by Candace Fleming
by Vera Brosgol
Going strictly alphabetical is a pretty good idea for BoB and creates interesting contests. As luck would have it, I have more than a passing interest in both comics and around-the-world adventurers (with a particular fondness for a few who succeeded).
Let’s start with a similarity. We have here the two most striking covers of the year. They don’t beg, “Read me!,” they coolly inform you that, “Yes, you do want to read me. Now.” Both covers consist of a grayed image and red lettering. Anya’s Ghost is all swirls and curves with that great shape of the hair leaving room for the title. Amelia Lost has lines as straight as a plane’s wingspan and there, looking heroic and cooler than anyone you know, is Amelia in her leather flight suit. Kudos to Vera Brosgol and Colleen AF Venable for designing Anya and Rachael Cole for designing Amelia. So far, it’s a draw.
Anya’s Ghost is the first graphic novel by Vera Brosgol. Her command of the comics’ medium is startling. There is not a moment in the book where you feel that the storytelling is perhaps off-track or the images are not communicating. Anya’s Ghost moves with confidence and clarity, deftly mixing fantasy with teen reality and is, in turns, very funny and seriously menacing. She manages that tricky balancing act thanks in large part to her very impressive drawing skills. Her cartoon style does not limit her ability to render complex facial expressions and moods. Quite the opposite. Take a look at any character (yes, background characters, too) in any panel and you will see what I mean. Her drawing delivers everything you need to know, every beat, every mood. She doesn’t merely draw, she acts with her brush. If that weren’t enough (and in graphic novels, it actually isn’t), Brosgol can write. Her dialogue is sharp and funny and is always in service of moving the story forward. You won’t find pages of chitchat here, each word counts and aids the pacing of the panels and scenes. This book moves so smoothly that it seems effortless. It is not effortless. Brosgol knows exactly what she is doing, and Anya’s Ghost is the kind of graphic novel that fans of the medium and those who’ve never read one will equally enjoy.
BONUS POINTS: Microfilm. I love microfilm. I hope the microfilm scene inspires teens to give it a try. That’s if they actually still exist, of course. Dig them out, librarians! The Google backlash is bound to happen sooner or later and nothing says punk-rock research like microfilm.
Amelia Lost by Candace Fleming pulls off the amazing feat of building suspense in a story where the ending is already known (by me at least, and probably most readers). As I read the perfectly balanced alternating chapters detailing Amelia Earhart’s life up to the last flight and the tense hours after she vanishes, I felt the book pulling me along, leading me on her journey and then placing me in the search. I was on board the Itasca, listening for signals. I was one of those ordinary folks (two of whom were teens) turning the dial of their radio and by chance picking up a faint crackling call for help. I imagined the feeling of being alone in your living room and hearing over the airwaves: “This is Amelia Earhart.” I felt the tension that the world felt at that moment, when hope gave way to chilling reality.
I appreciated and enjoyed the many sidebars in Amelia Lost (particularly the Morse-code tutorial, which I’m betting will be put to good use in schools after this), but I read them quickly, preferring to get back to the two main narrative threads. What I really liked was the introduction of so many great side characters, who could each be the subject of their own nonfiction or fiction book. There’s Dana Randolph, the 16-year-old radio enthusiast. There are the many other women who claimed the title of aviatrix, including Thea Rasche, Elsie Mackay, and Elinor Smith, the teenage daredevil who weaved illegally under the four bridges on New York’s East River. And last but not least, there’s Amelia’s teacher, the five-foot-tall redhead spitfire, Neta Snook (which may be the best name ever).
BONUS POINTS: Goggles. No explanation necessary.
Now that I think about it, Anya’s Ghost and Amelia Lost have more in common than their striking covers. Both books are constructed with precision, paced perfectly, and designed to lead you through these stories with confidence and invisible skill. Each book has moments of beauty and terror: The scene where Anya tosses Emily’s bone into the air so the hapless ghost can have a brief ecstatic moment of freedom from her earthbound non-existence. The you-are-there description of Amelia’s solo flight across the Atlantic… alone, cold, soaring above the vast dark ocean with the stars to guide her, the roar of the engine so clear and deafening.
So where does that leave a judge who is deeply impressed with both books?
Amelia Lost succeeds in what it sets out to do, but for this reader it also manages to do more. Thanks to this book, an icon became a living breathing extraordinary human being with ambition, drive, and personality. I now know about the not-so-famous characters who are part of her story. But most importantly, this book provided more than facts. It inspired me to feel this story in my imagination, to experience a part of history.
I’m sending Amelia Lost soaring to the next round.
– Judge Matt Phelan
And the Winner of this match is……
As I was reading Matt’s decision, I was struck by the difference between judging solo for BOB and judging as part of a committee. In the former, you—and you alone—have to decide between two books. In the latter, you have power, but it’s not absolute. You are a fraction of the whole looking at a larger field. Needless to say, I’m a big fan of AMELIA LOST and ANYA’S GHOST. I had Newbery aspirations for the former and Printz designs for the latter. But it was not meant to be and now they are both here fighting for BOB glory. In this decision, I would crave the relative anonymity of a committee decision, where I could allow my fellow judges to sway me one way or another with passionate arguments, rather than climbing out on a limb by myself. So I don’t envy Matt, but I probably would have made the same decision—and for the same reason. Neta Snook!
– Commentator Jonathan Hunt
I must confess: I didn’t really like Amelia Lost all that much. I feel as if it didn’t present Amelia’s fascinating life in a smooth, story-like way. And what about Neta Snook (yes, a great name!)? I began to wonder more about the other woman aviators. Just because Amelia was first and had an outgoing personality, she has become one of the most well-known aviators in history. I find that unfair. Anyways, that’s besides the point. In retrospect, and after reading Mr. Phelan’s review, I like Amelia Lost much more than I originally did. If I had a choice, though, I would pick Anya’s Ghost, which I found to be a really fun comic that any child would enjoy.
– Kid Commentator RGN