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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

The Awards U Win

hate u giveIndulge me a little bit with this one, friends, and follow me into this thought experiment.  Let’s pretend that the quick arguement I’m about to give in terms of age range of Newbery and this book fully convinces you that the book is eligible.  I’m open to arguements that it’s not, but I’d love to focus our discussion on the merits of the book according to criteria, beyond just age range.  Do we think that if this book is on the table in the real committee meeting, and there is a convincing arguement that it falls into our age range, it has a chance?

I do!

For the sake of clarity, though, I will say that I *do* think this book is eligible and would be happy to argue for it in discussion.  I think a 14 year old is clearly a member of the intended audience, and that many 12 or 13 year-olds would also be in the audience for this book.  A 16-year-old main character is certainly written to be appealing to a younger audience and the content matter is not beyond the comprehension or understanding of the upper-range of our audience.  It is, in fact, a reflection of the lived experiences of many young people in our communities.

So, what else?  Thomas does a superb job of demonstrating the tension that is universal in young people trying to navigate between two (or more) versions of themselves.  In this book, Starr is navigating between two worlds and two versions of herself that she is able to share.  She’s trying to find the people who can hold both parts of her and is working on trusting that whole version of herself.  This is so universal and so well-done and poignant.  While not every young person is navigating the harsh situations that this protagonist is, many are torn between their school self and their home self (or their church self, camp self, etc.).  This gives young people who may not directly relate with Starr’s situation a point of relation with her conflict.

Starr’s first-person voice is authentic – at times seeming older than her years, and at others almost painfully naive.  As the boundaries between her two worlds break down, the audience feels the tension and really roots for Starr.   Other characters are well thought out, realistic, and well-rounded.  Thomas does not shy away from portrayals of everyone from friends to family to police officers as complicated and real people with complicated and real relationships with each other.  Her relationships with her parents, her police officer uncle, and her white boyfriend are particularly nuanced.

This novel really explores the tensions that come when a young person (or any person) is torn between two worlds and two belief systems.  We not only see Starr torn between her school and her neighborhood, but we see her parents torn between choosing personal safety vs. fighting for their community.  There are also themes of fear vs. taking action for what one feels is just and right, personal privacy vs community justice and more.

The pacing is strong, the writing is powerful, and the themes are handled with great care.  I, personally, would be thrilled to see it recognized by the Newbery Committee.

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Sharon McKellar About Sharon McKellar

Sharon McKellar is the Community Relations Librarian for the Oakland Public Library in California. She has served on the Rainbow List Committee, the Notable Children's Recordings Committee as well as the 2015 Caldecott Committee. You can reach her at sharon@mckellar.org.

Comments

  1. Leonard Kim says:

    A general then a specific question:

    To the Committee veterans out there, how much of the Newbery Midwinter discussion would you say is devoted to talking about the individual merits of a nominee vs. comparing books to each other? That is, if I were prepping for the discussion, would I be better off making notes on books individually or in reference to each other? I get the sense that procedurally each book does get one-at-a-time discussion time, but was curious how this plays out in practice.

    The specific follow-up question is then, of course, for those who have read both, could you please talk about how THE HATE U GIVE compares to PIECING ME TOGETHER? I liked Watson’s book and have already confessed to abandoning THE HATE U GIVE. As with STRANGE THE DREAMER, I could be convinced to revisit it. But it seems to me that if THE HATE U GIVE is not clearly better than PIECING ME TOGETHER, it can’t really be a credible contender given the Manual’s suggestion that an upper age range book “does what it sets out to do as well as or better than other, younger books.” In another comment, Amy Estersohn characterized PIECING ME TOGETHER as “The Hate U Give themes for a younger intended audience” and Roxanne wrote she “actually liked it better than THUG” though DaNae disagreed… Thanks everyone!

  2. Wouldn’t you be comparing any particular book with other books still under discussion? Why bracket these two?

  3. If I were on the actual Committee, and know that THUG is likely to be on the table for discussion, Leonard, I would probably spend a fair amount of effort to finding shared elements of THUG and Piecing Me Together that showcase the superiority of author craft in the latter. For example, I find Jade to be a much more memorable and realized character than Starr. Her artistic expressions and her “caught between two worlds” experiences leave a much stronger lasting impression for me. Her experience also might be more universal than Starr’s – to follow one of Sharon’s reasons for advocating for THUG. The specificities of Starr’s family and her father having to deal with a powerful local crime lord make this title, in my view, actually less universal. To cite one of my black colleagues who grew up in neighborhoods like Starr’s and who read and disliked THUG, there seem to be a tendency of throwing many obstacles in Starr’s way to create tension/conflicts, instead of more realistic portrayal of a shared black experience. This same colleague said that this book feels like an outsider’s view who is sensationalizing inner city (crime-filled) experiences. I have been giving both THUG and Piecing Me Together to friends and 7/8 grade students — so far, Piecing Me Together definitely is the title that readers react more favorably to.

    Now — if I were on the Committee, will I be allowed to cite my colleague’s reaction as a way to examine the book’s authenticity? How much does authenticity matter? Should young (and older) readers’ feedback be included where it helps? How big a factor should other readers’ opinions be?

    • Leonard Kim says:

      Roxanne, thanks so much for the comparison – exactly what I was looking for.

      With regard to your questions, I don’t read anything in the Manual that would prohibit citing your colleague’s reaction or younger and older readers’ feedback. The closest thing to discouraging this is the statement on p.36, “refrain from relating personal anecdotes.” It also says on p.26, “reviews are not to be quoted during discussion” but that doesn’t apply to your situation.

      On the other hand, particularly on p.22, the Manual seems to encourage doing a lot of book discussion with others as preparation and gives many suggestions regarding this. It also specifically mentions, re: mock Newbery discussions, “sending the results to the committee.”

    • steven engelfried says:

      Roxanne mentions the reaction of a colleague and feedback from readers as factors. I agree that those are definitely important pieces of information. As a committee member, you usually start with your own reading of the book and often that develops through the year. You might talk about it with other readers, read reviews, re-read it yourself. Those can all build your understanding of the book, so that when you hit the committee deliberations at Midwinter, you probably see it differently than you did after your first read. And ideally, you’ve figured out how to articulate the strengths and weaknesses to others in the committee.

      So going back to Roxanne’s question, I don’t think it would carry much weight if a member just said: “THUG sensationalizes inner city experiences; a black colleague of mine says so.” But if the member takes that input, folds it into the other information and understanding she has of the book, and cites examples of where that sensationalizing happens in the book, that would have an impact.

      Other members won’t be swayed by the fact that somebody else, not at the table, says: “sensationalized,” but if that somebody else has spurred a member to look at the book differently and the member says: “sensationalized” and then backs it up with the words on the page, that’s different. Only one person of the fifteen has talked to the “somebody else” but all fifteen of them have read the book and have it in front of them.

      Same thing with child reader feedback. Saying “a 7th grader liked it” isn’t so effective, but getting at why the 7th grader liked it and expressing that to the rest of the committee can be.

  4. I read THUG in the beginning of the summer, and liked it quite a bit. As time has passed, I have found that I like it even more. I detailed my thoughts in a Goodreads review, but essentially I found the character authenticity/voice and setting to be the book’s strongest merits. In terms of Newbery criteria, I think interpretation of theme is good but not great. For me, Thomas is still sharpening her authorial voice and style. Some passages are deftly and beautifully handled, others seemed clunky. The denouement felt rushed to me. The book’s power, though, was in exposing me, a white man, to a world I had heretofore considered through a single lens (my lens). I love that this book shook me to the core. I think it’s supposed to.

    About that Newbery…

    This is not a book that I would bring to the table if I were in the Real Committee. There are books for this age group that I like more than THUG. So I wouldn’t be a member who would make it one of my nominations. (If I were on the Printz, absolutely.) Having said that, if a member of the committee nominated THUG, I think the discussion around it would be robust and meaningful and maybe even charged. I don’t know if consensus could be built around it. It all depends on how the nominating member discussed the book’s merits and how deeply the criteria would be applied. I certainly think I could be persuaded to get behind it. Sharon brought up some very intriguing points, some of which overlap my own beliefs about the book – I’m just not entirely certain her arguments alone convince me (no offense, Sharon – I’d actually love to serve on a committee with you!).

    The Hate U Give is a contender I will continue to churn over and over and over in my head and I’ll likely wrestle with this until the day I’m in Denver watching the awards. It’d be pretty amazing to watch it nab a CSK, a Printz, and a Newbery.

  5. Meredith Burton says:

    I devoured this book and learned a great deal from it. To me, its merits lie in the portrayal of family. It is refreshing to find a book with parents who, though not perfect, seek what is best for their children. Also, Starr’s uncle was vivid and provided a commentary on both parenting, (as he helped raise Starr when her father was imprisoned), and as a police officer. Some people might argue that the uncle being a police officer was a bad plot contrivance, but it seemed to provide a fair look at the police force. I also loved Starr’s relationship with her half-brother and sister as Thomas examined the dark side of family and how people band together. The book also authentically explores friendships, (the ones that remain and the ones that are broken). I was glad that Starr never allowed Haley back into her life. She acknowledges that things cannot go back to the way they were, which is what Haley wanted. This is an authentic issue for middle school and high school alike. As Ms. Sharon so beautifully described, Starr’s experience as two distinct people, (the school Starr and the home Starr), was vivid and profound. I also appreciated that Starr’s boyfriend was portrayed with respect and that he did not abandon her. The commentary on the book’s title was an amazing exploration that what we do and how we act has an impact on the next generation. The novel explores this idea well through the use of the characters.

    Although I do not know if I would recommend it for Newbery, (the profanity is excessive as is the description of the gang lord’s actions), I do think the book deserves recognition of some kind. If arguments were strong enough, I might be willing to vote for this title but am not entirely sure. It is one of my favorite reads of the year, though.

  6. Meredith Burton says:

    At the risk of parroting others, I think perhaps Piecing Me Together is more tightly plotted and allows a more narrowed view of Jade’s school experiences. By this I mean that her school life is more the focal point of the story. Jade’s narrative is just as authentic as Starr’s. I simply don’t know which to root for. They both deserve accolades.

    I apologize, but I have not read American Street yet. Am waiting for the Library for the Blind to send it to me.

    Thank you for the question. Everyone on this blog makes me think.

  7. Sharon McKellar Sharon McKellar says:

    So, I’m going to make my arguements for why I personally find The Hate U Give to be stronger than Piecing me Together.

    I found the pacing of the plot and the timeline in Piecing Me Together to be at times confusing and at times just off. How much time passed between chapters? What had happened in the meantime? Why did her relationships change on a dime without enough insight into what happened to make them do so? Secondary characters just served as a way for us to see what was going on in Jade’s head, but didn’t feel fully formed on their own. They were just devices to explore the internal conflcit.

    I felt the plot lacked a central conflict that was big enough to draw me in, and Jade’s internal conflict was not presented in a strong enough way to make up for that, nor was the description or characterization (particularly of secondary characters) strong enough to counter the pacing and lack of central conflict.

    I very much enjoyed the book, but it felt a bit too plodding for me. In the same way that AMINA’S VOICE did too much, PIECING ME TOGETHER did just not quite enough for me.

  8. I’ve most likely said everything here at some point before, but just in case. While THE HATE U GIVE is my favorite book of the year, I have an almost physical inability to nominate a book that would exclude most of my students. That may be purist blasphemy, or it may be an inclusive justification. But then no one is saving my seat at the table this year so I will be ambiguous.

    But if there does need to be a comparison about THUG and PMT, I don’t thing the latter gets close to the first. Perhaps Thomas in sensational, but then so is Harry Potter, and I will read both over and over again, because – damn – storytelling, character, language, storytelling! PMT felt self-conscious, expository, and didactic.

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