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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

I won’t grow up

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.

ElliotAllagash I wont grow upBut 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.

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Nina Lindsay About Nina Lindsay

Nina Lindsay is the Children's Services Coordinator at the Oakland Public Library, CA. She chaired the 2008 Newbery Committee, and served on the 2004 and 1998 committees. You can reach her at ninalindsay@gmail.com

Comments

  1. Black Swan Green. I love it too. Simply beautiful. Glad it finally found you.

  2. I agree completely about Black Swan Green. Have read it twice– it is absolutely brilliant. I’m now reading Mitchell’s new book. Nothing to do with Heavy Medal, but had to chime in.

  3. Jonathan Hunt says:

    I’ve put a hold on ELIOT ALLAGASH; the reviews look interesting. Unfortunately, the Printz committee will not be able to consider the book if it is not published and marketed for a young adult audience. Since Random House does have a young adult division, and since ELIOT ALLAGASH was not published on that side of the house, it really makes it a very cut and dried case. I tried to argue last year that since (a) Norton did not have a young adult division and that (b) their submission of the book to the Young People’s Literature category of the National Book Awards might be enough, but even those were comparatively weak arguments.

    THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME by Mark Haddon and ACROSS THE NIGHTINGALE FLOOR were both released in the UK in dual editions (adult and YA) and both books benefited from this approach. I wish some savvy American publishers would try this out.

    My understanding is that when the Printz was conceived, young adult publishing was going through a dry spell, and the award was intended to foster this niche. I think the Printz would be stronger for having the freedom to include adult books, and I don’t think more than a handful of them would have been recognized if they had been eligible.

  4. Jen Baker says:

    Including books published for adults in the Printz (or Newbery) purview could make the committees’ tasks considerably greater and harder because it would increase the number of eligible books so significantly. Not the number of actual contenders necessarily, but if at least one person on the committee has to look at everything that’s nominated/suggested and publishers send everything that they think has even the slightest chance things could get hairy. So while I agree that the purpose of the limitation was orginally to encourage YA publishing, it might be wiser not to change the requirement for practicality’s sake. Then again more books might just be more fun!

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