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

Goodbye Stranger and Rhythm Ride

Okay, here’s a second look at our last pair . . .


When I read all the overwritten books that got published this past year–and they are legion!–I just wanted to make GOODBYE STRANGER required reading for their authors.  Stead uses a minimum amount of description, allowing the dialogue to carry plot and characterization, for maximum effect.  Stead demonstrates an acute understanding of and appreciation for middle school kids, and the beautiful relationship between these three girls–Em, Tab, and Bridge–is handled as well as anything this past year.  I listened to it on audiobook this time around and it enhanced my appreciation of the exceedingly fine characterization even more–if that were possible.  The plot moved along at a zippy pace, and the interspersing of the first and second person chapters served the theme as well as the narrative.

And yet, in spite of it all, this one has a hard time vying for one of my top three spots, and I’m at a loss to explain why I’m feeling slightly underwhelmed.  A good friends said this book does what it sets out to do extremely well, but doesn’t necessarily set the bar very high.  I think that perhaps there is some truth to that, but I also think I’m part of the problem, too.  This particular set of characters, themes, and events just didn’t resonate as strongly with me as some of the others on our shortlist.  I wouldn’t mind seeing the Medal or an Honor on this one; I’m just not driving the bandwagon myself.

9781596439733_p0_v2_s118x184RHYTHM RIDE

This one was a bit of a surprise when we announced our shortlist, so I hope more people have been able to track it down, read it, and will comment on it.  The voice is clearly a strength of this book.  I love the personification of a musical element–The Groove–as the narrator.  The voice isn’t always consistent, but it’s consistently memorable.

Perhaps it’s also fair to say that this one is quite successful, but doesn’t set the bar very high either.  Clearly, this is an introduction to Motown and the brief and breezy treatment is perfectly suited to the style of the narrative and audience for the book.  It’s easy to be enamored of the books that play to the older end of the age range such as THE HIRED GIRL, GOODBYE STRANGER, and MY SENECA VILLAGE, not to mention MOST DANGEROUS and THE BOYS WHO CHALLENGED HITLER, but this one is solidly middle grade–and there needs to be some acknowledgement in the different developmental reading abilities of these respective child audiences.  How does this one fare in your estimation?

P.S. Is there a better cover this year?  No!


Jonathan Hunt About Jonathan Hunt

Jonathan Hunt is the Coordinator of Library Media Services at the San Diego County Office of Education. He served on the 2006 Newbery committee, and has also judged the Caldecott Medal, the Printz Award, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. You can reach him at


  1. Jonathan I’m intrigued by your comment about overwritten books. Would love to see your list and don’t expect you to publish it.

  2. I can only remark on Goodbye Stranger, because I’ve not yet read Rhythm Ride. Here’s what I wrote in the comments section of the Someday My Printz Will Come blog:

    (quoting myself now):
    [Goodbye Stranger] was the only book I’ve ever struggled to rate on Goodreads. Usually I rate a book immediately, but I just couldn’t settle on something that accurately reflected how I felt about the book. Months after reading it, my emotions about it are still in a constant state of turmoil.

    There are days when I think that what Stead has accomplished is nothing short of a very nuanced masterpiece. Her writing is flawless and crisp and beautiful. Her handling of the material is breathtaking. Her characters are lovingly rendered, flawed and intriguing.

    There are days where I think the plot was so pedestrian that there’s nothing much to remark on; that the “you” chapters were obvious from early on in the book, that the little twist with the accident at the end was tacked on.

    After days of deliberation, I settled on four stars. But the fact that I’m still thinking about this book months after I read it nearly proves to me how solid it is. Like it or not, I think this one might be the book to beat this awards season.

    (And then I followed up with this after a couple people commented):
    The theme itself is somewhat mundane: the little ripples we cause (and the ripples that are caused by others that affect us). If Stead had stuffed too much into the book, it would’ve damaged the truth: that sometimes our problems *are* mundane.

    Sometimes we expect the worst to happen, and our excessive worrying is for nothing (as evidenced by Celeste’s character arc). Sometimes our bad decisions have huge repercussions, and sometimes nothing much happens – and we’re relieved/don’t learn from what we’ve done (Em’s). Sometimes our understanding of the people around us is never made clearer despite our best attempts (Sherm’s). Sometimes the world seems bigger and badder than it actually is. Our quiet little lives will always be quiet.

    In this way, I think Stead has created an astonishing work of art.

    But then I go back to my question: am I satisfied with this? And if I’m not, why? Why oh why am I not entirely satisfied?

    So help me god, I cannot answer these questions. I really, sincerely cannot.


    And I still feel the same way months later. I’m still thinking about this book, and I still can’t process it very well.

  3. Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

    Therese, I’d probably have to sit down and write out a list, but one that comes to mind that I reviewed recently is the last book in Michelle Knudsen’s Trelian trilogy. It’s a good book, and I’m sure the series has its fans, but I think that fan base could have been doubled if she had written the same story in 2/3 as many words. Back in the olden days, of course, the editor would have demanded this. Oh, well.

    Joe, your thoughts kind of mirror my own to some degree. I’m simultaneously impressed and underwhelmed, an odd combination, to be sure!

Speak Your Mind