Well, today is the Oakland Mock Newbery, and as I’m looking over my notes I’m thinking a lot about all of the books I’ve read this year, and particularly about the books on our shortlist. It’s been awhile since we’ve talked about Pax, Wolf Hollow or When the Sea Turned Silver – not since before we settled on our shortlist – so I wanted to revisit them, at least for a moment.
It feels like PAX was talked about a lot early in the year, and has been talked about a bit less lately, as so many many standout titles have come out this year. What is standout about this book, so many months later? Well, Pax himself is the perfect amount animal, which is to say that he is clearly anthropomorphized, but yet is still so very much a fox. I felt like this was the best done animal character of the year. It beat, for example, WILD ROBOT, for me in this way.
The setting is very much worth discussion. Is the vagueness a feature or a weakness? I think this title may be one of the most divisive on our list, and this is one of the main reasons, although some also seem to find the theme too glaring and obvious, which I don’t entirely disagree with. I wouldn’t call it didactic, but I would say it was a bit heavy-handed.
All of this aside, Pennypacker’s writing is what really stands out as distinguished. Her descriptions are simple, but vivid and her sentences clear, clean and lovely.
WOLF HOLLOW is still, perhaps, my favorite book of the year. That’s, though, when I think of it just in a “I really really like it!” kind of way. Does it stand up to the criteria as well as all the other books of the year? I think it could. It still seems to hit all the points for me – plot, setting, character, voice, tone, writing. Its weak point may lie in some more characters with less depth, in particular our “bad guys” – Betty and Aunt Lily, and perhaps Toby as well, but I personally am hard-pressed to find much to complain about in this text.
Where do you stand on this one, now that we’ve seen so many more?
It has a well-deserved place on our shortlist, though, for the remarkable way Lin weaves together her main story with the stories of folklore. On re-read I definitely felt less lost as the stories came together and I found the fantastical elements of the story to feel quite convincing. The world building is well done and the characters feel both like real people, even familiar, while simultaneously feeling other worldy.
It is truly a gift to be able to write such a complex novel that is relatable while being so far outside of the world we live in. There is no question to me that this is the best fantasy novel of the year, but does it have a chance of being the most distinguished when stacked against all the other books? Only time will tell.
I look forward to discussing these titles, and the rest of our shortlist, in depth and coming back and sharing how we did! So little time until the real announcement! Are you all getting as excited as I am?