Saturday, February 21, 2009

Newbery Roundup 2009

I actually finished my last book of this year's Newbery list a few days ago, but I've been reluctant to write up the roundup because I wasn't wildly enthusiastic about one of the books. Now I understand the rest of you book bloggers better. When I started this I vowed to myself that I would review both books I liked and books I didn't like; I never know whether to trust a reviewer who's always positive, and anyway I like reading thoughtful negative reviews as much as (maybe more than) positive ones. But it just feels WRONG, doesn't it? I blithely post negative reviews on Goodreads--I think there's sort of an illusion of privacy there, even though I have more people following my reviews there than I do here. Or maybe it feels all right because I know that even though I'm posting a bad review there, the author or lover-of-that-book can find a dozen stellar reviews with a mere click.

WINNER: The Graveyard Book (Neil Gaiman)

I was really trying to read every possible book that might win the Newbery, but I didn't get to this one, which I thought had some pleasing mild irony. The public library system in my city is troubled, it takes forever to get new books in, and this started life with a lot of holds on it. After it won, I gave in and bought a copy, as a souvenir of my year of Newbery reading. (I almost never buy books I haven't read before.) Yes, I thought it was terrific--funny and scary and complex; squarely in the Newbery age range, which was pleasing. The structure and magical realism reminded me of Mary Poppins. It won't bounce anything off my Newbery top five, and I can't really say whether I would have chosen it over my own top Newbery pick, The Porcupine Year, but I can see well why it was chosen. My sister Laurie's thoughts are here, and don't miss Monica Edinger's New York Times review.

I thought about updating the Newbery Statistics, but I think I'll leave that as it is. But the effect of this winner: boy protagonists increase their lead further, historical fiction takes a tiny step back in its domination, male authors gain a point.

Honor: The Underneath (Kathi Appelt)

What I found distinguished here: the poetic and mesmerizing writing, which really gave us something different; the sense of place. I thought the story was a bit muddled, but this is a special book--the kind of thing the Newbery Honor is made for.

Honor: The Surrender Tree (Margarita Engle)

This is the other book I didn't read beforehand, but I found it astonishing. This is a powerful book, a fascinating exploration of Cuba's history. Unlike most novels-in-verse I've read, each passage in this book is a whole, complete poem in itself. It doesn't matter if you're not that interested in Cuban history; after reading this you will be. The Spanish-American War suddenly made sense to me, and it makes you think about occupying forces in general. I might have been tempted to vote for this for the gold medal.

Honor: After Tupac and D Foster (Jacqueline Woodson)

I enjoyed this, but it was really the other participants in the Oakland Mock Newbery who pointed out the distinguished features to me--a strong voice and, in a very different way from The Underneath, the sense of place. Previous thoughts here.

Honor: Savvy (Ingrid Law)

Savvy has a fast-paced, of-the-moment plot, and possibly the best first line of the year: "When my brother Fish turned thirteen, we moved to the deepest part of inland because of the hurricane and, of course, the fact that he'd caused it." A movie is in the works for 2011.

I love that there's such a mix of book types on this list (and was surprised to see a blogger claim that except for The Graveyard Book, they're all girl books again. For one thing, except for the winner? That doesn't really work. For another, neither The Underneath nor The Surrender Tree are "girl books". And for yet another, "again"? Except for 2007, there's just... no way). Thanks to the committee.


Monica Edinger said...

I do think the first line of The Graveyard Book is quite something too.

Sandy D. said...

Now you've made me go and want to read "Savvy" in addition to "After Tupac".

And "The Underneath" is so not a "girl book". Weird.

Anonymous said...

My 93 year old grandmother read Monica Edinger's review and was intrigued but said to me, "Can you believe there are adults who still read children's books?" She refused to believe the book was on my pillow! Talk about wilful ignorance of her three adult granddaughters' reading habits!