Follow This Blog: RSS feed
Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Egg & Spoon

If Gantos and Preus are in the running for using the fewest words possible to excellent effect, nobody filled in Gregory Maguire on that contest.  However, for the right reader, his EGG & SPOON dishes out delectable word after word after word after word after word, for a classic-feeling adventure/fairytale/coming-of-age story as fancy as the Faberge egg at its center.

I wrote the starred Horn Book review for this title, so I won’t repeat myself here, but will pick out that one major criticism that I think is undeniable: the “paternalist intrusive narrator.”  Maguire writes himself into a corner on this…but I think it’s a corner he could have escaped, he just didn’t want to.   I appreciate the elaborate narrative that he’s constructed by using a minor adult character, who enters the action quite late in the story, as the narrator.  The first page and first chapter that he constructs for the narrator’s introduction of himself are masterful:  intrigue, excitement, setting and mood and voice unscroll magnificently before our eyes with each word he lays down.  Towards the end of the story however, this voice becomes more obviously the author’s own, commenting too heavily on all the metaphors about childhood and blah blah blah that we already noticed.  And the last line. Ugh.

However…this title is still easily in my top 10.   A crucial consideration for me is audience. Despite the publisher’s and most reviewers insistence that this is a book for 12 and up, I (and many Goodreads reviewers) feel strongly the ideal audience is 10-11, and I can see it going younger for those strong young readers.  There are two emotional threads going on this this book: one is thoroughly adult, and one is thoroughly pre-adolescent.  I don’t see much appeal in the narrative for true teenagers at all. And my hope is that the younger readers may just not notice the adult interference that rankles me.  There’s plenty else going on.

Share
Nina Lindsay About Nina Lindsay

Nina Lindsay is the Children's Services Coordinator at the Oakland Public Library, CA. She chaired the 2008 Newbery Committee, and served on the 2004 and 1998 committees. You can reach her at ninalindsay@gmail.com

Comments

  1. Nina, how did you feel about the plotting? While I had the same reservations about the intrusive adult narrator, my larger concern was that I felt the quest aspect of the story was ill-defined, and for me, that meant that the plot just dragged. Particularly by the time we got to the third act, so to speak. I just couldn’t believe there was still another journey.

    I found the writing style to be very distinguished, and there were plenty of things that really impressed me, but the bottom line for me was that I couldn’t sustain interest. Normally, I would say that maybe I’m not the right reader for this, but it’s the kind of book that I want to love. I just think that some of the more efficient titles this year, like WEST OF THE MOON and BOYS OF BLUR, and even THE NIGHT GARDENER, manage to pack just as much complexity and interest thematically into a shorter and more effective narrative. Long isn’t bad, but in this case, I felt like Maguire shot very high and just couldn’t pull it all together.

    • Nina Lindsay Nina Lindsay says:

      Chelsea, yes, I noted the very meandering plot during the quest portion at the end of the book. As an adult reader, I did start to lose interest, and felt Maguire was so in love with his characters (Baba Yaga in particular) that he almost didn’t pay attention to where they were going. All that said… I keep coming back to the 10 year old year who loves long fantasy narratives, and I think they just won’t notice what I did. I think the book gives them so much they’ll forgive the wandering at the end… which does feel like many of those folktales he’s alluding to.

      Does WEST OF THE MOON do a lot of the same much better? Yes, in my book. But EGG & SPOON is a cut way above THE NIGHT GARDENER for me…because there the characters, motivation and plot were just thin in the end. I believe much more in the characters and setting in EGG & SPOON despite the plot issues, than I do in those in THE NIGHT GARDENER.

      BOYS OF BLUR…next post.

    • Leonard Kim says:

      For such a wordy book, the chapters are quite short, yes? I thought this format worked quite well when the separate adventures of Elena and Ekaterina were being alternately told. But I feel the format failed completely in the group quest portion. The very parts that I felt should be expansive and grand and epic and Russian: the encounter with the ice dragon, the soldiers, etc. seemed rushed and choppy, and I think this is because of the short chapters not fitting the larger events and the number of characters.

      In contrast, I thought MADMAN OF PINEY WOODS, though imperfect, was more successful in this regard: even when characters are together, Curtis remains faithful to the alternating viewpoints and is willing to use multiple chapters to cover larger, significant events.

  2. I haven’t read this book yet, so I can’t argue about whether the narrator is really annoying or not. But as a librarian, I have to say that my child readers don’t at all mind what the adult literary world calls “intrusive narrators”–in fact, I’ve had children ask me for more books “where they talk to you, like A TALE DARK AND GRIMM” or the Bosch books. As a child, I didn’t mind those narrators either–I liked the intimacy of George MacDonald explaining to me that he wrote about princesses because every little girl was a princess, and relished those moments when Dorothy Canfield Fisher made fun of Betsy’s overprotective parents. So I’m not sure that the narrator here will be a problem for children–though of course, it may well prove a stumbling block for adults on the committee.

  3. I gave this the SLJ starred review and definitely struggled over the age/grade marking I gave it. I ended up going with 12 and over just because I felt that even a strong younger reader would struggle with the prose and possibly fail to connect because of it. I felt that the adult narrator did add to the true fairy tale feel of the story, and I highlighted the interplay between light/dark/childhood/adulthood in my review as well. Loved this book, but definitely understand your perspective on this as well

  4. Interesting that the Cybils folks put it in the YA category of Speculative Fiction. But there it’s a case of either/or, not a possibility of both.

  5. I’m another one who felt that this book was definitely NOT YA, no matter what the publisher/bookseller/librarian labels it as. It felt like a MG/adult cross to me, which is a strange combination. I liked it a lot (yay Baba Yaga! Yay Russia!), and can definitely see it as a Newbery candidate. But I do wish they’d stop calling it YA. It’s never going to find its readers there. That said, it was a lovely book, and I hope it gets some love come Newbery time.

  6. Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

    I’m mired in the middle of this one. I like it, but it’s long and kind of dragging. I hope to finish it sooner rather than later. Could be interesting to do a comparison and contrast with THE FAMILY ROMANOV.

  7. One of the things that moved me so much about EGG & SPOON was Gregory Maguire’s beautiful tribute to his friend Maurice Sendak in the final pages. I’m not sure many people caught it. “Live your life/Live your life/Live your life” is pretty much directly from the Fresh Air interview Sendak did with Terry Gross shortly before he died. As is “I cannot bear to leave it.”
    Perhaps an odd thing to do, but in some ways I felt the whole book was a tribute to Maurice Sendak, so it didn’t feel out of place to me at all. I wept.

  8. Karyn Silverman says:

    I just wrote this one up for the Printz discussion. Count me in as another one who loved it, and while I initially thought it was firmly YA, you’ve convinced me that it’s less clear cut than that! Here’s hoping it gets a nod from one of the committees, because I do think it’s both excellent and distinguished.

  9. I seem to have managed to overlook this post and so here is what I just wrote over on Karyn’s Someday my Printz Will Come post. (I loved this book and it is on my goodreads Newbery list — which, by the way, is at 12. I haven’t yet been able to winnow it down to 7. Will try to do so before the end of January:)

    So glad you liked this one. Me too! I did see it as very much MG, just for a smaller audience of that age group. I was thinking more ages 11/12 and up, but then a couple of my 4th graders asked for it. That surprised me — not sure where they even heard about it. I’ve had it on a bookshelf above my desk, but hadn’t recommended it to them, thinking them too young for it. So now I’m incredibly curious to see what they think of it. My guess is that they will read for what they like and ignore the parts that are a bit too philosophical for them. There are some really incredible sections that I think they will adore. I thought his rendering of Baba Yaga was brilliant. Also those scenes of the Winter Palace and festival. Amazing. I would have loved this as a kid, perhaps even when I was in 4th, certainly by 5th. And absolutely by high school where I was reading every sort of fantasy, fairy tale, literary fairy tale, etc. So while I do think adults will enjoy it, the sensibility still feels for the young, ages 10 and up.

    No doubt because of all the snow and ice I was at one point reminded of a favorite childhood book of mine, Swede Selma Lagerlöf’s The Wonderful Adventures of Nils.

Speak Your Mind

*