Saving the Best for Last?
What follows is the strange and fateful tale of a boy, a girl, and a ghost. The boy possessed uncommon qualities, the girl was winsome and daring, and the ancient ghost . . . well, let it only be said that his intentions were good.
If more heavily seasoned with romance, this might have made a tender tale, but there was yet another player in the cast, the Finder of Occasions, someone who moved freely about the village, someone who watched and waited, someone with tendencies so tortured and malignant that I could scarcely bring myself to see them, and even now can scarcely bring myself to reveal them to you.
I will, though. It is a promise. I will.
We spent lots of energy the first time around discussing whether or not this was appropriate for children. I’m hoping this time we can focus on the distinguished qualities that this one brings to the table. Like THE TRUE BLUE SCOUTS OF SUGAR MAN SWAMP, I find this one to be easily the most distinguished in terms of sentence-level writing for novels–and I think it scores very high in all the other criteria, too. Do I think it does what it sets out to do as well or better than the younger novels that are also eligible? I think it’s as good and I can be talked into better for the sake of consensus. As with P.S. BE ELEVEN, I find some minor distractions here, but the lean toward the peccadillos rather than fatal flaws.
1. The Pacing Peccadillo: This was my biggest hang-up on the first read, but I think pacing is such a subjective thing, especially when the narrative is busy addressing all the other literary elements. You may remember that I had a similar reaction to SPLENDORS AND GLOOMS last year. It took a second read for me to get past my own personal preference for a zippier pace. I did want more white space in this book, with chapters starting at the beginning of a page (think: TRUE BLUE SCOUTS) as is customary in most children’s books, but I was also surprised to see that FAR FAR AWAY actually has 9,000 words less than SPLENDORS AND GLOOMS.
2. The Hybrid Peccadillo: You may have followed the recent discussion on Someday My Printz Will Come. A popular sentiment there is that the mash-up of old fashioned fairy tale and contemporary horror story doesn’t meld together as seamlessly as it ought to. Clearly, I don’t hold that opinion, but I do understand how it can be problematic for some readers. Take the setting, for example. It takes quite awhile to pin down whether it’s actually taking place in the past or the present, whether it’s the New World or the Old. This kind of ambiguity drives some people nuts, but I think this too is very subjective.
3. The Ending Peccadillo: This is closely related to the previous peccadillo and the question about the audience. Is the ending too happy? If it’s a children’s book, no. If it’s a YA book, then perhaps.
I don’t know that I would put this in my top three initially, but it is in my top three novels, so should the committee dimiss my poetry and nonfiction choices, then I’m easily behind this one.
Filed under: Uncategorized
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
SLJ Blog Network