Ninth Ward has shown up on several Mock Newberies and best-of-the-year lists (as well as in many of your comments here). It’s a new author (her first novel for young readers at least) in a refreshing and captivating voice. Rhodes does a wonderful job of establishing sensory setting–the suffocating heat and darkness of that night trapped in the attic during the worst of Hurricane Katrina are still palpable.
This was a last hanger-on for “almost” both times we looked at our shortlist. It would have certainly made for great comparison with Keeper just for the “suspense in a boat” aspect. I think it has strengths in all the Newbery criteria, but to me there was always another book that seemed clearly stronger in one or the other. In Character: One Crazy Summer, Kneebone Boy, Countdown, Conspiracy…most of the fiction titles on our list do a better job I feel. In Plot: well, Conspiracy is a standout, but for a more similar style I feel Keeper has a more distinguished narrative. Style/Theme: Sugar, Dark Emperor and several of the other fiction titles just seem more adept. I could go on, but you get the picture.
Often with talked-up favorites of the year, we find books with subjects that we feel emotionally inclined to. Books that cover subjects we think are important, or haven’t been done before (Out of My Mind…). While this is an important criteria in evaluating children’s books in general…it’s specifically not a criteria for the Newbery. Now, surely it’s possible (even likely) that that comes into play our choices of with One Crazy Summer or KKK (for the social subject) or Dark Emperor or City Dog Country Frog (because Jonathan and I are advocates for the less-usual genres for Newbery), but with these I always felt the literary quality supported their place on our shortlist. With Ninth Ward…almost, but not quite.
Now you may differ, and I expect the actual Newbery Committee is looking closely at this one. I would certainly not be sorry to see it honored. It just never quite made my top 12. Might have if we’d gone 15?