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Someday My Printz Will Come
Inside Someday My Printz Will Come

White Crow

crow 150x150 White CrowIdeally, if I were really on the Printz Committee, I’d be done reading all the contendas by this point. Actually, if we’re going for ideal, I’d have been done for a couple of weeks. At this point in the year, it’s time for very serious rereading: really going through the contendas in detail, weighing various elements, moving past first impressions into a firmer opinion of each title.

And, you guys, that would be super helpful because I could do with a reread of this title. (I feel like I’ve been saying that a lot lately.) But let’s get started.

We’ve got three voices telling two stories, united by one village. Rebecca and her father have moved into the tiny village of Winterfold.There, she meets Ferelith, a mysterious and possibly dangerous girl obsessed with terrible stories and horrifying local history. The local history concerns a village priest — we read portions of his 18th century journal — who teams up with an owner of Winterfold Hall to find out if there’s life after death. (And from here on in, there will be at least some minor spoilers, so if you haven’t read this, and want to, you might want to wait on finishing this review!)

Sedgwick is playing with a couple of genres; the book is part psychological suspense and part horror story. It reminded me a lot of Imaginary Girls. There’s a dash of an unreliable narrator (Ferelith gives an accounting of events from her perspective but tells you upfront, “And actually I’m lying.”), girls who are united by death, a town haunted by the water…  This, of course, has no real place at the Printz Table Talk, so let’s move on and see if I can tease out some coherent thoughts.

In a lot of ways, this is a really strong contender. Sedgwick does a fantastic job of building up the suspense. Everything feels appropriately haunted and inevitable and perfectly paced — slow but steady. Nothing feels wasted; the language is lean but often lovely. (“Rebecca dozes late into the morning, listening to the sound of her father downstairs, making breakfast, the radio on in the background, gently talking to no one.”) The town of Winterfold is delicious — oppressive, atmospheric, gray and crumbling.

The book is full of echoes and details and images that play with the major themes of the story. Just as the town of Winterfold waits passively, patiently, for the sea to inevitably swallow its ancient buildings, the two girls are drawn, inevitably, to explore the ruins of Winterfold Hall and investigate the terrible secret that the priest buried in its cellar. The angel/devil motif is echoed by other opposite images: fair Rebecca/dark Ferelith; white crow/black crows; the silver cross/the silver heart.

The girls seemed to spend a great deal of time in graveyards — fitting, since the novel is suffused with death. From the fabled munchkin suicide of the Wizard of Oz to Ferelith’s mother who hanged herself to the seven guillotine victims in the Winterfold Hall cellar…and all of this takes place in a town that is slowly crumbling to death by falling over into the sea. Or, as Ferelith tells us:

But whatever time of year, Winterfold has a cold embrace and, like the snows of winter, it does not let you go easily.

Once upon a time there was a whole town here, not just a handful of houses. A town with twelve churches and thousands of people, dozens of streets, and a busy harbor.

And then the sea ate it.

There are some things I’d really be paying attention to on reread. The Ferelith chapters, for one. I got hung up in her unreliable narrator persona (or her generally untrustworthy narrator persona; she might not be totally unreliable), and I’d need a little more time to examine all the levels of things she’s telling us. It’s a bold choice to make Ferelith, the larger-than-life character, one of two first person narrators. This allows Sedgwick to slowly parcel out information about Rebecca and her father and their shared, painful past. It also allows Sedgwick to give us information that is at least slightly suspect, full of layers and always fascinating. It also sits in contrast with the present tense, present day narration and allows us to believe that Ferelith might actually be talking to us from beyond death.

I would use my reread to really pay attention to the Ferelith/Rebecca connection (something, it’s worth noting, that is really only described by Ferelith). I never quite felt it — but that’s totally personal. I think I might believe it once I’ve spent a little more time with them. I may have struggled with that emotional component because there’s quite a lot going on in the narrative. Rebecca and Ferelith have their own baggage and pasts that haunt them. Rebecca’s father’s past is a fairly major part of the plot, too, although he’s not “onscreen” too much of the time. And that’s only 2/3 of the narration — I haven’t even talked about the priest and the doctor at all!

So at this point, I’d say…yes, it’s a contenda, but I’m not ready to commit to naming it a final five. What do you guys think?

Pub details: Roaring Brook, July 2011. Read an ARC.

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About Sarah Couri

Sarah Couri is a librarian at Grace Church School's High School Division, and has served on a number of YALSA committees, including Quick Picks, Great Graphic Novels, and (most pertinently!) the 2011 Printz Committee. Her opinions do not reflect the attitudes or opinions of SLJ, GCS, YALSA, or any other institutions with which she is affiliated. Find her on Twitter @scouri or e-mail her at scouri35 at gmail dot com.

Comments

  1. Jennifer says:

    I’m so glad you two are doing this; I mostly unsubscribed from library and book review blogs, so this has been a great resource for me as I figure out what I want my non-library relationship to YA literature to look like.

  2. Carol E says:

    This book was so masterfully written, and equally rich. If we evaluate a book by how well it succeeds at being the book that the author was trying to write, this one is brilliant. I do think we sometimes want to take the books that might fit into a genre, such as horror here and dismiss them as Printz contenders, but I don’t think that’s fair at all. Sedgwick does such a superb job of ratcheting up the suspense while bringing us rich characters and a setting that is practically a character in itself. The third narrative which you don’t cover above is the critical piece for me. It sounded so true to the time and the evil revealed there is what makes the present day events so frightening. I really love this novel.

  3. Mark Flowers says:

    I just finished this one about 10 minutes ago, so I haven’t collected my thoughts, but here are some random observations:

    1) I agree with Sarah about the connection between the girls: on a first read at least, it seemed incompletely realized. Based on my understanding of each girl, I was more than willing to believe that they could be (somewhat uneasy) friends, but I didn’t feel like Sedgwick did all of the work necessary to make their friendship come together. Based on what he gave us, I would have expected Rebecca to just ignore Ferelith from early on.

    2) I was fairly disappointed with the Priest’s diary entries. A lot of repetition (how many times did he comment on not being able to imagine heaven?), and forced obfuscation, without a lot of payoff.

    3) On the other hand, the sense of dread was palpable. And the image of the town literally crumbling slowly into the sea was amazing.

    4) Over all (and again, after only one read) I felt like there was a lot of material that could have been exploited better – almost as if Sedgwick had so many great ideas that he forgot that he needed to flesh them out.

    We’ll see – I’ll keep thinking about this one.

  4. Karyn Silverman says:

    Carol– I hear you about genre book and the Printz, but I think this one has more flaws looked at explicitly in the context of the genre. And while the priest’s narrative is totally creepy and chilling, it also seems a bit over the top at times and didn’t ring as historically true for me. But I’d have to take another look to see if that was me or if there is something that can be pointed to as inauthentic. Either way, I totally agree about the setting– that palpable dread, the images of the crumbling town that Sarah and Mark both mention as well–absolutely the strength of the this one, I think, more than anything else.

  5. natasha says:

    l saw the girl hang herself on that movie wen l was 5 yrs old. lt traumatized me. <=(

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