be exact, the first book in Kraus's Zebulon Finch series will hit shelves from Simon & Schuster BFYR. There has been very little said about this duology so far, aside from its announcement. But we're going to change that. 

Here's what you should know about The Death and Life of Zebulon Finch, Volume 1: At The Edge of Empire



May 7, 1896. Dusk. A swaggering seventeen-year-old gangster named Zebulon Finch is gunned down on the shores of Lake Michigan. But after mere minutes in the void, he is mysteriously resurrected.
His second life will be nothing like his first.
            Zebulon's new existence begins as a sideshow attraction in a traveling medicine show. From there, he will be poked and prodded by a scientist obsessed with mastering the secrets of death. He will fight in the trenches of World War I. He will run from his nightmares—and from poverty—in Depression-era New York City. And he will become the companion of the most beautiful woman in Hollywood.
Love, hate, hope, and horror—Zebulon finds them. But will he ever find redemption?
Ambitious and heartbreaking, The Death & Life of Zebulon Finch, Volume 1: At the Edge of Empire is the epic saga of what it means to be human in a world so often lacking in humanity.


Now, the cover, designed by Ken Taylor:




If nothing else, this cover is sure as hell going to stand out on a shelf. It's got a real steampunk-time travel feel to it, and it just looks like a cover of a book that is going to be huge and expansive. We've got a gas mask, a trilby hat, rats, and an overall feeling of something out of Metropolis. The bottom of the cover, behind where the boy is walking, really gives it that feel for me. There's also definitely an Octavian Nothing vibe from the cover, though for an older teen audience.  

I'm looking forward to this duology because it sounds like not only something I've never seen before, but I know it'll be good because Kraus's work has yet to disappoint me. And don't worry about waiting too long after finishing the first book for the sequel -- it'll be out in October 2016. 


DANIEL KRAUS:

DANIEL KRAUS is a Chicago-based writer, editor, and filmmaker. His debut novel, The Monster Variations, was selected to New York Public Library’s “100 Best Stuff for Teens.” Fangoria called his Bram Stoker-finalist, Odyssey Award-winning second novel, Rotters, “a new horror classic.” Scowler was a Junior Library Guild selection, a YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults, and the winner of the Odyssey Award.

Upcoming novels include Trollhunters (2015), co-written with filmmaker Guillermo del Toro; and The Death & Life of Zebulon Finch, Volume 2 (2016).

Kraus has written regularly for such magazines as Cosmopolitan, Playboy, Maxim, and Salon.com. He is the director of six feature films, including Sheriff (2006 season premiere of PBS’s Emmy-winning “Independent Lens”) and Musician (2007 New York Times Critics’ Pick). Visit him at www.danielkraus.com.


KEN TAYLOR:

Melbourne-based illustrator and designer Ken Taylor is known throughout the world for his striking rock and movie posters. Ken began by designing posters and album artwork for many Australian bands, including You Am I, The Beasts of Bourbon, and Crowded House. As word of his talent spread, he took on international clients, creating artwork for bands such as Pearl Jam, Nine Inch Nails, Kings of Leon, Bob Dylan, and The Rolling Stones. Over the past few years, he has become well-known for his limited edition silkscreened movie posters, working with some of the world’s biggest movie licenses. Ken won the Desktop Create Award for Best illustration in both 2007 and 2009. He has had exhibitions in Los Angeles (2012) and Austin (2013) and was also part of SXSW Flatsock. Ken continues to work with bands both locally and internationally and is represented by Drawing Book.The Death and Life of Zebulon Finch, Volume 1: At the Edge of Empire is his first book cover.





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The Law of Loving Others by Kate Axelrod

Sometimes, you read a book and it hits all of the notes perfectly. Other times, you read a book and it misses them.

The Law of Loving Others falls more into the second category.

Emma is a high school junior at a boarding school in Pennsylvania. The story takes place during the twoish weeks of winter break, when she and boyfriend Daniel head back to their homes in the New York City suburbs and the city itself respectively. When Emma arrives home, she's greeted by her mother who isn't entirely the person she remembers her to be. Her mom's making strange statements about her clothing not being the stuff she owns and that the world around her is out to get her.

Before long, Emma's mother is sent to the hospital, then on to an assisted living medical facility for treatment of a bad bout with schizophrenia. It's a disease she's had her entire life, but it's entered into a flare up unlike any Emma has seen before.

Throughout her mother's time away, Emma finds herself questioning the strength of her relationship with Daniel. He's not there in the way she thinks he should be. She wants him to always be waiting for her, to always be reassuring her that he loves her, that no matter what she needs, he'll be there waiting. He does love her, and he is there for her, but as Emma comes to figure out, he's not a mind reader and he can't possibly offer more to Emma than he already is. It's Emma who complicates things more when she begins to spend time with Philip, someone she knows through a friend and whose brother is also at the same facility her mother is at. It took no time for them to dive into a very physical relationship, borne from their shared desires to be close to someone in their grief and sadness.

While Emma navigates her romantic life, as well as the challenges of her family life, something else is scratching at the back of her mind, too: what if she finds herself experiencing the symptoms of schizophrenia? Can someone love her if she, too, becomes mentally unwell? Her paranoia grows throughout, as she senses the anxiety in her own life becoming more and more problematic. Thinking about this makes her want to know more about the relationship between her own mother and father. How do they operate? How did they operate when her illness had been bad before she was born? This thinking is one of the things she can't separate from her own relationship with Daniel.

Axelrod's debut novel has a lot to enjoy. In many ways, it's the romantic relationship in this book that's most memorable and noteworthy. Emma's desire to know how relationships work -- as well as her own decisions in testing hers -- are realistic and explored in a way that I haven't seen in YA. There's meat to how she wonders about her own parents and about the way relationships ebb and flow. Likewise, the manner in which Emma faces her own fears about her own mental status and the potential future of her own health are at times tough to read. With schizophrenia having an average age of diagnosis of 25, Emma knows she's not out of the woods yet.

That said, many things in this book didn't work.

This isn't a YA novel for teen readers. While it'll appeal to teen readers, it's a YA novel for adult readers or, more realistically, it's an adult novel with teen main characters. The writing feels so distant and removed, and the ways that the teens are rendered here are fantasies. The freedoms they have at boarding school -- as told through reminiscent, dream-like flashbacks -- are hard to believe. These teens read like college juniors attending a college, rather than high school juniors attending a high school. There are drug parties, a wildly deep college course catalog and opportunities for study, plenty of drinking, and almost too much freedom from any authority. While Emma has her parents present in the story, the setting at boarding school felt far too convenient. Not only was it convenient, but it permitted that dreamlike fantasy and more, it highlighted her privilege. Sure, her dad was a teacher at a great local school, but it was her parents who encouraged her to attend this school. Sure, it was so she wouldn't have to potentially face her mother's illness when it hit (though she did anyway). But ultimately, it was flimsy and cardboard and far more about developing a nice fantasy world for her to have when she had to face the tough realities of her home life and her relationship with Daniel.

There's quite a bit of sex and discussion of sex in this book, and none of it feels authentic to the teen experience. Emma has had sex with three people, and while that's believable, the fact none of her narrative experiences involve an ounce of awkwardness, messiness, or humor is hard to swallow. Both Daniel and Phil know how to get her off quickly and painlessly, and the sex becomes a balm to her. It's weird because teen sex -- even sex in adulthood -- isn't this easy or carefree or hygienic. More, the way that Emma narrates a sexual encounter with Daniel is well beyond her maturity or experience at 16 (maybe 17) years old.

From the onset, I could see the strings being pulled. Daniel's mother was a doctor of mental health, and even at the beginning of the book, before we discover there's a problem with Emma's mother, she's offering Emma an opportunity to talk. She presses Emma, too, asking if she's feeling any anxiety, any worry, anything out of sorts herself. Then when Emma's mother is sent to the group home for therapy, it's Daniel's mom that Emma turns to. It was too easy an out, and it was too conveniently placed. While there's no denying that Emma had a big challenge in front of her and she grieved deeply, she had too many parachutes into which she could fall. There weren't enough brick walls to force her to push farther or harder.

Emma herself isn't particularly complex, nor is she particularly memorable. She's not a "likable" nor an "unlikable" character. While she does dumb things and is certainly not winning girlfriend of the year (she cheats on Daniel!), none of the consequences of those actions feel that detrimental. There are outs all over the place for her, and she lets herself have them. She left me feeling nothing toward her, which might be her downfall as a character. She's there and that's about it. One thing that did stand out about her -- and it stood out because it's a rare thing to see in YA -- is that she's ethnically Jewish.

The Law of Loving Others 
reminded me a lot of Nina de Gramont's The Gossip of the Starlings, even though thematically they don't have a whole lot in common. Instead, Axelrod's writing and execution felt very adult, rather than teen, and I can't figure out why this book is being marketed for YA, rather than adult. This is a romanticized, dreamy take on the teen experience, rather than a grittier, messier, truer version. It feels sanitized. While I think it has appeal to readers looking for a realistic novel about a parent struggling with mental illness, as well as a story that looks at romance through the lens of what makes a relationship work or not work, there's little that makes it stand out loudly and strongly from what else is out there. It's more of a palate cleanser: it achieves its purpose, even if it's not particularly fresh or noteworthy. This is a solid example of YA for adults that you could easily pass along to adult readers.


The Law of Loving Others is available now. Review copy received from the publisher. 




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