Tag Archives: Markus Zusak

Zusak Redux

Mark,

As you noted, I really did love this book. When I read it the first time, the ending didn’t bother me at all. I admit that I have a tendency to pretty much take writers where they are and not ask too much on a first read–I’m willing to go along for the ride. In this case, I think my reaction was sort of a shrug–perhaps I, too, had been reading enough metafiction that I didn’t give it much thought.

I gave it so little thought, in fact, that when I read it the second time a few years later, in preparation for a reading group, it came as a surprise to me for the second time.

I think what that means is that I was so involved in the story, and in Ed’s life, that I didn’t really care how Zusak got him out of it. I loved the humor in the book, and the genuineness of Ed, and I kind of liked the fact that this had all been brought about by authorial fiat, and that we were being told that. And it was really just a way to end the book, because at this point he had moved Ed along to the point that the book needed to end.

In retrospect, after hearing Zusak’s own regrets, and Beth’s well-reasoned comments above, I can see that it could be seen as rather a cop-out. I know that it made some of my book-group readers uncomfortable, although at the time I more or less dismissed their discomfort as a lack of imagination.

As I write this, however, I find that I can’t really condemn Zusak for it, or even regret it, as he apparently does. One of the things I liked about the ending was that it took a risk, and I like that in a book. I like to have something to think about, and I like to be surprised. I like to close a book and think to myself, “Huh. THAT was certainly interesting.”  So I have more tolerance for a risk that maybe doesn’t quite succeed than I do for a too-predictable ending. (Not that there weren’t other ways he could have ended this book and still maintained the surprise and interest. And not that I can imagine what a too-predictable ending would have been for this book!)

So there you have it–my own not-very-definitive answer to your question!

Two more comments about Markus Zusak, though:

1) I was so happy that YALSA President Shannon Peterson gave a shout-out to Getting the Girl at the Edwards Brunch (she mentioned that it had been a treasured book for a teen boy she had worked with). Getting the Girl is, in my opinion, Zusak’s overlooked and underrated book (although happily, the Edwards Committee cited it).

2) When is Zusak going to write another book? It has been seven years since The Book Thief!

–Mom

 

 

 

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ALA Debrief: Markus Zusak

Mom,

i am the messengerWell, we’re back from ALA Annual Conference in Las Vegas. I seem to have been the only librarian there who kind of enjoyed Vegas, although the heat was truly terrible, but I’m glad to be home nonetheless. You and I went to several programs together and a whole bunch separately, so hopefully we’ll have a few thoughts to post to this blog, but the very first thing I wanted to get up is about Markus Zusak’s speech at the Margaret A. Edwards Award brunch.

Since I write and work for School Library Journal (which sponsors the Edwards Award), I was lucky enough to get a free ticket to the brunch and an invitation to meet Markus beforehand. He was incredibly kind and gracious and I thought his speech was lovely, discussing his development as a writer and his desire to write books that “only [he] could have written.” But the piece I want to discuss today was a brief digression that I might have missed had I not been discussing the very same issue with a friend. Zusak was talking about I Am the Messenger (or The Messenger as it’s known in Australia and as he referred to it), and he said, “I think I really screwed up the ending.” That’s a direct quote, the following is a paraphrase: “some people really got it, some people didn’t get it at all, and some people thought they got it but didn’t.”

The_Messenger_Au_CoverI’m sure you remember, but for our readers’ benefit, the ending of I Am the Messenger has Ed, our narrator, encounter an unnamed character who, it quickly becomes clear is Markus Zusak himself, who explains to Ed that he has written Ed’s story. It’s one of the more purely metafictional moments in YA fiction–it lays the ground for the final lines of the book, “I’m not the messenger at all./ I’m the message”.  And it is undoubtedly strange since nothing has really prepared us for this moment of stepping out of the story this way. At the time I read the novel the first time I was reading heavy doses of metafiction so it didn’t really even phase me. So I was surprised when a friend of mine read this for the first time and reacted negatively to it. And then I was even more surprised when Zusak got up at an awards ceremony and admitted to screwing it up!

I don’t know if this post is of interest to anyone other than myself and my unnamed friend (if he/she wants to reveal him/herself in the comments, feel free!), but I thought it was worth writing about since I don’t often hear authors so blatantly admit to faults in their writing. I know you’re a bigger Zusak fan than I am, especially of I Am the Messenger. What did you make of the ending at the time? What do you make of it now?

– Mark

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ALA Awards

Mark,

Okay, I’m home from Philadelphia, had a good night’s sleep, did my laundry, sorted the mail, and now I’m ready to say a few words about my reactions to the Youth Media Awards.

In order of their announcement:

The Alex Awards: that was me yelping when Lexicon was announced. Actually, it turns out that it was the only one of the ten that I had read, although Brewster and Sea of Tranquility have been on my TBR list since AB4T reviewed them. I was disappointed at the fact that nine were fiction titles, although there are more nonfiction titles on the expanded list, including my personal favorite, Frozen in Time.

Edwards Award: Yes, yes, yes! Some people were saying afterwards that they didn’t think of Markus Zusak as having been around long enough for an Edwards nod, but Fighting Ruben Wolfe came out in the US in 2001, and Getting the Girl  in 2003. Laurie Halse Anderson got the award in 2009, for Speak and Fever 1793, which came out in 1999 and 2000, respectively, so it isn’t unprecedented. As you note, I’m a big fan of Zusak’s “Aussie slacker” books, and I was especially gratified that Getting the Girl was one of the honored books, because it’s a personal favorite of mine, and I think it is one of the great overlooked YA books of the 21st century. It is a stand-alone sequel to Fighting Ruben Wolfe, and I am looking forward to re-reading both of them before the Edwards brunch at Annual.

Morris Award: As you know, I’ve been a fan of Charm and Strange since I read it, and I was delighted that it won the Morris. To be fair, I still haven’t read the other finalists, so I can’t offer any salient remarks on them.

Nonfiction Award: I was kind of rooting for GO!, just because it was nice to see a non-history (dare I say, non-World War II?) book on the list. But I managed to snag a copy of Nazi Hunters at the reception, and I’m looking forward to reading it. (You can make me eat my words next January, when my Nonfiction Committee chooses a World War II book!)

Printz: Again, we’ve both talked about Midwinter Blood. I see your issues with it, but it is a book that has really stuck with me. You mentioned its daring and inventiveness, and I sometimes think those kinds of things are like the “degree of difficulty” ratings they give ice skaters and gymnasts–even if the execution isn’t perfect, the attempt is so audacious that it merits extra points.

I was definitely surprised at Navigating Early. I read it back in the beginning of the year, but didn’t even talk about it on the blog, because I didn’t see it as Printz potential, nor was it particularly resonant with me. I gave it 4 stars on Goodreads, but honestly, it kind of slipped from my radar as soon as I read it.

Also a surprise to me was Maggot Moon. We both had issues with it, and one of mine was that I thought it was too young for the Printz. When I said this on Monday to a member of the Printz committee, that person–who had admittedly read the book more often and more deeply than I–looked startled, and obviously the committee thought it was a young adult book.

Eleanor & Park didn’t excite me, as you know, but I felt it was a solid YA book and I wasn’t surprised to see it on the list.

I had not even heard about Kingdom of Little Wounds until the night before the announcement, when I was having dinner with other librarians and someone brought it up as a book she thought was a strong contender this year. Clearly she was right!

Other awards:

Newbery: I haven’t read Flora and Ulysses, but I have it on hold. I was happy to see some younger books acknowledged, like that one and The Year of Billy Miller.

Caldecott: Not my area of expertise, but I heard Brian Floca speak on Friday afternoon, talking about the creation of Locomotive, and I’ve flipped through the pages, and it seems a worthy choice. I “read” Journey (it’s wordless), and thought it was lovely.

Schneider Family Awards: When Rose Under Fire was announced, I asked the person sitting next to me, “Why that one? What’s the disability?” She couldn’t answer, but fortunately, I ran into a member of the committee later, and she told me that it was Rose’s PTSD that they were mostly thinking of, but also the disabilities of the “rabbits.”

So there are some quick thoughts. Tomorrow I’ll post on some of the galleys I picked up at Midwinter (including a new one by Marcus Sedgwick), and we can start speculating about 2014.

– Mom

 

 

 

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Australians and Californians

Mark,

Thanks for your statistics. Here are some more:

Australia has a population of 22,732,214 (according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics). California’s 2010 Census population count was  37,253,956, and 2012 estimates are close to 37.8 million. So Australia has about 60% as many people as California.

By your calculations, Australians have either 28%  (10/35) or 16% (10/62) of Printz Awards and Honors, and 25.8% (8/31) of winning authors.

And what about Californians? Well, by my calculations, only 3 Printz-winning authors are full-fledged Californians (born, raised, still live here): Gene Yang, Elizabeth Partridge, and Daniel Handler (interestingly–all three are from the Bay Area). There are four others whose bios indicate that they have lived in California at various times in their lives, although none live here now (Stephanie Hemphill, Helen Frost, An Na (grew up in San Diego), and Garrett Freyman-Weyr). So Californians have won only 4.8% of the awards, despite superior population numbers. What’s up with that?

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Just a few more words

Mark,

Just a few more thoughts on this topic–though I’m still hoping we can get some others to comment or guest-post on the subject.

First of all, regarding Margaret Atwood: you’re right, Handmaid’s Tale was the first Atwood I read, but Alias Grace is her best of the ones I have read (and I haven’t read Blind Assassin). Although, as you point out, hers vary widely in style and genre, so it’s a little hard to compare them.

But let’s talk YA. How about John Green? Looking for Alaska, a debut novel, won the Printz Award in 2006 and An Abundance of Katherines won a Printz Honor in 2007. In my opinion, Katherines is the better book, moving beyond the–let’s face it–typical first-novel autobiographicalism of Alaska and doing something really different and interesting. But Katherines did win an honor, something none of Green’s subsequent books have managed to do. And here again, it’s hard to know how much of that is anticipation and familiarity. John Green has an amazing fan base, both online and in terms of real readers who actually buy his books, and of course, that includes the librarians who are on award committees. But it does make me wonder a little bit if I and other readers are able to read his latest book, The Fault in Our Stars, completely objectively. Would I have a different reaction to it if I had read it without knowing the author? In this case, possibly not–because it sounds like a John Green book. The characters are John Green characters, and the dialogue is John Green dialogue. So if I didn’t know John Green had written it, I might be thinking, “Wow, this author is really ripping off John Green.” But it will be interesting to see where it lands in this year’s Printz deliberations.

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