The second-guessing began as soon as the announcements were made. Why did such-and-such a committee choose this book and not that for the medal? Why wasn't Wonder among the Newbery honorees? What about It Jes' Happened—why no Sibert nod for it? And how come Pinned didn't emerge with a shiny Coretta Scott King medal?
But of all the Monday-morning quarterbacking, one murmur was loudest: What the heck happened to The Fault in Our Stars? John Green's runaway best-seller about two teens with cancer soared in the Amazon rankings well before it was even published thanks to fervid preorders, and it finished the year as one of the top-selling YA titles, holding its own among such multimedia franchise powerhouses as the Hunger Games trilogy and the new Wimpy Kid book.
Did the Printz Committee members even read it?
Well, yeah, of course they did.
The nine members of the Printz Committee, which is charged with selecting the year's best book written for teens sure did read it, along with a boatload of books a lot of people didn't, especially in the aggregate. You can bet they read TFiOS (as Green's fans call it familiarly), and they read There Is No Dog, Meg Rosoff's quirky inquiry into the nature of faith. They also read Master of Deceit, Marc Aronson's commanding biography of legendary FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover. They read My Book of Life by Angel, Martine Leavitt’s heartbreaking and exquisite novel in verse about a teen prostitute. And they read Bitterblue, Kristin Cashore's monumental examination of a young queen's struggle to help her country recover from the corruption of absolute power.
And of course they read their winner, Nick Lake's In Darkness, a mesmerizing tour de force that takes readers back and forth between Haiti in the immediate aftermath of the massive 2010 earthquake and the revolutionary Saint-Domingue of Toussaint l'Ouverture. They read their honor books: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, by Benjamin Alire Sáenz , a lyrical look at two El Paso teens who couldn't be much more different finding friendship on the cusp of adulthood; Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein, a World War II spy novel that takes readers into a Nazi interrogation chamber and the skies over England with passion and sorrow; Dodger, by Terry Pratchett, a deeply compassionate imagining of the life and times of the Artful Dodger delivered with the author's customary wit; and The White Bicycle, by Beverley Brenna, a Canadian import almost nobody has heard of about a girl with Asperger’s syndrome testing her independence during a summer in the south of France.
They read all these and more, and they read a lot of them multiple times. Yup, while you and I read TFiOS once, were profoundly moved and then headed on to the next book on the to-read stack, the Printz Committee members returned to these books over and over. Individually, each had to weigh apples against aardvarks as they struggled to decide which were among their top choices. And then they had to come to group consensus over the course of a few intense hours shut up in a (probably) windowless meeting room.
Did anyone say at any point, "Can't we have one winner and 21 honor books?" Even if no one actually said it, chances are good someone thought it. But they couldn't, so committee members had to say good-bye to books they loved, loved, loved as the hours and discussions wore on.
Was TFiOS one of those titles? Committee members are sworn to secrecy, so we'll never know for sure, but I'd bet my next paycheck it was, along with some of the titles I've mentioned and plenty of others I haven't.
Good on you, Printz Committee members, for taking your charge so seriously you didn't just anoint the book a lot of us wanted you to. And good on you, John Green, for so generously Tweeting your congratulations to the winners for all to see. Literature for teens is all the better for both your efforts.