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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Goblin Secrets

I do love a surprise in awards…when a book cover flashes up there and I just draw a blank.  It’s strangely reassuring to me that there’s plenty out there under the sun beyond the overwhelming murmur of popular opinion.

I also love it when I have a copy of said book in hand.   Out went my re-read of LIAR & SPY, in came GOBLIN SECRETS which took me two lunch hours (Burger, Ramen), two dinners (Leftovers, Leftovers), and one bus trip (Eau de French Fry) to read.

It’s wonderful to see a debut author recognized in the National Book Award Finalists.  And important for me to remember that this is a debut as I evaluate it, as it does fall short of a “possible Newbery shortlist” pile for me.    The major review sources all zeroed in on what  bothered me… despite the great steampunk setting, with Goblins as illicit traveling actors and a perfectly developed (not over-explained) creepy subplot regarding hearts, coal, puppets, and “Changing,”… the narrative itself never completely came alive: it felt stilted, or awkwardly arranged, in places.  I think these are signs of the debut novelist. Hopeful signs, frankly, as technical writing ability is something easier to improve than lack of imagination.  Alexander does not lack in that regard, and fluid readers will really appreciate his inventive yet familiar story.

I really appreciated the length of this book: at just over 200 pages, it’s a nice pace, and the perfect length.  And: it’s a single book, whole and entire.  No bloated cliff-hanging hipster series starter here. It’ll be easy enough for Alexander to spin a sequel from it if he chooses, but the narrative doesn’t suggest it.  It’s satisfying and conclusive.  And has a really lovely last line: understated, but very artfully arranged.  You’ll have to read the whole thing to appreciate it.

Nina Lindsay About Nina Lindsay

Nina Lindsay is the Children's Services Coordinator at the Oakland Public Library, CA. She chaired the 2008 Newbery Committee, and served on the 2004 and 1998 committees. You can reach her at


  1. I was happy that a book nominated for the Cybils middle grade science fiction & fantasy is a finalist. Good excuse to read it!

  2. mslibrarian says:

    I read this book quite a while ago. It remains to be a very strong and memorable one. The scenes remain vividly clear and the sense of danger and unsettling emotions is still palpable when I recall the details of this short book. I was really pleased to see that it received some recognition at National Book Awards. And, I’ve read it somewhere that a sequel will follow in 2013.

  3. A Besty Bird comment on Goodreads, caused me to buy this book. I’d been actively shunning it until the NBA took notice. A student who was present when I discovered the nominations snagged it for the long weekend before I could smuggle it home. I will listen with interest to what other have to say to make a decision on whether to rumble with the kids over possession.

  4. For those interested in audio, I would heartily recommend GOBLIN SECRETS on audio. William Alexander does the narration – it is clear that his theater background enables him to create distinct, entertaining voices for the many characters. Jonathan, if you get a chance to read this, I’d be interested in your take.

    I’m finding the setting, mood, characters and language to be quite wonderful. I have not yet finished it yet, so can’t comment on Nina’s criticism that the plot does not hang together. I would argue that it certainly does come alive for me, creating a sense of mystery and danger as Rownie tries to escape from an all-powerful witch and search for his lost older brother.

  5. Nina, I’m nearly done this book now and hear your comments about awkward arrangement. Part of me assumes it’s to assist in the author’s consistent indirect characterization and indirect setting descriptors- a “show-not-tell” approach I guess. However, I feel like I spent a little too much mental effort on discerning the “indirect-ness” than I did appreciating the plot flow, development, literary style, etc. It was distracting for me! Somewhat surprised that it ended up winning the NBA…

  6. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Waiting for my hold to come through at the public library . . .


  1. […] William Alexander took home the National Book Award (NBA) for Young People last night for his book Goblin Secrets (S&S, 2012), about a boy who joins a theatrical group of […]

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