2013 Best Book Outliers
You’ll recall my Best Books Overlap post which demonstrates the way that Booklist, the Bulletin, Horn Book, Kirkus, School Library Journal, and Publishers Weekly have already come to a kind of consensus. But each journal champions books that the others do not, and they are not necessarily any less distinguished because of it. Earlier this season, I also talked about how we can really only scratch the surface in terms of the many excellent books published this year, and then we do something really unfair in late November. We pick eight of them for our shortlist, lavishing even more attention on them, while other books get hardly a passing mention here. Here’s an effort to rectify that.
“With grace and charm, as well as recipes for Cady’s various cakes, Graff develops a clever series of plot twists and eccentric, fully formed individuals, each of whom has his or her own secrets, worries, and points of intersection with the knotty problems arising for the other characters. Complex without ever being confusing, witty, and sprinkled with gently scary bits, Cady’s story is as satisfying as her cakes. Combining the literary sensibility of E. B. White with the insouciance of Louis Sachar, Graff has written a tangle that should satisfy readers for years to come.”
A TANGLE OF KNOTS by Lisa Graff has been in my pile to read all year long. Despite a pair of starred reviews, and making the NBA longlist, and a cover that looks suspiciously like SAVVY’s, I was never able to make it to this one, but Booklist makes a very strong case for it.
THE BULLETIN OF THE CENTER FOR CHILDREN’S BOOKS
“As in the previous books, Dowell moves the third-person narration back and forth, getting under their skins with honesty and empathy through vivid, often humorous prose. She refuses to oversimplify, allowing readers access to the girls’ homes as well as school, making it clear that their inner lives are as complicated as their readers’. . . Dowell and readers leave Kate and Marylin poised between childhood and adulthood–they are not finished, but they are on their way. Another quietly perceptive tour de force.”
This review of THE SOUND OF YOUR VOICE, ONLY REALLY FAR AWAY actually comes from the Kirkus starred review (because I don’t get the Bulletin and can never find their reviews online anywhere). Last year, a different Dowell book, THE SECOND LIFE OF ABIGAIL WALKER, was the PW outlier. Apparently, she just keeps writing good books that slip under the radar.
HORN BOOK MAGAZINE
“Like Little House in the Big Woods but with a considerably larger cast (miners, Eskimos, old-timers, good-time girls), the small events (a birthday party, a visiting plane) and crises (a grizzly, pneumonia) keep the story involving even while it lacks much of a through-line beyond the seasons. The frequent use of simple pen-and-ink drawings further the Wilder resemblance, but Pham’s are more sophisticated, befitting the era and situations.”
I’ve been wondering what will win the O’Dell Award this year (as I write this it has yet to be announced, but it probably will be by the time this goes live). My pick is obviously GHOST HAWK (sorry, Debbie), but given Roger Sutton’s glowing review of BO AT BALLARD CREEK, and the relative dearth of obvious contenders, I’m going to predict this one. Horn Book is the lone star and list for this book.
“Sarah’s 12-year-old voice is believable and her anxieties realistic. Intellectually precocious and responsible beyond her years, she is also a needy child who finds helpful support when she reaches out to a grieving elderly neighbor. Although her situation is difficult, Sarah is resilient and hopeful. Readers intrigued by the premise of this moving story will sympathize with the plucky protagonist and rejoice in the way her summer works out.”
Like A TANGLE OF KNOTS, SURE SIGNS OF CRAZY by Karen Harrington has been in the pile all year long, and I only just saw an advertisement for it recently that touted four starred reviews (I’d had it down for three). Mea culpa! I will say that the opening sentences–“You’ve never met anyone like me. Unless, of course, you’ve met someone who survived her mother trying to drown her and now lives with an alcoholic father.”–make me roll my eyes.
SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL
“Weaving historical personages such as Dr. Snow and the Reverend Henry Whitehead with fictional characters, Hopkinson illuminates a pivotal chapter in the history of public health. Dr. Snow believed that cholera was spread by contaminated water, not by bad air or “miasma,” which was the popular theory at the time. With the help of Eel and his friends, he convinces an emergency committee that the water from the Broad Street pump is responsible and has the handle removed, thereby curtailing the outbreak. Although detailing a dire period in history, Eel tells his story in a matter-of-fact and accessible manner, making his story palatable and entertaining.”
I’ve browsed this book with every intention of reading it because I like Hopkinson’s picture book texts and her nonfiction books, and it did get two starred reviews. I find it such an interesting premise, and it’s set in a time and place that I’m partial to. Would anyone like to make a case for this one?
“Long writes with modest restraint, never drifting into sentimentality or overpowering the story with historical details, while remaining squarely centered in the story’s time and place. The novel sings with graceful recurring motifs, true emotions, and devastating observations about the beauty that can be found in the darkest hours.”
Like SURE SIGNS OF CRAZY, WHISTLE IN THE DARK is a debut novel. Being a debut novel puts a book at a disadvantage in terms of buzz, but since the Newbery Medal isn’t based on buzz, it leaves room for surprises like this. The O’Dell Award might be another possibility for this one. Like BO AT BALLARD CREEK, this has a single star and list–from PW.
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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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