My New Heroes


I haven’t been following the Battle of the Kids’ Books over on SLJ this year (too much else to do), but Monica Edinger made reference to it in her blog today which made me want to read what Patrick Ness had said about Far Far Away. And then I got sucked in a read a few others, including Mac Barnett’s take-down of Midwinterblood. As you know, these two books were two of my “why does everyone else love these” books from last year, so I’m happy to say that Patrick Ness and Mac Barnett are my new heroes (of course, Barnett was already my new hero for co-authoring Battle Bunny).

Here’s some of Barnett on Midwinterblood:

The jacket copy of Marcus Sedgwick’s unfortunately named Midwinterblood promises “a painter, a ghost, a vampire, and a Viking,” which sounds like the start of a joke my uncle tells that makes everyone uncomfortable.

people speak in that manner peculiar to Characters in Futuristic Novels. Sample dialog from our young lovers: “‘I believe we are not the only place that has no need for cars,’ she says. ‘I don’t know about need,’ Eric says, ‘but yes, since gas became so scarce, there are many places that use alternatives.’” Good to know!

Clichés abound. . . . The well, if you understand, had run dry.” Oh, I understand.

And the problem with clichés, of course, is that they lack specificity. Midwinterblood is a fatally unspecific novel. Despite spending more than 1,000 years with Eric and Merle, I have no idea who they are. And worse: I have no idea what brings them together (except that they both brush hair out of their eyes quite often). Forty pages from the end, an incarnation of Merle reflects that “My way was to think, and his way was to do.” But that distinction isn’t really borne out by the novel, and anyway, well, it’s a cliché. In a not particularly passionate scene, Eric informs Merle, “Our love is forbidden.” I guess we’ll have to take his word for it.

And here’s some of Ness on Far Far Away:

I didn’t believe a word of it.

I didn’t believe Jacob Grimm (of the Brothers Grimm) would need to help an American teenager in order to cross over to the other side.  I didn’t believe the whimsy of Jeremy’s father trying to run a (literal) two-book bookstore meshed with Jeremy and Ginger subsequently being starved to near-death by a serial killer of children.  I didn’t believe that EVERY missing child named in the book – either abducted in the present or the past – would end up having a happy ending.  I didn’t believe Jeremy and Ginger would suffer no discernible trauma after a life-scarring experience.   Most of all, I didn’t believe Ginger would say “Zounds.”  It’s as bad as “heck.”

I found the book false in the most objectionable way:  the teenagers aren’t allowed to be real people.

Because of the Grimm connection, a lot of energy is spent on the fairy tale aspects of the story.  But even fairy tales create a universe in which the story can logically take place.  And they can certainly be harrowing and full of real danger and truth – anyone with a passing acquaintance of the astonishing work of Margo Lanagan knows that. . . .  I’m more than happy to believe in fairy tales, but I didn’t believe any of Far Far Away.

Hey – didn’t I say all of that! Anyway, I know you disagree with me on both novels (so did everyone else!), but I thought I’d highlight the fact that a couple of people who write much much better than me had some similar thoughts.

– Mark




Filed under Books, Teens

2 responses to “My New Heroes

  1. Maureen Eichner

    I was also very pleased by both of those decisions. Generally, I’ve thought the judging for the BoB has been much better this year than in years past. Less waffling about, more critical thinking.

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