One of the things I find frustrating about this blogging thing is the December blahs.
At this point in the game, I have a sense of what the year has brought us. I’m not a seer, so I don’t know what books will take the RealPrintz (and judging by last year, don’t listen even if I pretend I DO know), but I know what the top of the pile looks like.
But we’re still reading, and we’re still covering books we listed back in September as contenders. And some days, what we’re tasked with is coming up with a thousand or so words about a book that was quite good, and that doesn’t deserve to be dissected into shards, but that just isn’t a serious contender.
And yes, I acknowledge that sometimes, I say “not a contender” and what I really mean is, “here’s my argument against this one, but your mileage may vary.” This time, I really just mean they’re not contenders.
Take, for instance, Lindsey Barraclough’s Long Lankin.
Long Lankin is wonderfully creepy. It’s probably the best evocation of a place and time I’ve read this year — that small village, the decrepit manor, the lingering days and the growing shadows are MAGNIFICENT.
Want to give someone a super creepy read? Here it is. Want the kidlit answer to Kate Morton, whose House at Riverton is basically Long Lankin‘s grown up sibling? Here it is. Want a Printz winner or honor book? Here it ain’t.
(Although I did really like the ballad-y refrain. And I am looking forward to Barraclough’s next book and totally hope she sticks with this gothic-horror thing.)
The abrupt, too-short chapters, the monster being a little too literal — these are not, honestly, crimes against literature. But they make this delightfully chilly read just not stand up against the best this year has to offer.
Personal Effects, E.M. Kokie
Candlewick, September 2012
Reviewed from ARC
I feel much the same way about E.M. Kokie’s powerful Personal Effects. It’s important. It’s moving.
Kokie has written a nuanced, respectful story about the military and about (spoiler, because I had no idea this was coming when I started it) gays in the military, as well as a story about what it means to break free from an oppressive, abusive home life and be your own person.
But the prose is sometimes clunky, the issues a little too much, so that there is an element of message, and the ending is way too easy — Matt faces down his dad and it’s ok? These are problems when we’re talking potential Printz winners. For anything else, it’s a damn fine book.
And I could go on, naming chapter and line of the flawed moments, dancing around trying to discuss why these books aren’t serious shortlisters while not tearing the book apart, because these aren’t books that should be torn apart but I don’t want to omit them from the discussion either. But I won’t. They’re among the top books of the year — just not the top 5, and that’s where I’m going to leave it.
So today I’m giving in to the December blahs and halting my assessment of these two books with that. But the comments are open, so if you think I’m not giving them fair shake, hit me.
(But not literally, because ouch.)
(Also, it wasn’t until I had written the post and edited it and added pictures and FINALLY got around to inserting the pub details that I realized these are both debuts, both pubbed by Candlewick. I think I’ve said this before, but I love how bold Candlewick is — they may not all be winners, but they are definitely publishing some interesting, unexpected voices and for that, big giant kudos.)