While I attempt to compose myself over the Bloomberg article…Sharon and I will also be sharing some more thoughts on our shortlist titles as we head towards our weekend discussion. Please chime in!
Sharon called My One Hundred Adventures “Just Not My Thing,” and that is a common cry in comments that I’ve found on this one.
The first thing that I think of when I recall this book is the absurd humor and surrealism that crops up in otherwise serious moments—imitating life. The clotheshanger man and whale. Mrs. Spinnaker saving Jane and then getting in a huff when her dog is slighted. Mrs. Park choking on the taffy.
I also appreciated the way that reader only slowly realizes just how poor this family is. It is understated in the narrative, because it is accepted and understood by Jane, with both sense of humor and pride: “My mother has been out fishing from the pier on the lake all morning because last night we had chicken and rice for dinner without the chicken.” (p.53)
But the book clearly suffers in catching some readers’ attention, while it enthralls others. It is certainly lacking in plot–Wendy (a commenter here) says in her Goodreads comment that if this with its writing and Savvy with its plotting got together “they could have one awesome Newbery winner of a child.” I’m wondering if the same people that dislike it felt the same about Kira-Kira or Criss Cross?
Some readers just don’t need plot as much as they need interior development of the protagonist. In this, I find My One Hundred Adventures interestingly comparable to After Tupac and D Foster—though here the protagonist is much more on her own in her coming of age. Hers is both one of enchantment (with the world) and disillusionment (with adults). And her coming of age is also rooted in place. The summer she wanted—the one of her childhood—happens somewhere else:
“I look at the big pots of blueberries on the kitchen table and our pantry filling with another row of jam jars and I am sad. It is as if I am missing summer. It is as if I am missing my life. It is happening here without me.” p.142
At the end of the book, she’s headed off to Saskatchewan, and nothing will be the same:
“It is endless waves of land with nothing on it. It is bleak and barren and empty with nothing much to see.” p.256
But is comforted by her mother’s memories with that place:
“My mother’s face is alight with the memory and I realize that I don’t need to worry about her leaving this place. To her all places are this place.” p.255
Knowing this, turn back to the very first sentence, and it takes on a whole different level of meaning:
“All summers take me back to the sea.” p.1
This is a book that definitely changes on re-reading, and offers something for readers to grow with. To me, a book that lasts, that bears up and changes with multiple readers, is something distinguished.
Is this the most distinguished book of the year? I find here that Jane’s voice occasionally slips out of the believable—a little more so to me than in After Tupac and D Foster. But to readers for whom this is “just not your thing”… there is richness here if you’re willing to look at it differently.