We’re about two weeks away from the YMA’s so it’s the perfect time to highlight some books that are flying under the awards radar. Both of the titles I’m looking at today have excellent character writing and deal with themes of violence and what people do in extreme circumstances. Neither book quite has what it takes for the Printz, but I was surprised that they didn’t show up on more best of the year lists. Thankfully, both are BFYA nominees so while I keep my fingers crossed, read on for why I think they deserve some kind of recognition.
It is perhaps the most polarizing title of the year. Love, hate, and debate about audience have all bubbled up around Tom McNeal’s Far Far Away. A National Book Award finalist, the novel also has five starred reviews and has made four of the year’s best lists; clearly, there is a lot of love for this book. But whenever I discuss Far Far Away with someone who didn’t like it, they don’t just dislike the book, it’s more like disdain.
I’m not one of those people but I’m not quite on the side of adoration either. McNeal’s most prominent theme is story—its power and our lives as stories are two variations that we see in the novel. McNeal’s use of storytelling (specifically, fairy tales) as a major theme is done well enough, but when analyzed with other elements of the novel such as voice, style, and characters, Far Far Away is a book made up of discrete notes that, when played together, make a dissonant sound.
Historical fiction is tough.
Too often the fiction takes a back seat to the history, and readers are drowned in detail or left feeling vaguely cheated by secondary characters who flesh out the story but whose experiences seem to cover a laundry list of additional details.
This is not to say that historical fiction can’t make for a darn good read, but the gap between a darn good read for an hour (or five) and a book you want to raise above all others with a shiny sticker is actually a pretty big one.