Presentation of information? Check.
Development of a plot? Check.
Delineation of characters? Check.
Delineation of a setting? Check.
Appropriateness of style? Check.
Oh, wait! That’s not part of the critiera. Nevertheless, that is my reaction to this book on a first read (and if you don’t feel the same about this particular book, then surely you have felt the same way about a different book–perhaps even NO CRYSTAL STAIR). What to do, then, when your head and your heart lead you in different directions?
Since there is an issue of personal taste involved here you should take everything I say hereafter with a big grain of salt. This story simply failed to capture my imagination. Or perhaps I should say that I failed the story. I admire the craftmanship, but it never came to life for me.
Last year, I complained about bloated books, and while I definitely think this one is longer than it needs to be, I can clearly see that Schlitz is an excellent prose stylist and that words and phrases are chosen with precision and care. And yet . . . and yet . . . Oh, criteria be damned! How is it that Leon Garfield and Joan Aiken can write in a similar Dickensian/Victorian mode with stories that are merely one half to two thirds as long and suffer not one whit in comparison–not one whit, I tell you! How is it that they strike me as being closer in spirit to the genuine article? How, indeed!
Yes, I know I’ve committed the unpardonable Newbery sin of comparing SPLENDORS AND GLOOMS to ineligible books, and I would certainly never do this at the table. I do it here only as a think aloud to explore my own tepid response, even as I realize how woefully inadequate it is. If that’s the best I can do, then it’s the sure sign of a very strong Newbery contender. And so it is.
I’ve set up a false dilemma here. SPLENDORS AND GLOOMS can be a second rate version of Leon Garfield/Joan Aiken and still be the most distinguished contribution of American literature for children. I certainly think the first premise is true, and as for the second . . . Well, that may also be true . . . To my mind NO CRYSTAL STAIR is the best “novel” (consensus problems notwithstanding). SPLENDORS AND GLOOMS, LIAR & SPY, and THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN–which I put a cut below–are vying for bridesmaid status. But there are a handful of very formidable nonfiction books to consider that may be better than any of them . . .