I know I’m supposed to be reading down my Heavy Medal pile, but first I had to finish BLACK SWAN GREEN by David Mitchell, which is perhaps the finest book I have ever read. At least, it goes up there on my “so-devastatingly-wonderful-I-want-it-with-me-always” shelf with Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let me Go and The Unconsoled, Ursula LeGuin’s Left Hand of Darkness, Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, Lynda Barry’s One Hundred Demons…and some children’s books you might recognize. It is a novel “for adults,” but from the point of view of a 13 year old boy. It could be a YA novel. But of course why on earth would his publisher considered it as such?…Mitchell had already won the Booker Prize for CLOUD ATLAS and there was scads more $ and readers to be found on the adult market.
Which brings us to ELLIOT ALLAGASH, by Simon Rich. Rich is a writer for Saturday Night Live, has published in The New Yorker, etc. He’s published books of humor essays, but this is his first novel, and it’s marketed and reviewed as an adult book.
But it LOOKS like a kids’/YA book (picture a cute little 5.5×7.5 trim size). It is a twisted high school tale of power and popularity that is so viscuosly funny and sweet …it clearly comes naturally from Rich’s id and strays so perfectly and adeptly from the usual trope of a “high school novel” that I’m guessing Rich has never read YA lit or thought he was writing it. Yet there’s no denying what it is. The emotional climax, for heaven’s sake, goes [THIS ISN’T REALLY A SPOILER, BUT IF YOU’RE SPOLIER-SENSITIVE PLEASE JUMP TO THE NEXT PARAGRAPH]: “‘ ‘ Will you be my friend? ‘ / When I looked up, she was smiling. ‘ I am your friend,’ she said. “Seymour, I’m your friend already.’ ”
So…is this be a Newbery contender? It is technically eligible….at least, I believe that if a member of the committee felt it was strong enough, the eligibility would be up for discussion. The definition to addresses is:
- A “contribution to American literature for children” shall be a book for which children are an intended potential audience. The book displays respect for children’s understandings, abilities, and appreciations. Children are defined as persons of ages up to and including fourteen, and books for this entire age range are to be considered.
Should they wish to discuss the book, the committee would have to come to agreement on whether fourteen-year-olds were among the “intended potential audience” for this book, and whether it displays respect for a fourteen year olds’ understandings, abilities, and appreciations. (And, I pointed out in an earlier post, the new manual has an appendix to address this further). I think a case could be made. It’s a hard case. And though I do think this book is marvelous, it doesn’t go up on my shelf…the one with BLACK SWAN GREEN or the one of my most favorite Newbery contenders for the year. But you should read it anyway.
The Printz?–you ask. Of course, the Printz and the Newbery committees work completely separately, and their criteria contain plenty of overlap. So no book is exclusively eligible for one-or-the-other. But interestingly, I think that the eligibility for the Printz would be even a harder case to make, since:
- To be eligible, a title must have been designated by its publisher as being either a young adult book or one published for the age range that YALSA defines as “young adult,” i.e., 12 through 18. Adult books are not eligible.
Jonathan, who’s been on the Printz, might have a take on that.