Girl Power Goes Global
INSIDE OUT & BACK AGAIN by Thanhha Lai is an impressive debut novel in verse that trenchantly chronicles the assimilation of a ten-year-old Vietnamese girl into her newly adopted country: the United States. It’s racked up no less than four starred reviews and is currently ranked number 2 in the goodreads Newbery poll behind only OKAY FOR NOW. This one just didn’t quite work for me as a Newbery contender, but verse novels rarely do, requiring both a strong story and strong poetry. To date, OUT OF THE DUST remains the only one to capture the Newbery Medal. You might also argue that honor books CARVER and THE SURRENDER TREE are one integrated narrative rather than a thematic collection, but it’s a blurry line. Publishers Weekly: “The taut portrayal of Ha’s emotional life is especially poignant as she cycles from feeling smart in Vietnam to struggling in the States, and finally regains academic and social confidence. A series of poems about English grammar offer humor and a lens into the difficulties of adjusting to a new language and customs (“Whoever invented English/ should be bitten/ by a snake”). An incisive portrait of human resilience.”
Kathi first mentioned THE GRAND PLAN TO FIX EVERYTHING by Uma Krishnaswami on a previous thread: “What Krishnaswami has done so well is use Bollywood itself as a subtext to inform the story by using all the tropes that that particular genre offers up, including misunderstanding, missed opportunities, kismet, chaos, societal constraints, questionable taxi drivers, and in the process has created something wholly magical and entirely fresh.” Then Monica seconded the recommendation, mentioning that the book referenced THE WESTING GAME. Well, I looked up the reviews, looked it up on Amazon, loved the cover and the first three chapters that are available for preview, but despite being a spring title, my library never ordered this book, so I’m left scrambling to find a copy (and, yes, S&S that is an invitation to send a review copy my way!). Publishers Weekly: “Krishnaswami perfectly captures movie-star infatuation, best-friendship, geographical displacement, and youthful determination in this exuberant blend of American tween life and Indian village culture.”
Nina nominated CHIME for the most misleading cover of the year, but my own pick for that dubious distinction is BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY by Ruth Sepetys, another strong debut novel with four starred reviews. The cover seems to say, “Noooo! Don’t you dare confuse me with a children’s book; I am the next Oprah’s Book Club pick where I hope to be read by thousands of middle-aged women!” But once you get past that cover there is a beautifully written story about a fifteen-year-old Lithuanian girl forced, along with her family, to follow her father into Siberian exile.
They took me in my nightgown.
Thinking back–the signs were there, family photos burned in the fireplace, Mother sewing her best silver and jewelry into the linining of her coat late at night, and Papa not returning from work. My younger brother, Jonas, was asking questions. I asked questions, too, but perhaps I refused to acknowledge the signs. Only later did I realize Mother and Father intended we escape. We did not escape.
We were taken.
Wendy and Nina started this discussion on the recent nonfiction thread, but I’d like to move it over here. I’m intrigued by the eligibility issues around this one. Of course, co-authors are eligible, and Laura Resau is eligible, but is Maria Virginia Farinango? I don’t want to get into another full blown discussion after Ness and Valente, but check out the Expanded Defintions & Examples in the Newbery Manual, and see what you think for yourself. I imagine this one will be getting a look from both the Newbery and Belpre committees. Booklist: “Rooted in Farinango’s true story, the honest, first-person, present-tense narrative is occasionally detailed and repetitive, but it dramatizes the classic search for home with rare complexity and no sentimentality or easy resolutions. Virginia’s conflicts with her birth parents and her employers are heartbreaking, even as she finds a way to attend school and shape a more hopeful future. A moving, lyrical novel that will particularly resonate with teens caught between cultures.”
I’ve started ISLAND’S END by Padma Venkatraman a couple of times. I’m not quite captivated by the first person present tense narrative voice yet, but the author’s note is intriguing and I like the premise of the novel. Thirteen-year-old Uido becomes the spiritual leader of her primitive tribe on an island off the coast of India. That understandably strains her relationship with her best friend and younger brother, but she’s got more important things to worry about, namely a destructive tsunami and intruding outsiders. Kirkus: “Uido’s clear, intelligent, present-tense voice consistently engrosses as she pushes through doubt and loss to find the right path. The beach, jungle and cliff settings are palpable. Perhaps most important, Venkatraman never undermines the portrayed religion.”
Okay, I haven’t read AKATA WITCH by Nnedi Okorafor either, but I’m editing this based on the comments below–and earlier on the 2012 Newbery Reading List. Here’s what some of the reviews have said. Kirkus: “The worldbuilding for Leopard society is stellar, packed with details that will enthrall readers bored with the same old magical worlds. Meanwhile, those looking for a touch of the familiar will find it in Sunny’s biggest victories, which are entirely non-magical.” School Library Journal: “This vividly imagined, original fantasy shows what life is like in today’s Nigeria, while it beautifully explores an alternate magical reality. Sunny must deal with cultural stereotypes, a strict father who resents her being female, and older brothers who pick on her because she’s better at soccer than they are.”
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About Jonathan Hunt
Jonathan Hunt is the Coordinator of Library Media Services at the San Diego County Office of Education. He served on the 2006 Newbery committee, and has also judged the Caldecott Medal, the Printz Award, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. You can reach him at email@example.com
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