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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Heavy Medal Finalist #10: The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise

Introduced by Heavy Medal Committee Member Katie


The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart is one of my top choices for this year’s Newbery Award. It became a word-of-mouth favorite among my students last spring and appeared on many of their end-of-the-year best books lists.

Coyote is a distinct character who immediately grabs you. From the opening chapter where she smuggles Ivan aboard the bus with the help of some on-the-spot new friends, Coyote is someone you want to get to know. The delineation of the ever-growing cast of characters is one of the greatest strengths of the book. Each has such a unique voice and backstory, and Gemeinhart manages to convince you to care about all of them (except maybe Gloria). The interactions between Coyote and her father are particularly strong, especially the ways that Coyote reads, analyzes, and manipulates him.

I closed my eyes, and then I gulped, and then I let the memories play behind my eyelids. I wasn’t supposed to. There ain’t no use in looking back, Coyote, Rodeo always said. He used to be able to tell when I thought about them – my mom and my sisters. I’d get quiet, I’d get sad. He’d shake his head, his eyes all watery. No, baby. Don’t go back there. Your happiness is here, now. You gotta leave all that behind. But I never could, the way that he could. I just got better at hiding it. Better at looking at those forbidden memories in secret. 

The themes around grief and loss are shared in common with many of the books this year. While as adult readers, we might question Rodeo’s choice of coping strategy, the intended audience is likely to focus their energy and attention on Coyote and her grieving process. The contrasts between her sunny demeanor and her inner struggles are well-explored, and the journey of the book also mirrors much of her own inner journey through her grief and realizing what she’s missed in her five years on the road.

Gemeinhart also does a strong job of developing tension. Because of our initial investment in Coyote and the gut-punch reveal of her backstory, the reader becomes immersed in her quest, and Gemeinhart continues to ratchet up the plot as the story progresses. The book is a page turner and hard to put down, especially once the park and the box get within striking distance. 

Coyote is a memorable character, who will leave her mark on readers and their hearts. I recommend a full box of Kleenex, and I believe this title as a distinguished contribution to children’s literature.

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Roxanne Hsu Feldman About Roxanne Hsu Feldman

Roxanne Hsu Feldman is the Middle School (4th to 8th grade) Librarian at the Dalton School in New York City. She served on the 2002 and 2013 Newbery Committees. Roxanne was also a member of 2008-2009 Notable Books for Children, 2015 Best Fiction for Young Adults, and the 2017 Odyssey Award Committees. In 2016 Roxanne was one of the three judges for the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards. You can reach her at at roxannefeldman@gmail.com.

Comments

  1. Rachel Wadham says:

    I could heap high praises on all the elements of this novel, the wonderfully drawn and quirky characters, the way the bus and its movement becomes part of the setting, the wonderfully honest point of view, the humor and delightful richness in the style and tone, but I think the plot and how it progresses really is one of the most outstanding things about this novel. I especially love how the author deals with the climatic arc and hold the tension for so long without it feeling overwhelming or making the reader impatient. There are so many problems before you get to the end but each one is so delightful and just adds to the overall experience that they fit so well together. Holding tension for a very long climax is so hard and this book does it with such ease. Each time something got in the way you were cheering Coyote on to find a way out of it and every time they deal with some conflict there is humor and tenderness all the way to the laugh out loud climax among climaxes when the goat head buts a cop! This book is amazingly plotted and paced and that reveals the truths of Coyote’s life in such an open way and then equally balances her and her father’s emotional progression though grief. I’ll admit tears were shed at the end. This book is honest and raw but at the same to humorous and real. A stunning novel

  2. samuel leopold says:

    Katie and Rachel have outlined so many fantastic things about this book which is an amazing work of literature.
    There are so many aspects I could discuss deeper, but this is my main takeaway……

    The obvious double meaning of the word “journey” in the title is a theme that keeps weaving its way seamlessly throughout the story. Coyote and Rodeo are on a road journey creating new friends and memories along the way. But, more importantly, both of them are on a heart journey in which their broken hearts from their great loss may just find some sort of real healing. Coyote hears that the secret capsule that her mom and sisters buried —with love notes to each other— may be destroyed and so she is determined to save that important piece of her soul no matter what it takes, even if it means somehow getting her dad to go back to where he hurts too much to go. What they both find is that there can be as much healing in the journey itself as there is in reaching the final destination of that journey. Along the way, the author is a wordsmith crafting an intricate novel of humor and sadness both wrapped around the same story. And, in the end, the power of Coyote’s resilience and authentic voice won me over. Her combination of spunk and tenacity are so real to the reader and that , in my opinion, can only be the cause of distinguished writing. Distinguished writing that checks off all the boxes of the Newbery criteria.

  3. Alissa Tudor says:

    I have to echo both Samuel and Rachel’s comments about this book. I was hooked from the opening paragraph. The language, the imagery, the quirks of the characters- all of it worked together to create a book that I am in love with. There were so many amazing quotes that my copy is currently tabbed with a million sticky notes. In my opinion, this one has all of the ingredients of a winner.

  4. Molly Sloan says:

    I agree with all of the thoughtful comments above and with Katie’s beautiful introduction. This novel is at once heartbreaking and heart healing. Coyote is quirky, full of life and wise in spite of the nomadic life she has lived. In addition to the things others have said, I would add that she is a good friend. Her relationships, especially her friendship with Salvador, are real and important. I thought the whole novel was a beautiful portrayal of life going on, connections being made, hearts opening to one another in spite of a grief so bone deep. One of the scenes that deeply effected me was when Coyote and Salvador took the ride in the “attic.” When she shouted the names of her sisters and her mom, I was wrecked. For me that moment (p167-168) was one of the most important in the book.

    In previous comments on other books, some people mentioned in passing that the portrayal of grieving in Coyote Sunrise did not ring true. I am curious to hear from those voices now about what didn’t work for them. I will concede that the idea of a grief stricken father just running away from life and taking his daughter with him on an unending joyride, never looking back does strain credulity a bit. I was willing to go there with Gemeinhart because he is such a master storyteller. (As an aside because I know this isn’t relevant to any of the criteria, my kids love Gemeinhart books in general and this one specifically. His writing really resonates with them. At least two of my kids have this one at the top of their Newbery list this year). I thought this novel was a profound yet accessible portrait of grief. Kids will open their hearts to it the way that Coyote opens her heart to healing. That makes it a winner to me.

    • My problem with the grief portrayal was not with how Coyote dealt with her grief. The author handled that part of the story well. Rodeo lost his wife and daughter to a car. His escape is to take his other daughter and go on the road. I would think he would be more afraid that he and his daughter would also be hurt or killed.

    • Rachel Wadham says:

      Molly, I’m in agreement that for me the “strain credulity” is one of the main parts where this novel could fall. When we talked about Beverly Right Here we discussed the idea of would it be possible for a 14 year old to do what she did and how we as adult readers see the problems with that. I will say I have the same issues here. Would Coyote and her dad really be able to travel like this “outside the law”? What about school for Coyote? Could they really find a concert hall and “charm” charm the guard? Would a goat really be okay on a bus? How could Coyote drive the bus even after one lesson? Even the careening bus scene, really could they have made it down the hill? So much in this book pushes the boundaries, but I guess for me that is one of the masterful things about Gemeinhart’s writing, is that so much of this is unbelievable but you believe every bit of it. So for me this element could be both a positive and a negative. I will also note that you say this is “a profound yet accessible portrait of grief” and I will fully agree, I found this expression of grief both in Coyote and her dad so much more real and that puts this book in great contrast to The Line Tender for me which failed on so many levels for me on that front. This book “gets” grief is such a powerful way that makes it stand out for me.

  5. Courtney Hague says:

    I am here to echo all the praise that has already been heaped on this book. I think that Gemeinhart does an excellent job creating a colorful world populated with interesting characters with Coyote at the forefront. Her narration of this journey really makes this book. It’s her humor which hides the grief from the reader and only reveals it slowly, and it’s her voice that eventually reveals it all and just breaks your heart. I think that mix of humor and sadness is what makes Coyote such a believable character.

  6. Amanda Bishop says:

    This book is one whirlwind of an adventure. I don’t think it’s possible for me to find any faults or critiques with this book. It is highly unlikely that this adventure would happen in real life, but isn’t that what stories are all about? It’s not outside of the realm of possibility, but that sense of adventure and the extraordinary keeps the plot moving.

    It is heartbreaking reading how Coyote and her father cope with their grief. It is clear that Coyote is longing throughout for father to accept what happened and to be there for her. She is strong in so many ways and her heart it so open and accepting. I love her adopting of all of the ‘strays’ throughout the book who are also looking for acceptance and a home. The creation of this new ‘family’ from this diverse cast of characters brings the story even more to life. Many times I felt as if I was riding along with them in that old bus. One of my favorite things in this book was the questions about what your favorite sandwich is. I think this is such a fun and playful question to ask to get to know someone.

    This is a book that I laughed and cried throughout. Dan Gemeinhart’s writing is beautiful and playful. From the cast of characters to the descriptive and changing settings, this is a book that truly exemplifies masterful storytelling.

  7. Mary Zdrojewski says:

    I agree that Gemeinhart did a great job building tension in this book, not just with the overarching story but within each episode as new characters and new conflicts appeared.

  8. Gemeinhart is a wonderful writer. I really enjoyed the character of Coyote Sunrise. The humor in the book at times was really fun. The grief by Coyote was well portrayed. I did have a few problems. I felt the grief by the dad as I commented above made less sense with the story after I heard the reason that his wife and child died. I thought that there just seemed one obstacle after another. I am not saying that the author did not try to link them. I just felt like there was an awful lot happening by the time we got to the conclusion. In a weaker year this would have ended up higher on my list, but I liked so many others better.

  9. Molly Sloan says:

    Amanda, I just shared your comment from above with one of my favorite colleagues who happens to be sitting near me in the library right now. You said, “One of my favorite things in this book was the questions about what your favorite sandwich is. I think this is such a fun and playful question to ask to get to know someone.” He and I have an ongoing dialog about what makes a great sandwich. In fact he mentioned a place called Doc’s in Missoula, Montana. (Perhaps he as his own DEAD dream!) I asked my colleague the three questions Rodeo and Coyote ask everyone who joins them on Yager. It’s a great conversation starter. I think I should make these three questions a regular thing when I meet a new friend. Now my colleague wants to read The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise. Books bring people together. This one already has.

  10. Tamara DePasquale says:

    I will begin by saying that I’m a huge Dan Gemeinhart fan. I am grateful for every adventure and for the memorable characters he gives us. As I finish each title, I’m never disappointed, but there is always something that keeps me from claiming it as my Newbery pick. The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise presents this dilemma once again.

    I kept feeling like I had read this story before, and then it hit me: Kate DiCamillo’s Because of Winn Dixie. Did anyone else make a connection? The feisty, self-aware female protagonist who so eloquently depicts both characters and setting? The father/daughter relationship that avoids any talk of loss? The stray pet that breaks down the characters’ emotional armor? The friendships that help the girls grow? The cast of quirky, somewhat broken characters that keep both fathers and daughters from being totally alone in their grief? I’m not saying that this is the “fatal flaw.” It just helped me hone in on what kept me from taking this title to the top, and it was Coyote’s voice.

    I enjoyed every passage…but it was not the voice of a 12 year-old. What 12 year-old uses words like nonchalant (p. 38), wistful (p. 52), compliant (p. 72), contrite (p. 126), and so on? Phrases such as “cash-flush con man” (p. 36) and “stuck in my craw” (p. 44) distanced me from Coyote. Even though she was well-read, her words and descriptions were much too sophisticated for her age – no matter how many times she said “aint!”

    I also struggled with the characters who boarded the bus. I enjoyed each of them, but they and their circumstances felt too deliberately placed, like a checklist for diversity and social issues.

    Lastly, I agree with the previous posts that highlight moments that did not “ring true.” The third party break-up between Lester and Tammy was a stretch. The dramatic bus ride without brakes, the interactions with the police, and certainly Rodeo’s encouragement to drive the bus to Poplin Springs momentarily pulled me out of the story.

    While all of these concerns keep me from calling this book distinguished, the characters are so likable and the plot is well-paced, action packed, and filled with the just the right amount of tension for its intended audience.

  11. I wasn’t totally on board when I started this book but I found myself going along for the ride after awhile. The story was entertaining and you ended up caring to see what would happen but the voice felt off for me. I also didn’t think they would have made it in time with all the side adventures they were having. But thank goodness they did. I hope more people end up discovering this entertaining and endearing novel.

  12. Melisa Bailey says:

    For me, the writing was rich and drew me in and I personallt love quirk. I think the characters were well drawn and the build up very well done. I agree that Coyote seemed mature for her age and was a little too understanding of her situation but that was how the author propelled the story for the intended audience. I can see this title as a strong contender.

  13. Steven Engelfried Steven Engelfried says:

    We’re now closing comments on our HM discussions, as balloting by the HM Committee is underway. Look for new discussions in the January 23rd post as members re-discuss contending titles.