Girls vs. Boys
There are some boy protagonists in the Newbery-potential lineup this year. But they tend to be non-genre reads. Where is the “boy” equivalent of PALACE OF STONES, or THREE TIMES LUCKY? What’s the male equivalent of the “spunky girl” kind of novel?
N.D. Wilson’s THE DROWNED VAULT doesn’t make even near my top ten for the year, but if the two titles mentioned above (which don’t either) are going to be on the table, then so should it. Plus: it’s a much higher caliber of writing than THE LIGHTNING THEIF or HARRY POTTER, while achieving the same punch. It’s the second in a series, “The Ashtown Burials,” following THE DRAGON’S TOOTH from last year. It does not stand alone, or try to, but that might have to be a different discussion. Cyrus and Antigone are a 13 and 14 year old brother-sister team, more or less orphaned, and suddenly indoctrinated into a secret society they never knew their parents were a part of. They are taken for James-Bond-like training at an estate that seems a conflation of Hogwarts, The Da Vinci Code, and Indiana Jones, to spectacularly exciting effect. There’s an evil madman, ethically divided transmortals, powerful relics, and great action. Wilson can write an action scene that makes you feel like you’re wearing 3D glasses, and he doesn’t hold back (as they flee the estate under siege, Cyrus forgets his boots and you will fell every torn toenail in detail on the way to the seaplane). At the same time, Cyrus and Antigone have a complexly drawn orphaned-sibling-relationship, and the side characters are all fully developed. (When a new side character is introduced on page 210: we meet her waking up a minute before her alarm goes off at 4:30am, and follow her thoughts until it does. In that one page, we know about her what most other writers would need thirty pages to get to). Plot, character, setting….all of it stands up admirably to most of the “girl” reads on the “Newbery 2013” Goodreads poll.
Why do we tend to forget to consider books like THE DROWNED VAULT? I know that I wouldn’t have been drawn to it in a pile except for the fact that I know Wilson to be a great writer (LEEPIKE RIDGE, 100 CUPBOARDS, etc.)… but neither was I drawn to THREE TIMES LUCKY or GLORY BE, and I read those because you all mentioned them. The Newbery committee strives for diversity in its ranks…yet if you get 3 men out of 15 members that is a red letter day. It may be too easy to chalk it up to gender…there’s likely some genre-bias going on here too, and in general some “profiling” that committee members must do in wading through their stacks. At the end of the day though, it’s hard for me to see that that wide “middle ground” of really good books that gets discussed in public Mock Newbery circles reflects far beyond the reading tastes of those talking. Ladies?
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About Nina Lindsay
Nina Lindsay is the Children's Services Coordinator at the Oakland Public Library, CA. She chaired the 2008 Newbery Committee, and served on the 2004 and 1998 committees. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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