Better late than never, right? There are still two games left! Of course, now I’ve realized that many others are doing this, too. Very small places, too, like the LA Public Library. And NY Public Library. And Electric Literature. And NY Writers Coalition. All of these are great lists that I will definitely explore more, although these focus largely on adult literature.
I almost didn’t post this because of the other lists – and because I haven’t yet read half of the books I want to read, and still am searching for others – but decided hey, why not? I think I might continue looking for international fiction after this little project. It’s quite fun.
At any rate, here are the first mini-reviews of books I’ve read from or about World Cup countries. More to come. I’ll start, though, with some resources on international YA Material.
The Mildred L. Batchelder Awards
The Batchelder Awards are the ALA’s annual award for the best translated children’s books originally published in another country. There are many YA choices included – some on my list have been Batchelder nominees or winners.
Evanston Public Library List
Evanston Public Library has a very nice list on the teen section of its website. I found a number of my titles from this list. (Oh, Brazil, would that I could find more titles from you!)
The African Books Collective is a marketer and distributor of books from Africa, and the website has the ability to search for children’s and young adult books.
The Burt Awards for African Literature, sponsored by Canadian literacy organization CODE, award young adult fiction from Tanzania, Ghana, Ethiopia, and Kenya. Although many of the book descriptions make them seem more like middle grade or children’s works, there are definitely some YA titles on the lists. There are also Burt Awards for Caribbean YA and Canadian First Nations, Metis, and Inuit YA.
South East Europe
I’ll be honest: my Croatia post below is a cheat. I haven’t finished the book, but I was a little obsessed with the idea of finding something from Croatia. They played the first game of this year’s World Cup against Brazil, and that’s basically where I got stuck in my search – hence the posting when the World Cup is almost done! I didn’t find much – I was actually told by someone in the Croatian book industry that a lot of Croatian work is translated into German, not English – but I did find a publisher in London, Istros Books, that focuses on and translates material from Hungary, Serbia, Croatia, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovenia, Bosnia/Herzegovina, Macedonia, and Montenegro.
And now, on to the books…Let it be said that my ideal would be to read books originally published in the selected country, that depict life in that country, and were then translated. Or to read books that depict life in that country. This list has some of that, but not too much.
In this post: Brazil, Croatia, Chile, The Netherlands, and England.
Next post: Australia, Coite D'Ivoire, France, Iran, Nigeria, Germany, Portugal, Ghana, USA. Or maybe just Germany and Argentina.
Brazil, I’m going to track down some great YA literature from you yet. Right now, though, I have one book out of the Netherlands, one out of England, and one that isn’t YA at all.
Brief Thought: Interesting
This counts for both Brazil and the Netherlands, I think. Originally published in the Netherlands in 1995, it was published in 1999 in the US, and was a Batchelder Award nominee in 2000 as well as a YALSA Best Book for Young Adults in the same year.
This book is, in fact, excruciatingly depressing. It follows a young street teen through the streets of Rio de Janeiro as he watches his friends turn into criminals and make themselves sick by huffing glue. I’m a bit embarrassed that I hadn’t heard about the glue-sniffing problem that various countries face before reading this book – in the beginning, I was thoroughly confused by the mentions of “using the money to buy glue” on every other page. Holtwijk was a journalist in Rio at the time of writing, though, and supposedly, this is based on a real teen and real experiences. It’s definitely an interesting read, although it really does make me want to get my hands on some books that show other sides of Brazil as well (it seems, entirely unscientifically, that a fair amount of fiction that gets translated is about social problems or war).
Brief Thought: Yay!
This is my Brazil/England book – set in Brazil, written by an English author (published there in 2003, and in the US in 2005) – and you know what? I really, really liked it. I can’t say I was expecting to: I love soccer, but don’t necessarily love to read about it, and a story about a soccer journalist who interviews the goalkeeper who won the World Cup for Brazil (oh!) did not sound that exciting. But it is. Faustino, a bit boring, is only a vehicle through which El Gato can tell the magical story of how a mysterious goalkeeper - The Keeper - taught him to play soccer in the rainforest next to his small village. It’s set in an alternate reality Brazil, one in which the Brazil team did lose the home World Cup in 1950, but for different reasons than real life.
I won’t say too much more about it, other than that it’s the first of three books featuring Faustino, and that the seven or more page description of a penalty shootout near the end of the book had me as tense as any penalty shootout (or game) in this World Cup. And that’s saying something.
Brief Thought: Very good
Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon are twins from Sao Paulo, and this graphic novel, which is a collection of ten individual issues, received starred reviews in Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and Library Journal. It is not YA, but it is a moving and beautifully illustrated story about obituary writer Bras de Oliva Domingos, taking a look out-of-sequence at moments in his life and wondering what would happen if they occurred on the day that he died. This would definitely be an option for many mature teens. The coloring is absolutely amazing; sunset and beach scenes are especially vivid.
Written by Matko Srsen and translated from Croatian by Celia Hawkesworth
Brief Thought: I need to read it.
This was published in English in 2014 by Istros Books out of London, and is supposed to be a Croatian Harry Potter-esque story. As I admitted above (gasp!) this is the only book on the list I haven’t yet read/listened to, so more will come later…
Written by Anne-Laure Bondoux and translated from French by Y. Maudet.
Brief Thought: Beautifully written, very dark.
My Chilean entry is actually French – Isabel Allende next! This book was published in France in 2003 and the US in 2007, and was another Batchelder Award nominee. This book didn’t really feel much like YA (or what is marketed as YA). To me, it felt more like literary fiction. In the southernmost tip of Chile in an unspecified time, a wanted murderer takes refuge in a farmhouse after killing the owners but sparing their son. Soon joined by a traveler, the two men compete for the boy’s affections in this tale of the strange bonds people can form with each other. It is sparse and beautifully written, even in translation, and makes me excited to read another book I have that is written and translated by the same pair, but one that tells a story with a more contemporary feel. That book is set in France, though, so will end up in that category when I actually read it…
Brief Thought: Interesting
The Dutch edition of this book was published in 2006 and the US edition in 2012. This was a Batchelder Honor Book in 2013. If you want to get a flavor for the Netherlands, this is not the book to read: it is about Liberian child soldiers. It is told from the alternating points of view of a brother and sister, and it is a difficult (in subject matter) but short read.
Brief Thought: Fast and fun, not mind-blowing.
After the last two, we needed something light. These two are American entries that take place at least partially in the Netherlands and have a Dutch main character. There’s also a fair amount of France, as Paris is where the central love affair occurs. Just One Day, the first book, was published in January 2013, and tells the story of budding college freshman Allyson Healey’s one-day love adventure in Paris with a handsome Dutch boy she’s just met and how this chance meeting changes her life. Allyson is a very good girl, and she’s never done anything remotely like this before. Just One Year, published in October 2013, is the companion book, told from the point of view of Willem, the Dutch boy, and is about that day in Paris and the following year.
I listened to the audiobook versions, back-to-back, not really because of this project, but decided to include them anyway. The second book takes place largely in the Netherlands and as a bonus mentions both Robin van Persie and Wesley Sneijder, two Dutch footie players who have done very well in this World Cup. These two books are entertaining summer reads, although I think work best together, and I actually liked the second one better, which is strange for reasons I will get to momentarily. While I found the first book totally believable, despite the day in Paris not feeling all that special, Allyson has some self-confidence and other issues that can get very repetitive. I don’t think any of her issues, or behavior, really have anything to do with Allyson or the author feeling that “a woman is nothing without a man” (as I notice some reviewers have claimed and are annoyed with) and more to do with anxiety and depression, but that doesn’t make them any easier to read (or hear) about endlessly. In addition, it’s a bit like watching a train wreck when Allyson makes certain choices, because Willem, this boy she’s fallen in love with, is a total jerk. In Real Life, this would not end well.
And that’s why it’s surprising that I liked the second book better. Oh, Willem. This is a guy who brings a potential vacation hook-up to the club managed by the former girl-whatever he hasn’t seen in ages (since a blow-out, if I remember correctly) to drop off the vacation hook-up’s suitcase. Then he wonders why the former girl-whatever is upset. I mean, come on! I can’t get into details of other ways in which Willem is a jerk without giving away spoilers, but suffice it to say, he runs over a lot of women, and even if he has found true love with Allyson, and even if there are reasons behind some of his behavior, that doesn’t mean he wasn’t a total jerk to a lot of other people, and their lives are not worth any less than Allyson’s. Willem is also one of those incredibly lucky people that has things fall into his lap that other people struggle for years to attain, and he doesn’t seem to realize it.
Those things being said, Willem does have an interesting point of view, and in many ways is hard not to like. He’s charismatic, and Allyson can attest to this. It is fun to see the way the author has mirrored situations in both the books. I really was rooting for these two to get together, although, yes, that was partially because it would keep the rest of the female world safe from Willem.
Written by Annabel Pitcher Brief Thought: Yay!
This isn’t one that should really necessarily be on this list – it should probably have its own entry. I wasn’t planning on doing much from the UK or the USA, since there is a lot of YA from these places, although I do like reading about life in the UK. However, I listened to the audiobook after a teen recommended this title to me, and I loved it and couldn't wait to talk about it. It’s very unique: Zoe, a 15-year-old, writes letters to an inmate on death row to confess to him her horrible secret, as she thinks he is the only one who will understand. It’s heartbreaking, but also sweet and funny at times, and features a genuinely charming romance, in which we can see why these two characters actually like each other. Zoe is a complete character, with unique interests, and the b-story about her deaf little sister is a very interesting one. Zoe makes some terrible decisions throughout that end up being highly consequential, and the book is ultimately a reminder that you must be honest, fair, and kind to everyone in your life.