P.S. Be Eleven
There’s no doubt that P.S. BE ELEVEN is one of the best books of the year, and most of the criticisms that I’ve seen about this book (including one of my own) fall on the peccadillo side of the fence rather than the fatal flaw side of the fence. Let’s consider a few of them before we move on to other things.
1. The Sequel Peccadillo: Yeah, yeah, it’s a sequel and you might want to read the first book, but it’s not absolutely necessary or even kind of necessary, so get over it. If the real Newbery committee has as many fans of this book as our Virtual Mock Supercommittee does, this argument isn’t going to convince anybody to withdraw their support.
2. The Setting Peccadillo: I mentioned earlier that the Jackson 5 concert was moved up a couple of years early so that it would coincide with when the Gaither sisters get off the plane after their 1968 summer in the previous book. But I don’t know that the year is ever specifically mentioned in this book, and Williams-Garcia does acknowledge this ever so vaguely in the afterword. Again, not the kind of thing that’s going to convince anyone to change their mind about the book.
3. The Plot Peccadillo: The book just kind of stops abruptly and randomly after Valentines Day. It’s loosely episodic and it appeared that we were moving through the school year, the whole school year, when everything wrapped up and ended relatively suddenly. But THE THING ABOUT LUCK kind of does that same thing, too. Both books are character-driven rather than plot-driven, and since the characters are the main attractions in both, this plot peccadillo would be a bigger problem in a plot-driven kind of book.
4. The Fairness Peccadillo: It’s not fair that the girls didn’t get to go to the concert! This peccadillo (and the previous one) aren’t really true peccadillos as they have more to do with our expectations than they do with weak writing by the author. I agree that this injustice ends the novel on a bitter note, but I think it just goes to show that the father, for all that he loves his girls, is just as much of a flawed parent as the mother was in the previous book. It’s a refreshingly brave take on parenthood in children’s literature. Kudos for that, Rita.
I have no problem dismissing all of the complaints I’ve heard about this book, but here’s where things get difficult for me. As I sort of hinted at earlier, I believe that one of the strengths of this book is the characters, but no characters this year surpass THE THING ABOUT LUCK, and the characters in our other shortlisted novels are also quite good. Another strength of this novel is the setting, but again as good as it is, all of our novels have strong settings, and I don’t know that this one separates itself from the pack.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that I understand why this novel is distinguished, but I’m having a harder time understanding how this one is most distinguished. It’s firmly ensconced in our top six as of our last set of nominations, so it has the kind of broad support necessary to go far, but I’m not sure that it’s anything more than . . . wait for it, Nina . . . an Honor book. If you feel otherwise, and surely some of you do, please make your pitch in the comments below for P.S. BE ELEVEN as the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.
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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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