In Is this Absolutely Necessary Jonathan points out a symptom in many of this year’s book, which I then blame on Harry Potter. Since Harry can handle it, I’m going to point to another post-HP trend that I’m growing exceedingly weary of, and that’s Books That Equate Magic With Capiltalization. Ok, I’m being harsher there than any of these three books below deserve. They’ve all been mentioned repeatedly by you all. They’ve got starred reviews. They’re all good. But starred? Distinguished? Really? In each of these, the tension in the narratvie depends on magic. Magic in a story has to be so well developed that we as readers believe it is as real–MORE real–than the “real” world the writer has created in words. Each of these fail in that task.
THE MOSTLY TRUE STORY OF JACK is a first children’s novel from a writer accomplished in other fields. And it shows, both positively and negatively. Kelly Barnhill’s scene setting and narrative pace and structure is accomplished and effective…but the magic is ultimately shallow. It has to do with nature. It sucks up kids, which is pretty cool I admit. Beyond that, we get, on p.129 of the ARC: “And in that horrible moment when She realized what She had done, Her heart split in two, and She split in two–Her Wickedness and Her Goodness divided into two separate beings.” There’s some odd flatnesses or departures in character development as well. Barnhill shows talent with this book, but a lot of room to grow.
LIESL & PO. Lauren Oliver is another accomplished writer directing herself to a younger audience for the same time. And: similar problems. Wonderful, evocative sentences. Nicely flowing narrative. Way Too Many Capital Letters and far too much surface treatment of plot. (Why is Po a character, really? And does Liesl really never look inside her box?) This might have made a fine novella.
BREADCRUMBS. Anne Ursu’s is probably the most whole and discussable of these three novels. Yet I really have to ask what the hoopla’s about. I get it: a modern day fairytale with hidden and not hidden references to many others. Nicely developed. Nice to read. What makes it distinguished? Where Adam Gidwitz did something remarkable with this idea last year, I find Breadcrumbs a really solid, undistinguished read. Hazel’s trip through a frozen wonderland seemed cursory and theme-parkish. A great theme-park, don’t get me wrong. But it’s kind of like the haunted house ride. She had to pass certain veiled references along a predetermined path, rather than be engaged in her own story.
So: rather than the tomatoes, convince me that I’m wrong.