Winning the Michael L. Printz Award is the highest honor a writer for young adults can achieve. Some authors like John Green receive it for their first book (2006’s Looking for Alaska). I can’t speak for any of the winning authors and say that they aim for a Printz winner every time, but there have been a number of multiple winners in the relatively short time the award has been given since 2000. After winning a 2000 Printz Honor for Skellig, David Almond won it again in 2001 for Kit’s Wilderness. John Green followed his 2006 Printz win with a 2007 Printz Honor for An Abundance of Katherines. Even if they don’t win the award, all the winning authors have continued to publish an extraordinary body of work.
I just finished Adam Rapp’s newest, The Children and the Wolves. I feel like I always feel after I’ve finished one of his books: like I’ve been punched in the gut. Love him or hate him, his books illicit a strong response. Like 33 Snowfish and Punkzilla (a 2010 Printz Honor title) and Rapp’s other works, it’s a realistic, gritty story about kids who are marginalized by society–whether it’s because they are from broken families with parents just scraping by or too wealthy and self-centered with their own lives and careers to pay attention to their brilliant but troubled children.
Wealthy Carla (AKA Bounce), 14, is super-smart with a sociopathic love for violence (she loves extreme fighting, especially cage fighting) and a fascination with opening up animals’ innards to see what make them tick. She’s persuaded two 7th grade outcasts, Wiggins and Orange, who can’t resist her allure, and her prescription drugs, to kidnap a 3-year-old girl they call Frog and hold her hostage in Orange’s basement. Bounce was inspired to kidnap Frog after a local poet spoke to her Honors English class and railed against mass consumerism like TV, the internet, fast food, and the other evils that are imprisoning and limiting everyone’s freedom. Bounce likes mass consumerism, so she decides to kidnap Frog, then collect money on her behalf by using it to publicize the child’s disappearance and use it to buy a gun and make the author disappear.
The characters take turns narrating each chapter as the events unfold. Reading Rapp can be like watching a car wreck. You want to turn away, but you are compelled to keep reading. You keep hoping his troubled, immoral, and delusional characters will redeem themselves even as you know that, like life, there are no guarantees of a happy ending for any of his characters.