I’d like to take a moment to commend all of our excellent writers who win Newbery Medals or Honors and then…keep writing excellent books.
It has got to be hard to follow up on expectations, and we’ve got a lot of prize winning authors with new books out this year. Their ARC tend to filter *up* to the tops of our piles. Here are two that I read as soon as I came across them. I’m not sure they will make it to “distinguished” on my list, though I think they’re both wonderful books. Not every book needs a seal to be a gift for readers.
Karen Cushman should be practiced, by now, in the Newbery follow-ups; but WILL SPARROW’S ROAD may be a personal breakthrough book for her: her first male protagonist. She explains why she did it in her author’s note: “When I decided to write a book about a child in Elizabethan England who runs away and joins a troupe of ‘oddities and prodigies’ traveling from fair to fair, I knew the child had to be a boy. In the often-brutal sixteenth century, a girl on the road would not have long survived. And I did not believe a girl could successfully disguise herself as a boy in a world with so little privacy. So the child had to be a boy–” Cushman gives us a fully believable boy, and an artfully depicted period setting and side-characters. I enjoyed being in this story at every moment, and that it was a story you could fully be in as a reader: Cushman’s art in world-building still stands out. So why didn’t the book as a whole rise for me? The pacing lagged at times, though never to the extent that I lost interest, because the characters were so lively and interesting. It had a *very* simple journey story, very nicely done, though I can imagine some readers hoping for a little more in plot. Still a lot to be said for it, and less against.
Another boy on the road features in Grace Lin’s STARRY RIVER OF THE SKY. She uses exactly the same format as WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON (and a mountain meets a moon in this one, too) and the same cadences. I felt at the beginning that she was finessing and improving on this form; it seemed more natural, and less visible to the eye. I enjoyed all her side characters, and the way in which she teases out Rendi’s story. I got more and more excited about this story as I read it…up until the very end in which all the stories become linked and self-referrential in a way that to me felt manipulated and not true anymore to the characters. (The mountain comes–boom–because…why? Why are there two toads? Is the sage the sage, or the tiger/sun–because his toad is a rabbit? ) This robbed me of the joy of seeing the character develop beyond their stories. I think the intended audience will be more forgiving, and very much enjoy what is still a lovely and unique book.