2_3_Starry_Splendors Starry River of the Sky by Grace Lin Little, Brown Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz Candlewick

Judged by Thanhha Lai

I usually have no problem sitting in judgment.  Years ago I zapped the writer’s guilt of finishing every novel because someone had bled to write it.  Now I give the first 50 pages my absolute attention.  If not enthralled, I advance to the art of flipping.

Still, my quick fingers proved useless while reading Starry River of the Sky and Splendors and Glooms.  I read every page, felt every dramatic pulse and closed the novels with Rendi and Madame Chang, Lizzie Rose and Parsefall embedded into the crevices of my mind.

Starry River drops readers into ancient China, yet its timeless theme of finding one’s self by returning to one’s roots will be understood by any video-game junkie living in, let’s say, Dallas.  This junkie will be introduced to a world where people make lanterns from fireflies and linger at the dinner table to hear stories—for entertainment.

Splendors and Glooms drops readers into 1860 London, where the details of rich lives and poor lives so infused the narrative that buttered toast and strawberry jam enter the nostrils as surely as the sour stiffness of one’s only dress.  Readers then step into the enchanting horror of icy Strachan’s Ghyll, where a puppet, a witch, two kids and a villain come together for a good vs. evil battle that rivals any video game.  In this verbal version, the sentences alone will remind a certain junkie of what words can do—as entertainment.

I thank Grace Lin and Laura Amy Schlitz for crafting such concrete, entertaining worlds.  But I’m told I must choose one, so I shall choose Splendors and Glooms.  Now I will quickly send off this review before I flip flop, again.

-- Thanhha Lai


And the Winner of this match is...... SPLENDORS AND GLOOMS

It’s a quirk of fate that most of the middle grade novels have been assigned to the second half of the bracket, and it means that after beating LIAR & SPY and STARRY RIVER OF THE SKY, SPLENDORS AND GLOOMS might have faced THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN in the next round, but for the Newbery Curse.  I admire both SPLENDORS and STARRY, and in spite of the fact that this more apples vs. apples than most matches, I still find these books widely disparate in terms of style, one an homage to the Victorian novel, the other an ode to fairy tales.  I could have been happy with either book moving forward, but I think SPLENDORS is better suited to go up against either NO CRYSTAL STAIR or SERAPHINA.  Is there a subtle bias at work that favors young adult novels over middle grade novels?

-- Commentator Jonathan Hunt

For the first time in this round, the books pitted against each other are incredibly different. I wasn't particularly eager to read Starry River of the Sky, worried that it would not excite me like the other books in this competition had, but I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of Lin's writing. She crafts and manipulates the literary elements like a sculptor with a piece of clay, masterfully and beautifully. As a lover of dark fantasy, I was quite excited to sink my teeth into Splendors and Glooms, and it did not disappoint me. I found the story enchanting, marvelous, and above all creepy. It did have some dull and confusing points, but I did manage to enjoy the wittiness of the characters although I did not completely fall in love with them. Overall, I think that it was a fair pairing, and I respect Judge Lai's decision, and would probably have gone the same way. -- Kid Commentator GI
 " />
Please note that this SLJ blog is no longer actively publishing new posts.