Category Archives: Printz Honor Award Winner

Stolen by Lucy Christopher

It’s been a few days since I put down Stolen and I’m still trying to work out my feelings about it.  I’ve read tons of reviews and talked with other people who read it and there are some very conflicting viewpoints out there.

Let’s start with a summary:  Gemma is a 16 year old girl who is abducted from an airport in Bangkok while traveling with her parents.  Her kidnapper, Ty, has been stalking her for years and has chosen this moment to finally make his move.  Ty drugs Gemma and when she comes out of her stupor, she finds herself in the desert.  In Australia.  Completely and utterly cut off from civilization.  Stolen is written as a letter from Gemma to Ty.

The more time passes in the hot, desolate Australian outback (which is vividly portrayed), the more Gemma’s feelings for Ty become conflicted.  She hates him for stealing her, but comes to need him in a strange way as well.  He is tender towards her, for the most part, claiming that he loves her and that he has “saved” her from a life where she doesn’t belong.  He truly believes she is better off with him and will learn to love the life he has built for her on the land he obviously loves so much.

While it is clear that Ty manipulates Gemma in many ways to break her down mentally and emotionally, it was difficult for me to view him as a complete monster.  This is the 3rd abduction novel (Room, Still Missing) I’ve read in under a year and I had no problem feeling outrage and hatred for the other kidnappers.  But with Ty it was different.  Maybe it was because he was young.  Maybe it was because he was described as being attractive.  Maybe it was because he had a troubled past and passionately believed that he loved Gemma, when it is so clear that he has no idea what true love is.  I can’t say for sure.  Some reviewers have claimed Christopher created a scenario in which we as the reader develop Stockholm Syndrome along with Gemma, where our feelings for Ty become twisted and distorted and we just can’t seem to completely hate him.

One thing I did think about several times while reading was that this would have been a more interesting story if it had been from Ty’s point of view.  I found myself wanting to know more about his motivations for doing what he did, sick and twisted though it was.  I guess I wonder, was there more to this troubled man than just he awful thing he did…or was I manipulated by him as well?

Disturbing.

Stolen by Lucy Christopher
Young Adult | 304 pages | May 2010 | The Chicken House | 0545170931 | Library copy
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Nothing by Janne Teller

“Nothing matters.
I have known this for a long time.
So nothing is worth doing.
I just realized that.” (p. 1)

On the first day of seventh grade in the fictional Danish town of Taering, Pierre Anthon stands up, declares that nothing matters, and takes up residence in the plum tree in front of his family’s commune.  Pierre’s classmates are left to puzzle over his bizarre behavior and the existential proclamations he hurls at them from his perch as they walk to and from school.  Could Pierre be correct?  All their lives they’ve been told they must be something, be someone, but the adults in their lives have not done much to explain how they will find this meaning.  But that doesn’t mean it isn’t there…does it?

Then Sophie has an idea:  they have to get Pierre out of the tree.  To do so, they must prove to him there is meaning.    The class begins to collect objects they believe have value  in an old, abandoned sawmill.  Dolls, hymnbooks, combs, and photographs pile up in the corner, but still, the heap lacked real meaning.  It’s here that things begin to get personal.

One by one, each person is made to part with something they truly love.  Once they give up their meaning, they pick the next person and the thing they will sacrifice to the heap.  It starts off innocent enough; favorite books, shoes, a fishing pole.  But things quickly take a sinister turn.

Translated from Dutch, Nothing is a thought-provoking, grim and haunting philosophical look at human nature.  The story is simple but packs a great deal of punch.  The inside flap calls it a “Lord of the Flies for the 21st century”, and I have to say, I had that novel in mind the entire time I was reading this book.  Kris’s review at Voracious YAppetite eloquently discusses the reason behind the impact of books like Nothing and Lord of the Flies:

“They hit home in a jarring way that highlights what we all know to be true at our core: That when you strip away the morals and societal structure that keep us all in line and accountable for our actions, people are driven by instinct — and the result of indulging in those basic instincts is not always pretty.”

Part of what made Nothing even more powerful is that it didn’t take place on an island, where the structure of society doesn’t exist.  It happened in a small town, with plenty of people around and laws in place that should have prevented these teenagers from heading down the dark and morbid road they were on.  But it didn’t.

I don’t think everyone will like this book.  It’s disturbing in a lot of ways that will make people uncomfortable and questions ideals we perceive as the norm.  Even I’m still trying to figure out exactly how I feel about it.  I do know this – Nothing will stick with me for a long time.

Other reviews: A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy, Oops…Wrong Cookie, DogEar, Bookish Blather.

Nothing by Janne Teller
Young Adult | 240 pages | February 2010 | Atheneum | 1416985794 | Library copy

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Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A. S. King

“I’m sorry, but I don’t get it.  If we’re supposed to ignore everything that’s wrong with our lives, then I can’t see how we’ll ever make things right.” (p. 44)

Vera Dietz and Charlie Kahn have been best friends since they were four years old.  In a world where mothers left their families and husbands beat their wives, Vera and Charlie were there for each other, were solid for each other, kept each others secrets.  Until Charlie turned his back on Vera.  And then died.

Now Vera is facing the fallout from Charlie’s death.  She knows more than she’s letting on, but in order to tell the truth, she must first come to terms with everything that’s happened between her and Charlie-good and bad.  Even though she’s been told to ignore the ugly things in the world for most of her life, Vera knows that ignorance doesn’t make them go away.  It just makes you feel like a chump for not doing anything to help.

I absolutely loved this book.  From the first page, I was drawn into Vera’s story.  Her voice is vivid and full of personality; she’s quirky and smart and funny.  She’s also been hurt very deeply by the people who were supposed to love her.  Watching her experience that cruelty was literally heartbreaking.  Several times I found myself clutching my chest, fighting back tears for this girl.  But don’t think Vera’s some helpless damsel-in-distress; she’s tough in ways she shouldn’t have to be.

Vera tells us her story in alternating perspectives:  present and “history” – glimpses into her relationship with Charlie as they grew up.  There are also some interjections from “the dead kid”, AKA Charlie, Vera’s dad, and the Pagoda.  Although the sections told from Charlie’s and the Pagoda’s perspectives add a bit of fantastic realism to the story, they weren’t distracting or jarring as you might expect. 

Please Ignore Vera Dietz is as much about death and loss as it is about love and life.  It’s about letting go of the past so you can embrace your future.  It’s a complex and nuanced exploration about the complicated nature of love, whether it’s romantic or familial.  I think Vera put it best when she said:

“True love includes equal parts good and bad, but true love sticks around and doesn’t run off to Vegas with a podiatrist.” (p. 97)

Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A. S. King
Young Adult | 336 pages | October 2010 | Knopf Books for Young Readers | 0375865861 | Library copy

 

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