Anything by Gary Schmidt is subject to high expectations…so good for him for trying something a little daring, even if WHAT CAME FROM THE STARS ultimately fumbles. Sixth-grader Tommy’s grief over the death of his mother is compounded by the evil advances of a realtor on his family’s beachfront home. Schmidt takes his metaphor-laden melodramatic style to its logical extreme, by overlaying a science fiction plot, so that Tommy is also consumed by a parallel battle that moves from a distance in time and space to land in his backyard. Not being a sci fi or fantasy writer, Schmidt gives this his own twang…breaking or ignoring pretty much all the rules of sci fi, but still coming up with something that feels intensley real. Completely successful? I’m not sure about that…but certainly worth the ride.
Anyone remember Watt Key’s ALABAMA MOON? It was one of my favorites of 2006, that year we were totally off the mark in predicting the awards, maybe because there were so many fine books to choose from. So I eagerly dug into his FOURMILE, and was not disappointed, reading it straight through a nice long Friday evening in my armchair. Some similar themes to the Schmidt here: twelve-year-old Foster is grieving over his dead father and the impending loss of their farm as his mother searches for a more sustainable home. Her menacing boyfriend isn’t helping; and then: stranger walks into town. The young hobo, with a wonderful dog of a similar ilk to Foster’s, offers some repairs for shelter, and begins to draw Foster out of his anger. Key’s style is very different than Schmidt’s, but gets to a similar place: this is totally realistic, vivid prose that expresses Foster’s coming of age through his delight in work, in learning and fixing things, in understanding and being with his dog. A dramatic and violent climax is the final catalyst for his transformation.
Though neither of these hit the “genre” or “spunky” button I was getting at in my Girls vs. Boys post, these are both examples of high-quality prose for a male audience that…whether or not they rise to the top this year…should be used as standards for comparison of distinguished writing.