It’s easy to see why this book has so many fans. What’s less apparent is why so many people believe it’s the frontrunner. That’s not an easy position to hold as we found out last year with OKAY FOR NOW: first the excessive praise followed by the nasty backlash and the obsessive scrutiny that comes with the criticism and defense of the book.
This is an effortless brand of storytelling: an engaging first person narrative voice that draws readers in, a plot that is just as interesting as the characters, an urban NYC setting that is above average for the school story genre, and a heartwarming message of tolerance, acceptance, and goodwill.
It’s a book with many strengths. I’ll let others nitpick below and skip to the big reason that this one falls just shy of my top group of contenders: I just don’t feel like Palacio ever had complete and total mastery of the story, at least not to the same degree as, say, Laura Amy Schlitz (where I felt every word and phrase was picked with purpose and precision–not that I’m driving the bandwagon for that one, mind you).
Case in point: the alternative viewpoints which were so effective early on became ridiculous by the end. The boyfriend? Really? It’s almost like Palacio knows there are too many viewpoints so she writes this last one sans capitals in order to differentiate it from the others, but it just comes off like a writing exercise gone awry–a bad David Levithan rip-off–and it sticks out like a sore thumb.
I hate to be Debbie Downer here because I really do like the book, but I don’t feel confident about its chances. I think it could be on the winning ballot; I just don’t know that it would be high enough to capture an Honor, let alone the Medal. What do you think?
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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