Jonathan made a statement by giving this his first October nomination. When we pick a nonfiction title for our shortlist (cause we always do), it’s easier to tend to the longer, historical narrative nonfiction offerings, which read more like novels and so seem easier to compare with other contenders. And we had several of that sort to choose from this year, and which we might just see on the podium January 27….but ERUPTION is at least as strong as any of them, and while there “are no limitations as to the character of the book considered except that it be original work”…we just rarely see science narratives win the Newbery. Why?
Part of what makes ERUPTION so strong is that it integrates the science, the action, and the human interest stories so well. It’s wonderfully paced to bring the reader up to speed with each part of the story, changing-up the tone just enough without confusing. So while its strengths are in “Presentation of Information” “Interpretation of Theme or Concept” and “Appropriateness of style,” what I find distinguishes it is that it also has a strong sense of plot, character, and setting. I’ve always been a fiction reader, so I can’t quite inhabit the brain of the reader who doesn’t care to read anything unless it’s “true.” But reading ERUPTION, I can almost: what better characters that these real life local volcano observers and their network of volcanologists who brave both physical danger and minute observation to try to anticipate volcanic activity, and help communities live in a careful balance with nearly unpredictable eruptions. What a feat: to tackle understanding a geographic activity whose patterns and changes take place of the course of multiple generations…it’s as ambitious as understanding the history of stars. This had me on the edge of my seat.
Now, I’m going to bet that some of you weren’t on the edge of your seats, and I’m wondering if this is one of those titles whose strengths are utterly apparent, or if it’s a “get it, or don’t get it” title. I think that the strengths are certainly below the surface: no prose here as pea-cocky as THE TRUE BLUE SCOUTS for instance. But when you stop hearing the author, and only inhabit the story, that’s also a sign of fine writing. Rusch’s never dropped me, even when she’s just describing the texture of dirt.