Historical Fiction and Nonfiction Are Top Contenders | Pondering Printz

With the turning of the new year, it’s time to talk Printz contenders. Here are six picks to keep an eye on.

With the turning of the new year, it’s time to talk Printz contenders. Here are six picks to keep an eye on.

Historical Fiction

YA fiction is synonymous with first-person contemporary novels, but this award season has already been dominated by a pair of third-person historical novels. Rita Williams-Garcia returns to the YA genre with a tour de force; A Sitting in St. James won the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Fiction. A masterly portrait of life on a Louisiana plantation during the antebellum South, its depiction of the tangled and toxic relationships between plantation owners and enslaved people is especially notable for its nuance, subtlety, and fearlessness.

Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo won the National Book Award and it, too, features an immersive setting, vivid characters, and powerful themes: coming of age—and coming out. Set in San Francisco during the 1950s, Lily Hu learns to navigate her sexual awakening and identity, high school friendships, the expectations of her Chinese American family, and the broader sociopolitical implications of communism, feminism, and homosexuality.

A Sitting in St. James is my pick to win it all, but I expect both to be strong Printz contenders.


Historically, the Printz has not been kind to nonfiction; consider Steve Sheinkin, for example. His fine body of work earned him the Edwards Award, yet never Printz recognition. That could change this year with Fallout: Spies, Superbombs, and the Ultimate Cold War Showdown, a page-turning account of the rise of the Cold War and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Sheinkin’s inimitable style deftly weaves together multiple plot strands with a diverse cast of characters in far-flung settings.

From a Whisper to a Rallying Cry: The Killing of Vincent Chin and the Trial That Galvanized the Asian American Movement by Paula Yoo, winner of the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Nonfiction, features a much smaller cast and a singular setting: the racially motivated 1982 murder of Vincent Chin in Detroit, MI. Yoo painstakingly recreates the murder and ensuing trial, fully drawing the reader into a range of emotions with the senseless violence and unfair justice system.

While these two books rise to the top for me, it’s a deep year for nonfiction, and there a half dozen worthy of consideration.

Genre Fiction

Last, but not least, are my genre fiction picks. The Raconteur’s Commonplace Book by Kate Milford gradually reveals a mystery among its short stories. Stranded at an inn during a heavy rainstorm with rising floodwaters, a group of strangers pass the time by taking turns telling stories. While the stories play off each other in strange and surprising ways, there are also connections to the author’s previous fantasy books. It’s a master class in intertextuality, but this book may test the committee’s FOMO.

Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley is an absorbing crime thriller about an Ojibwe teen caught up in an FBI narcotics investigation in her community of Sault Sainte Marie in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It’s somewhat surprising that there hasn’t been greater overlap between the Printz and Morris Awards—only Where Things Come Back and The Hate U Give—but there’s an excellent chance that Firekeeper’s Daughter joins that select group.

Jonathan Hunt is a coordinator of library media services at the San Diego County Office of Education. He has served on numerous award committees, including the Printz. Follow him on Twitter @jhunt24.

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