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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Heavy Medal Finalists – Clayton Byrd Goes Underground and The First Rule of Punk

As Roxanne explained yesterday, we are going to start discussing our final long list of titles in a way as similar as possible to the way the real Newbery Committee discusses titles.  This is a great time to compare books to each other, and is also an opportunity for everyone to express both the things they find positive about each title and the things they like less.  This process helps everyone to think about the titles in new ways and to think about how they will eventually cast their votes.

We’ll be introducing each title briefly over the next nine posts – two books per post.  Please utilize the comments to take our introductions and run with them.  Referring back to the discussion guidelines Roxanne discussed in yesterday’s post will help you along and always remember the terms and criteria!

So, let’s get started.

Short List Title:  CLAYTON BYRD GOES UNDERGROUND
(Titles on our short list will be included in the live Mock Newbery in Oakland.)

clayton byrd

We first talked about this title over here.

This novel is distinguished in so many ways.  It explores its themes in unique and nuanced ways, sensitive to a child’s understandings, but also mature and realistic.  Among these themes, grief, anger, loss, and music are all powerfully handled and the characters’ unique ways of dealing with emotion makes them strong and realistic.  Williams-Garcia has done something masterful with language – creating a story that reads with the rhythm of the music (the blues) that the story is based around.   The story has a beat – a heartbeat, and a blues beat.

I found the glympses into Clayton’s mom’s thinking to be extremely respectful of a child’s ability to undestand and also true to the family structure that Clayton is part of.  He *would* have a sense of what his mom was dealing with, and thus it makes sense that a young audience gets that same peek into her world view.

What do you see as strengths of this title?  And weaknesses?  How does it compare to THE FIRST RULE OF PUNK or others on our long list?

Long List Title: THE FIRST RULE OF PUNK
(Titles on our long list will be included in our online conversation and balloting, alongside the short list titles.)

first rule of punk

Another book about music, but different from CLAYTON in so many ways, is THE FIRST RULE OF PUNK.  One thing they have in common, though, is the style of music coming through in the pace, tone, and writing of the text.  THE FIRST RULE OF PUNK uses modern language, zines (which are great), and punk-rock style rebellion the same way that CLAYTON BYRD GOES UNDERGROUND uses soul and rhythm.   We first discussed this title here.

I find Malú to be, perhaps, the most realistic, loveable, relatable, flawed protagonist of the year.  While many of the adults in the story are a bit one-dimensional, that only serves to make Malú seem even more dynamic, more capable of growth, and more likeable.  She is the center of the story, in the same way that she is, as are all children her age, the center of her own world.   Like CLAYTON BYRD, the strengths of this book, for me, lie in theme and character.  Exploration of self, and rebelling against a mother who doesn’t understand the desires of her child, are present in both books.   This book exemplifies excellence of presentation for a child audience.

What do you think?

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Sharon McKellar About Sharon McKellar

Sharon McKellar is the Supervising Librarian for Teen Services at the Oakland Public Library in California. She has served on the Rainbow List Committee, the Notable Children’s Recordings Committee, The Arbuthnot Honor Lecture Committee, and the 2015 Caldecott Committee. You can reach her at sharon@mckellar.org.

Comments

  1. Leonard Kim says:

    FIRST RULE OF PUNK: In agreement with Sharon that the thing I like most about this book is the delineation of character. This makes the book, as she says, “likable.” In addition, I appreciate the even-handed interpretation of the theme/concept of “coconut” especially relative to other books that seem more black-and-white about embrace or rejection of culture (e.g., AUMA’S LONG RUN, AMINA’S VOICE.) I am not sure this book rises to “most distinguished” level as even its likability may arguably stem from use of proven, commonplace tropes (hinted at by Sharon and others as “one-dimensional”): the non-conformist child vs. conformist parent and school community, the “cool” adult mentor, the mean girl, the whole putting on a show story, etc. I feel ALL’S FAIRE was more innovative in giving these shared tropes novelty and twists.

    CLAYTON BYRD: I agree the book evinces a love of music, old and new, and the prose reflects that. I question whether the author’s affection for this style of music is sufficient to make Clayton’s absorption in it relatable to a child audience. (I think the book may even explicitly say this makes Clayton an oddball relative to his peers.) Also, to me, from a “presentation of information” standpoint, this book felt more like a music lover’s “idea” of music and musicians rather than the lived-through real thing, which is problematic when it’s so integral to the characters’ identities. (I had a similar problem with Gratz’s treatment of this facet of Isabel’s character in REFUGEE.) Finally, I share previously raised concerns about the pacing and balance of sections.

    • Leonard, I am fascinated by your point here, “this book felt more like a music lover’s “idea” of music and musicians rather than the lived-through real thing” — is there specific textual examples that you could point to that makes you feel the author somehow presents an unrealistic or inauthentic picture of music/musicians? It seems to me that the strained relationship between Clayton’s mother and her father makes the potential, lived life of a musician very realistic.

      Re-reading passages of the book makes me appreciate this title even more — I don’t believe that a child reader would have to have Jazz exposure or knowledge to sense the effectiveness and the musicality of the prose — even just the first paragraph, “Clayton Byrd kept his eyes on Cool Papa Byrd. Cool Papa had a way with his blue electric guitar. Wah-Wah-Nita. He could make it cry like no one else could.” The way Williams-Garcia punctuates each short sentences at the right beat. The name of the guitar, standing alone and strong. And the end of the second paragraph, “He slid his thumb ring’s edge along the metal strings. Electric blues sparks jumped out into the night.” These are, simply, delicious, musical, words and phrasing. And she keeps the same tone and style through the book.

      • Leonard Kim says:

        Roxanne, the end of the first chapter when Clayton asks when he can take a solo and Cool Papa says, “when you can bend that note proper” and the Bluesmen then take turns offering similes on how the note should be bent. This is poetic, musical writing but I think also a Romanticized notion of how musicians talk and feel about music. The language is nice but I think the Bluesmen’s words reveal the author’s hand and actually flatten Clayton’s, Cool Papa’s, and the others’ characters. They become mouthpieces for expounding on Music and The Blues. Maybe for that reason, I didn’t really feel where the resentment Clayton’s mother felt came from- I agree with Jordan that though powerful, it felt a little overdone and perhaps tacked on for the sake of the book, because my glimpse of Cool Papa (and arguably Clayton’s) made him feel more Symbolic than a real musician and flawed father.

      • Thanks for the example, Leonard. I found the passages and here are what they say, “like you bend the truth,” “like you bend backward,” round-the-corner, back-to-tell-the-tale blues bend” — I don’t quite see how these are poetic writing. I feel that this could be people who have been around music and lyrics and play with words who would say — just finding different words that go with the word “bend” and riff off of the original sentence from Cool Papa.

        However, I can totally see how if you don’t believe that they might talk just like that, then it definitely would come off of as authorial voice intruding.

        This makes me feel like how we might discuss about an impressionist painting — of a tree or a boat or a river — when you closely examine the images, none of that looks “realistic” — all the patches or dots of color definitely are extremely “painterly” — but when one steps back and take in the entire image, it looks more real than one had originally thought! The “feel” is right. And to me, Williams-Garcia got the FEEL right :)

  2. I agree that the style of CLAYTON BYRD is a strength. The rythym of the language fits the tone of the book. That stands out (however note that the criteria defines this as “appropriateness” of style… and as Leonard points out, is this ode to jazz “appropriate” for a child audience?).

    I am also beginning to be convinced that the delineation of Clayton and his mother as characters could be a strength. Personally, I did not like the mother character. I understood she was greiving but felt that some of the lengths she went to taking her grief out on Clayton were unbelieveable. Her turnaround in the end, was all that more unbelieveable to me since her grief was so extreme in the entire first half of the book. I thought Clayton’s grief was handled much more appropriately and believable.

    So checking off Newbery criteria, two strengths for appropriateness of style and delineation of characters (I’m giving that one to some of you). Both are mild though, in my opinion.

    I believe the interpretation of the theme (grief) is a bit murky. I think grief is explored nicely with Clayton but his mother’s grief, which Sharon pointed out as a strength, is not a strength to me. Like I said, I think she moves through that process too wildly and too quickly for me to believe it. I also belief the author loses sight of the ball when Clayton runs off. I know him running off is part of him dealing with his grief, but I didn’t feel the satisfaction I should have felt when all is wrapped up in the end. His dealings with the boys starts to become more about him finding himself than him grieving his grandfather.

    I also felt that the delineation of a setting was somewhere this book fell flat. I don’t have any concrete examples, just that in general, I had a difficult time really placing Clayton in his surroundings.

    The biggest weakness to me, was the development of a plot. I said in an earlier thread, that I felt that the “going underground” part of the text took too long to develop. I believe the subplot of Clayton falling asleep in class took up too many pages and could have been handled more swiftly so as to develop the plot a little further. It was an odd transition to me, when he runs off and mixes with the boys in the subway. I also didn’t buy how easily he was taken advantage of.

    I know that not all Newbery contenders need to check off each of these boxes, but as I start to stack them up against each other, I’m finding it helpful to have a mental checklist handy. So I can start to compare them. CLAYTON BYRD does not have to check all the boxes, just needs to check the boxes that apply to it well. In my opinion, it doesn’t.

    I am just getting started on THE RULE OF PUNK, so I’m sorry I cannot compare the two titles (which was your intent). Just offer my sentiments on CLAYTON.

  3. One more thing about music presented in text… I sometimes find it very distracting to read music and lyrics within text when there is no source material. Not all readers can read notes so obviously I wouldn’t expect an author to provide us sheet music, but when the author is making up the lyrics to imagined songs, and when a character like Clayton bebops and hums his way through the narrative, I as a reader need to feel that too. Not being familiar with jazz music myself, I couldn’t find the rhythm and became distracted. I feel this is often the case with text that features music. It’s difficult to blend the two. I think this style is an obvious strength in CLAYTON BYRD, but wonder if it will miss its mark with a child audience.

    • Leonard Kim says:

      Is there an audiobook? I wonder how that was handled. I agree with your general point—I too had trouble in this book (and others) figuring out how certain passages were supposed to “sound” and when that happens I wonder whether the author didn’t quite nail it or whether there is a specific rendition in the author’s head that’s the only one that “works.” Either way, that’s a small ding in my book.

      • Mary Clare O'Grady says:

        I looked back at my GoodReads review and saw that, as a lifelong Chicago area resident, I also was frustrated by the vague description of Malu’s Chicago neighborhood. In contrast, I thought that Clayton Byrd’s New York locations were well established.

      • Mary Clare O'Grady says:

        Whoops, I accidentally double-posted my reply to a comment further on in this thread.
        In response to the audiobook remark–
        I did listen to the audio version of Clayton Byrd and thought that the narrator did a fabulous job of conveying the cadence of the blues.

    • Mr. H., Could you provide passages where Clayton or other characters are “singing”/”humming” songs that become an obstacle for you in reading the text? I tried to find these passages to see if I also find it puzzling — but couldn’t figure out which passages have “notes” in them that would need sheet music or source materials to help.

      • Leonard Kim says:

        Roxanne, I can’t speak for Jordan, but there are sung blues for which only text is provided already on page 2 (“Trouble, don’t you find me”) followed by instrumental sounds for which the author fancifully imagines conversation on page 3 (“When, Cool Papa, when?” “Not yet, Little Man, not yet”). It’s not that the text is puzzling, but I for one am not clear exactly what I am supposed to be hearing, even just the rhythm of the words, let alone the music, and whether that’s what the author was hearing. In the latter example, there is some explication, “When?-the last “when” blown pleading notes. . . [Cool Papa:] Cool. clear. But sharp. . . Then louder. . . Softer.” That maybe helps me get the “feel” a little, but I fall well short of “hearing” it. Roxanne, it’s like your Impressionist painting if I couldn’t see it and could only rely on descriptive words like cool, clear, and sharp.

        Flipping around, on page 12 there is more music. I would say from an information presentation standpoint, “picking an easy intro to lay out the chord changes” doesn’t make much sense and then in the following song about the sheep, again it’s not clear what music or even just rhythm I am supposed to hear.

      • Thank you, Leonard, for that example. I’ll take this into consideration when considering my votes even though right now I don’t quite share the same reservation.

      • Sorry Roxanne. My comment about music in text was supposed to come off more “in general” than it did. While it did apply to my thoughts about CLAYTON BYRD, I was really thinking more about music included in lots of other books.

        For instance, I’m reading the Gregor the Overlander series with my 5th graders right now. There is a song the Underlanders sing and in the book it is written out like a poem. It’s difficult to read this because the Underlanders sing it. I don’t know how to sing it because I can’t hear the song Suzanne Collins had in her head when she wrote it. I understand this is a minor thing in most cases, but it sometimes annoys me.

        With CLAYTON BYRD, I read it awhile ago so I was relying on notes when I wrote my thoughts about it. I had written, “annoying music, When Cool Papa, When?” in my notes and seemed to remember Clayton singing this more than he actually might have. I definitely remember the text Leonard signled out and would have used that since it is found early on. If I can grab a copy from my school library, I might try and locate some others but since this really is a minor squibble, don’t hold your breath!

  4. How about others who have read both Clayton & Punk — care to express your appreciation or reservation that has not been discussed here? I, for one, would like offer an observation for First Rule of Punk. And that is how the first person narrative voice maintains true all the way through — not only that it sounds authentic as a young person, it also is obvious that Malú does not know or understand everything that is going on around her — just like any real-life person. For example, Malú believes that she has been successful in hiding her band practices and performance from her mother — while her mother has been secretly arranging for the big surprise. I definitely appreciate this skilled handling of first-person, limited perspective.

  5. I found Malu a vibrant and fully realized character. As Roxanne stated above the first person POV was a good choice. I like how deftly Perez showed the reader more than Malu was willing to, or able, to see. The whole construct of, “let’s start a band”, was engaging and cringe-worthy, at the same time. As a reader I was on her side, but shuddered at the hubris of the undertaking. This felt genuinely adolescent in its enthusiasm. I will agree that the adults in this book felt more like vehicles for the younger characters to bounce off, but I also feel that is how most adults are viewed by middle-schoolers. Malu’s zines brought a lovely sense of depth and history to her parents.

    On the other hand Clayton’s mom did have life of her own. I found it distracting rather than a strength of the book. I feel like the best two books on this list that show layered and fully-realizing secondary character are, THE HATE YOU GIVE and THE WAR I FINALLY WON. Starr’s parents and Susan and Lady Thornton all felt like they could walk off the page and carry on their own stories, but it never felt like the they were intruding on Starr’s and Ada’s stories, For me Clayton’s mother’s story, overshadowed his.

    As for the music in both of these. I don’t have a habit of listening to either Punk or Jazz, but I felt Perez did a much better job dropping me into Malu’s passion for Punk. There is no question that Wilson-Garcia’s writing is musical and divine, but somehow I never felt as connected to Clayton’s love of Jazz as I did Malu’s.

    • An additional comment on setting. I was clear on the time period for CLAYTON. I’m also not sure if it is important. But if flet like it could have been set in the 1980s or 90s: The boom box.

      • Should read: “unclear”

      • I was confused about the time period too. There don’t seem to be cell phones and the absent from school reports come by letter rather than phone call and there’s the thing with the Dad having the special ring signal to call the mom at work. Those both made me think it was even earlier, like 70s, but the boombox would make it 80s I suppose?

  6. I am a rabid Williams-Garcia fanboy, but CLAYTON did not resonate with me in the least. Perhaps due to the brevity of the book, I didn’t feel like Clayton’s relationship with his grandfather was fleshed out enough to foster much empathy for his passing and Clayton’s subsequent grief.

    If we compare this to other books this year that deal with grief (e.g., FOREVER OR A LONG LONG TIME), CLAYTON falls short for me. Although Clayton himself is a likable character and some of the symbols work as narrative devices (e.g., Clayton being lulled to sleep), the story didn’t feel fleshed out. I was beyond surprised that CLAYTON wound up on the NBA shortlist, knocking out both THUG and LONG WAY DOWN. If it’s being considered for a Newbery, it’d really have to rise above the quality of those titles for me, which it doesn’t.

    I know this is nit-picky, but CLAYTON is about blues, not jazz. Though jazz’s roots are in blues, the styles of the music are vastly different. Having said that, unlike others who have commented about the musical component, I *do* think Williams-Garcia succeeds with the integration. In fact, for me, this is where the book elevates itself. The blues are about loss and sorrow and yearning, which mirrors beautifully what Clayton himself is experiencing. I enjoyed Williams-Garcia’s use of blues terminology and description of sound – for me they perfectly encapsulated how blues is transmitted to the audience. Read her passages and listen to something by Big Bill Broonzy or Muddy Waters. It’s all there in her descriptions.

    I can’t comment on PUNK, but I hope to read it before awards season.

    • Funny enough Joe, after I posted my thoughts yesterday, I actually realized that I had used the term “jazz” instead of “blues” and wondered if it cheapened my arguments. I didn’t give it much thought in my mind because of the similarities of the two but you are absolutely right, CLAYTON BYRD is about blues, not jazz.

      Now, I would argue however, that if you need to listen to a record by Big Bill Broonzy or Muddy Waters in order to appreciate the style of this book, we’re starting to narrow the potential audience for this book. Is this style really appropriate for the intended audience? This style that really speaks to such a specific reader, according to the criteria, needs to be way significantly more distinguished than other books of its kind. I’m thinking of the following criteria from the manual that deals with the high end of age range (wouldn’t a narrow specicifc audience fit this as well):

      — A book may be considered even though it appeals to a fairly small part of the age range if the committee
      feels that
      * it is so distinguished that everyone of that age should know the book;
      or
      * it is so distinguished, in so many ways, that it deserves recognition for the excellence it provides to a small but unique readership;
      or
      * it is exceptionally fine for the narrow part of the range to which it appeals, even though it may be
      eligible for other awards outside this range. —

      I’m only a few chapters into THE FIRST RULE OF PUNK but music plays a slightly different role in its text. In CLAYTON BYRD, Williams-Garcia’s text is supposed to read bluesy and imitate the style of blues music. I don’t find Perez’s text being influenced by punk music. Punk music plays a role in the story, but not in the style of the writing. I think stylistically, the sentence level writing in CLAYTON BYRD is much stronger, but I question if it is so specific of a style that it works only for a small portion of children that would read this book. PUNK’s style is far more straight forward and I’m not feeling it as distinguished quite yet. I believe there are more children familiar with the genre of music Perez is writing about than the one Williams-Garcia shaped CLAYTON after, but I think both are a little obscure to kids.

      For those reasons, I’m really liking and agreeing with what DaNae said about feeling the connection between the two. I feel Williams-Garcia’s love of blues in the text, not necessarily her character’s love. I feel Malu’s connection to punk more maybe because the style of the writing is not so heavily dependent on a genre of music that I am not familiar with.

      • I think you’re onto something here, Jordan. I like blues music (though I’m partial to jazz), and maybe my familiarity with the genre and its rhythms informed my reaction to Williams-Garcia’s writing. Perhaps many children would not pick up on this undercurrent in their reading of the book. I am eager, though, to learn how children react to this title.

        I absolutely agree with you that it is Williams-Garcia’s love of the genre that is illuminated in the book – it is not necessarily Clayton’s love. In this regard, blues comes across as a surface element to his character rather than an integrated part.

      • Joe, you stated, “Williams-Garcia’s love of the genre that is illuminated in the book – it is not necessarily Clayton’s love” — would it be possible to point out where you see in the text that’s the case?

        I also wonder, would it be possible for Clayton to inflate his love for the music and his love for his Cool Papa? To me, it seems that a young person who is close to someone from the older generation would absorb, mimic, and strive to be just like that adult.

        I’m curious as to others’ opinions on Clayton Byrd in response to the comments posted in these comments since it was nominated by at 4 Heavy Medal readers – Patricia, Kate Todd, Misti, and Matt Bowers. (Sharon and I both nominated it, too.)

      • Roxanne, I’m sorry. I’m working off memory of the books I comment on. I don’t have a copy of CLAYTON on hand. I do understand that if I were on the Real Committee I would have a book with lots of sticky notes and text to reference.

        If you’d prefer I comment only if I have an on-hand book where I can specifically cite, please let me know! I don’t want to muddy the conversation by accessing only memory.

  7. If I were the chair or a member of the real committee, I would probably have pressed our readers to show evidence from the book when words like “feel” is utilized. When DaNae said that the adults felt like they could walk off of the pages in THUG, I would love to hear more about HOW the author manages that. (Because I “feel” totally differently.)

    Williams-Garcia definitely makes me “feel” Clayton’s strong affinity and affection and grief toward his Cool Papa by showing readers at least the following: 1. his looking for his approval in such an earnest way; 2. his following Cool Papa’s instructions to the T; 3. his heart-breaking anger at Wah-Wah Nita being sold; 4. his not able to hear the book in class without falling asleep.

    Clayton’s mother’s relationship with her boy-friend/Clayton’s father, having a life of her own outside of what’s simply contained in the pages, as shown with the 6-ring phone call makes her someone who could “walk off of the page” and recognizable to me.

    • Roxanne, you are correct to call out my vague, “feel”. When we discuss THE HATE YOU GIVE I will try and have concrete examples. Sadly, I did not take notes as i read these book over the year. Many I listened to. This will make me a less effective advocate.

      I actually agree that Clayton’s mother is fully realized. As I stated in my earlier post, she “Has a life of her own.” I just find her story-line overpowering to Clayton’s own. I find a more adult sensibility about it, than one a younger reader would be interested in. (I realize I’m using the less definitive, “I find,” here. I don’t know if I’m correct. I will say, I haven’t had a single student champion this book, although many have read it. I also know that is not criteria.)

      • I think young people’s reception could be and should be taken into consideration. After all, the Newbery Award is for books that display “respect for children’s understandings, abilities, and appreciations.” (Definitions) And that “Committee members must consider excellence of presentation for a child audience.” (Criteria)

        Although children are not selecting this award, those who have regular contact with child readers should be able to present such findings in the committee discussion for fellow members to consider. So, thank you, DaNae, for this intel.

  8. OK, I just read both of them. I wasn’t looking forward to Clayton Byrd because it sounded depressing and I was looking forward to Punk because it sounded fun, but I found them opposite.

    I really liked Clayton Byrd. I found the characters fully realized and dimensional and the sentence level writing very good. I agree that one of its main strengths is the musicality of the text, how the whole book feels like blues. And she does such a good job describing music and musical experiences, which is not an easy thing to do. I felt drawn in and engaged by the descriptions of both the blues and hip hop music. I think the author’s love for the blues came through, but I did experience it as being Clayton’s love too. I’m not actually sure what the difference in those would be and would also love to hear an example of what Mr. H and Joe mean. I’m not (really) a musician, but Clayton’s worldview as a musician felt authentic to me. I liked seeing how he thinks about music, particularly when he finds the common ground between blues and hip hop.

    I don’t normally listen to blues but found it very accessible, so I don’t see why it wouldn’t be accessible to kids. The one thing that I did find less than accessible was the very beginning. Throwing the reader right into the middle of a gig was kind of overwhelming. You have the normal, beginning of book figuring out what’s going on, plus all of the characters, plus the instruments. It took me a couple tries to figure out that the guy laying “down smooth chords with his left hand while the fingers on his right hand hip-hopped across the twelve-bar blues trail” was playing piano. Rereading it, I see that it does introduce him as “on keyboard,” so she is clear, but I still got bogged down in that section between the poetic description of his actions and all of the musical terminology. So I do wonder if a kid that doesn’t know what a snare drum is is going to be overwhelmed and/or confused.

    The Mom was certainly unreasonable and that’s interesting whoever mentioned it as part of her grief, since I hadn’t thought about it that way. I thought the author did a good job showing us why she is acting that way. (Although I was confused about time period. If it is contemporary, does anyone still think the blues is the devil’s music? I understand why she was so mad at her father but not why she thought playing the blues would ruin Clayton’s life since Cool Papa didn’t seem to get into any trouble—just wasn’t a very good father.) Even if she was a little over the top, I didn’t mind because it helped me fully feel Clayton’s rage. He was justified in being angry and I felt angry with her on his behalf. And understood why he ran away (although not why he didn’t take a change of clothes!).

    So I thought Clayton Byrd did a great job making me empathasize with Clayton—I felt about things the same way he did. On the other hand, I felt some sympathy for Malu, but I did not empathize with her most of the time. I’m not entirely sure why. Her feelings and attitudes seemed accurate to that age, and I remember feeling some of them myself, but the story didn’t evoke them from me on her behalf. I wonder if it’s maybe more of an adult view of junior highers? Several people have mentioned her being immature, etc., as being authentic to the age. Which is true, but when you are the kid, you obviously feel fully justified and don’t think you are being immature or unreasonable. I didn’t find her as likeable as everyone else. I didn’t dislike her, but I wasn’t smitten and especially when she’s so grumpy for the first half, I didn’t enjoy hanging out with her that much.

    I’m also opposite of most of you on the music part. I did feel fully engaged with the music in Clayton Byrd, but not in punk. Reading Punk right after Clayton Byrd really highlighted the lack of musical description in Punk. I don’t know if that would have bothered me otherwise, but Williams-Garcia does such a good job with it that I noticed the lack in Punk. Punk oddly didn’t seem like a book about music. I mean, she listens to music, but she seems more into the look and attitude. I didn’t feel like she was a music lover the way I felt Clayton was a musician. And certainly there’s none of the musicality in the text of Punk that there is in Clayton. I did want to go listen to blues after reading Clayton but didn’t have any urge to go listen to punk after Punk. I was going to say there aren’t any musical experiences depicted in Punk, but then I realized there is when she is singing. I think that’s the only time I felt like she was fully immersed in music and it’s too bad the author wasn’t able to show an immersive listening experience since that’s Malu’s main relationship with music.

    I do like the way Punk shows a range of ways to be Latino. I didn’t realize there was such a big Latino population in Chicago, so that was interesting. It’s a nice twist to have the school culture be the more Mexican you are the cooler you are, rather than another story about a Latino kid trying to fit into a white culture. And that the other half of herself she is wrestling with is punk. I’m surprised she never went to the record store or found a punk scene in Chicago to interact with at all, other than Joe and Mrs. Hidalgo. Since Mrs. Hidalgo introduces her to Latino punk bands pretty early on, that seems to resolve the punk-mexican tension too soon. Just the existance of Mrs. Hidalgo pretty much resolves it since she is fully both.

    I also found the characters in Punk, other than Malu, very fuzzy and distant. I thought the old lady neighbor was the clearest, but no one else seemed very rounded or real. Particularly the mom, which is weird given that their relationship is the main focus. If it was just her, that could be on purpose to reflect their relationship, but no one else felt very clear either, so I don’t think that’s it.

    I agree that it’s weird that no one tells the mom about the band. I didn’t read it as her knowing about the performance and arranging for the dad to come. I took it as the dad coming on his own and stopping by on his way and telling her or something like that. Which did not make a ton of sense—certainly either the Dad or Mrs. Hidalgo would have told her at some point. If it is supposed to be that the mom knew, that needs to be clearer. It would have been nice if she had been the one to stick up for Malu with the principal at the end or something to have more of a climax to the arc of the mother-daughter relationship.

    I found the “be yourself” theme kind of preachy/heavy-handed and also lacking an arc. It starts with Dad telling Malu that the first rule of punk is be yourself and ends with Malu saying that the first rule of punk is be yourself/make your own rules. I guess the arc is supposed to be her internalizing it? And we did see that a bit through the story, but she starts out wanting to be different and ends up wanting to be different, so that isn’t much of a transformation.

    So I had a number of issues with Punk, but the thing that drove me absolutely nuts was all the educational stuff shoved in there. It was just too much! It’s clever to have the mom constantly talking about Latino history and culture and Malu complaining about it, so you can stick stuff in naturally. But all of the other characters do it too, even the other kids and sometimes even Malu. And Malu’s general knowledge level seems to vary drastically. There were several times she didn’t know something she would definitely know (she’s never heard the word tempo even though she’s obsessed with music?). And then often those scenes would be directly followed by a zine on that exact topic with tons of detail! Now, maybe she got interested and googled it, but it never says anything like that. So when she doesn’t know what a Day of the Dead altar is (really? SuperMexican mom doesn’t do those at home?), how is she then on the next page giving us a zine with tons of detail on the Day of the Dead?

  9. My own reservation about PUNK is that I got no sense of the setting at all–I assumed it was set in the Pilsen community of Chicago but there are no markers to go by; it could have been any neighborhood in any big city. But maybe I am betraying my own bias for that great city!

  10. Mary Clare O'Grady says:

    I looked back at my GoodReads review and saw that, as a lifelong Chicago area resident, I also was frustrated by the vague description of Malu’s Chicago neighborhood. In contrast, I thought that Clayton Byrd’s New York locations were well established.

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