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So much fun! History is full of so many unexplored paths! What if you were a child of immigrants who bribed her way into a posh school? What if you were a doomed teenage king? What if you were a doomed teenage queen? What if you survived the San Francisco earthquake? What if you took on racism in your posh school? What if you, I don’t know, SHAPESHIFTED? Just laying out the options here, amiright? OK, OK, we’re sort of smooshing historical fiction and history-tinged fantasy, but it’s the end of the year, we’re trying to get through the books, this is a fun pairing, and I’m happy to bounce between Outrun the Moon and My Lady Jane. Will either of these titles find their way to the table for RealCommittee?
To be honest, this book immediately made me think of this comic — mostly because the authors are so busy having fun that, I imagine, they have no cares for my thoughts as a reviewer and will just INCREASE THE THING. There’s a lot of general love for MLJ: two starred reviews, the PW end-of-year list (and the Wall Street Journal end-of-year list, too). It’s full of silliness, but it’s absolutely the kind of silliness that I adore: authorial asides, rotating narrators, total disregard for history within historical fiction.
All of which doesn’t seem like it ought to work…and yet it does, for the most part, and for general purposes. The three narrators are immediately recognizable; their voices are distinct — and hilarious. The real-life maneuvering and plotting behind the throne may actually be enhanced by the magical elements here. It’s overly simplified history, but also works as a way to skewer the pomposity and ruthlessness of power. Anything and everything is up for laughs within the text — current pop culture references, anachronistic Shakespeare, direct comments to readers.
Where this doesn’t work — at least for me, when trying to be Printz-ly — is in the length. The jokes kind of…are the joke, and once you’ve gotten that (about halfway through), it starts to feel a bit stale and repetitive (enjoyably so, but…). In addition, the fantastic elements don’t really coalesce into something greater for the characters; there’s no sense of peril, no real stakes established. If the book had been a little shorter, the characters would have felt a little sharper, less like types. I feel like I’m tearing down this book that I really did love reading. So let me say again: this is super enjoyable, definitely a high point on my personal reading list. But I don’t see RealCommittee giving this a medal.
To look at more historical historical fiction, Outrun the Moon got a lot of love from the comments in our initial post. It has one starred review as well, from Kirkus. It’s easy to see what works here — Mercy is an amazing character: determined, brave, audacious. She bribes her way into a fancy school (bribes!), and starts to take on an antagonistic roommate and the rest of her classmates, dealing with racism and classism. Many secondary characters are strong as well, and the eventual relationships Mercy is able to develop, especially with Francesca and Elodie, are satisfying. There’s a light (mostly in the background) romance with childhood friend Tom, but it never really distracts from the main show, which is Mercy being amazing, Mercy taking charge, and being generally awesome. Lee does a great job with the setting as well — historical San Francisco is detailed and fascinating. Lee works to make the connections between 1906 and now relevant, clear, and resonant.
In some ways, this is a book with three parts — life in Chinatown, life at boarding school, and life after the earthquake. The parts play together in interesting ways and are overall enhanced by each other — the work of community building, and the roles that individuals play within their communities are examined throughout OtM. But the before/after the earthquake divide is somewhat uneven, and some of the conflicts that are set up in the first part are dropped or undeveloped in the last part. These are minor complaints, so RealCommittee might not worry about these small threads. There’s a slightly contrived conclusion, too, but the freshness of Mercy’s voice, the attention to detail, and the uniqueness of the setting are what stay with readers. What will RealCommittee have to say? I’d love to see this one take a medal, but I’m not totally convinced it will. (Though I’d love it). What do you all think?
Filed under: Fiction
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.
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