I do love a surprise in awards…when a book cover flashes up there and I just draw a blank. It’s strangely reassuring to me that there’s plenty out there under the sun beyond the overwhelming murmur of popular opinion.
I also love it when I have a copy of said book in hand. Out went my re-read of LIAR & SPY, in came GOBLIN SECRETS which took me two lunch hours (Burger, Ramen), two dinners (Leftovers, Leftovers), and one bus trip (Eau de French Fry) to read.
It’s wonderful to see a debut author recognized in the National Book Award Finalists. And important for me to remember that this is a debut as I evaluate it, as it does fall short of a “possible Newbery shortlist” pile for me. The major review sources all zeroed in on what bothered me… despite the great steampunk setting, with Goblins as illicit traveling actors and a perfectly developed (not over-explained) creepy subplot regarding hearts, coal, puppets, and “Changing,”… the narrative itself never completely came alive: it felt stilted, or awkwardly arranged, in places. I think these are signs of the debut novelist. Hopeful signs, frankly, as technical writing ability is something easier to improve than lack of imagination. Alexander does not lack in that regard, and fluid readers will really appreciate his inventive yet familiar story.
I really appreciated the length of this book: at just over 200 pages, it’s a nice pace, and the perfect length. And: it’s a single book, whole and entire. No bloated cliff-hanging hipster series starter here. It’ll be easy enough for Alexander to spin a sequel from it if he chooses, but the narrative doesn’t suggest it. It’s satisfying and conclusive. And has a really lovely last line: understated, but very artfully arranged. You’ll have to read the whole thing to appreciate it.