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Here’s a day of intertwined stories — stories told through multiple points of view, offering many perspectives on a single converging plot. Yay! I do love novels with multiple POVs; it can give the read a rhythmic, regular pace through to the end. Here we have straight up realistic, historical fiction and we have a mostly realistic but infused-with-magical-realism title for contrast. One is definitely for younger readers, the other is a read for an older audience. Both novels use the varying perspectives to allow their respective plots to build to their conclusions.
Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly
March 2017, Greenwillow Books
Reviewed from an ARC
I don’t always look for a sweet and gentle read, but this was a surprise of a title that won me over. It’s sweet but not overly so; it’s gentle but still willing to tell the hard and honest truth. It’s a shared narrative between Virgil, Kaori, Valencia (and sometimes Chet). We see each character through a limited third person perspective, except Valencia — who has first person narration. We get an intimate sense of each person; their fears, hopes, and wishes are all clearly communicated. Hello, Universe excels in sharing the inner lives of the characters. Maybe what works best here is the tremendous respect given to each character. They all have fears and triumphs, and the reader is allowed to connect with each. Everyone goes on a journey of growth (well, maybe not Chet, exactly, but we as readers do come to a more nuanced understanding of him). Their growth isn’t always dramatic but it’s perceptible and realistic. Chet in particular shows Kelly’s care in sharing these characters with her audience. He doesn’t develop much over time — he avoids a too-pat, too-simplistic turn around. Instead, we are given hints of trauma in his past. In this way, and with all the major characters, Kelly gives total respect to the audience, trusting readers with characters’ vulnerabilities.
The union of magic and realism is deftly handled as well, reflected by the characters’ differing understanding of fate, faith, love, and belief. Virgil’s stories from Lola, Kaori’s psychic business, Valencia’s talks and prayers with St Rene all allow for a broader conversation about many beliefs among friends.
Heavy Medal has their own conversation for this title. There, Roxanne Hsu Feldman eloquently tagged this as middle grade — due largely to the perfect balance of realistic fiction and magical realism. Coupled with the characters’ age, that’s pretty hard to argue with. So how does it fare in Printz-land? I’d argue that it does read too young; it feels much more appropriate in a Newbery conversation.
When Morning Comes by Arushi Raina
February 2017, Tradewind Books
Reviewed from an eBook
Here’s an almost-opposite sort of read. It’s still a story told with multiple perspectives, but instead of being a quiet and gentle read, When Morning Comes is bold, suspenseful, and definitely YA. Rather than mixing in elements of magical realism, Raina uses historical fiction to eloquently and emotionally connect with current events and ongoing social issues.
The four main characters all have different perspectives on what eventually becomes the Soweto student uprising. They all four have to make difficult choices, and all take on new, more adult roles. Raina allows their humanity full expression; it never feels didactic or preachy. These are individuals who carry the full weight of their (sometimes) ruthless choices.
There are enough details to understand the historical context; in fact, we are better able to understand the broader situation by viewing it through the characters. Raina carefully develops our understanding so that we can connect the parallels to current events.
So in Printzly conversation, where does this fall? It’s a strong novel — it’s political, it’s historical, it’s gripping, it’s well written: clear, well paced, and with high stakes. However, I’m not quite ready to call it a contender. While the plot is gripping, and the suspense is very well handled, I would have liked a little more distinction and delineation between character POVs.
I can’t quite put my finger on the ending here. On the one hand, I was relieved to read that all four characters survived — and they were all touched, quite heavily, by the events of the plot. Emotionally, no punches were pulled.
On the other hand, everyone surviving made it feel like things tied up a little too neatly. On the OTHER other hand (the hand of my eternal emotions I guess), maybe that pulling up was necessary; maybe these times call for a little neatness and a little reassurance, at least in our fiction. I don’t know, this is me still working out my reaction rather than a criticism.
Also worth considering, When Morning Comes is a debut novel, and so is a potential Morris contender. Just last week, I mused about the possibility of Allegedly taking a Morris medal. This could be another contender in that realm. Raina is definitely an author to watch.
So that’s two that I would say bring up a lot to chew on, but for a variety of reasons don’t quite make the grade for the Printz. What do you all think?
Filed under: Books to look for, 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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