Have you seen The New York Times Book Review this weekend? Two things should catch the nonfiction lover’s eye: a witty, highly critical, review of a YA version of Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States. The review is fun to read. But the amazing, signal, fact is that it is there at all. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/17/books/review/Kirn3-t.html?_r=1&oref=slogin
I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen as long a review of a YA nonfiction book, one that, like this one, goes through the entire argument of the book, and reacts to it. Now Walter Kirn may have a bit of an easier time with it because he dislikes the whole book, so each part he comments on is just an instance of his larger point. But, Zinn also invites that — his own adult book is so much the working out of a single thesis that it almost doesn’t matter where you turn in the book, the message, the point of view, is the same.
And that leads to the one place where I would be inclined to shade Kirn’s view. Not only is it rare to have long, engaged, reviews of YA nonfiction, it is also rare to have YA nonfiction that is expresses a strong point of view. And for all that I found the adult Zinn unconvincing as history, it is meant to be a devastating corrective to every July 4th speech ever given. It is refreshing to have nonfiction for younger readers that is an argument, a case, a lawyer’s brief. Teenagers get plenty of dull balance in textbooks. One good thing trade nonfiction can do is to take a risk, to be a sermon. So great to see Kirn’s long review, my one fear is that the only reason Zinn got so much attention is because of his adult following. I hope more nonfiction gets similar attention — and that more authors take the risks that will encourage reviewers to notice them.