This seems the spring book to talk about, based on comments from our first post, with raves from many, and a few of us voicing qualms. Rachel Stein offers a nice synopsis of the book at For Those About to Mock, though she mentions she hesitates to comment on its Newbery chances because she listened to it in audiobook. She adds:
“With that caveat, I can say, with confidence, that Wiles has achieved distinction in every category mentioned in the Newbery criteria. The setting is brilliantly realized, the characters (both major and minor) are complex and vivid, and the thematic elements are handled with deftness and subtlety. Prose style is always more difficult for me to discern when I’m listening to a book, but it seemed elegant and fluid.”
Interestingly, I think that audiobook might be the best first read for this title in regards to the Newbery. While committee members are required to read and ultimately evaluate the printed book, they are welcome to use audio for “re-reading” purposes. And in this particular case, because the criteria require that “the committee is to make its decision primarily on the text. Other components of a book, such as illustrations, overall design of the book, etc., may be considered when they make the book less effective.”…. it might be handy to experience this title first through its text only, to get a handle on how the text stands separately from the photographs.
Though comparison to its companion COUNTDOWN is not relevant to the Newbery discussion, I will agree with others that the “documentary” aspect of this book is much more successful here than in COUNTDOWN. I haven’t done a re-read of that one to figure out why I think so, so I’m not sure if it’s simply that we’re all used to what Wiles is doing at this point, or if she’s actually put it together better here. If I were a committee member this year, I might indeed re-read COUNTDOWN solely to help me articulate my evaluation of this aspect of REVOLUTION. If I were to champion it, I’d want to put to bed any arguments that this additional component makes the book any “less effective.” As long as I don’t bring the comparison with COUNTDOWN into my argument, it is fine.
I think the this might be Wiles’ best work yet. I agree with Rachel and others that this reads deftly and fluidly…that the setting is masterful and the main character and many side characters are fully engaging. I think that Wiles’ has succeeded too in matching her format (both the “documentary” style but also just her narrative style and arc) with her theme. There’s a great conversation with Wiles, courtesty of TeachingBooks.net, which you can read partially transcribed here, in which she says:
“Kids don’t often see themselves as part of history, but they’re a piece of it, and their [stories are] vital to understanding the larger history. …Freedom Summer changed my world, and it changed our nation. With the trilogy, and with Revolution in particular, I wanted to show the larger arc of our nation’s history, juxtaposed against an individual’s smaller arc. History is made by individuals, one moment at a time. By experiencing [my character] Sunny’s walk through it [in Revolution] or Franny’s [in Countdown], readers see that, choice by choice, they craft a life.”
Has Wiles’ succeeded in this? Mostly. And she has set her bar high in accomplishing it, one that certainly “distinguishes” her work and makes it a strong contender for Newbery.
So, where my qualms, wherefore “mostly”? There is a fatal flaw that I find in REVOLUTION, and that is that Raymond is not as fully realized a character as Sunny, not by a very long shot. Everything about his story feels purposefully there to move Sunny’s character. That is both the point of the book (Sunny being moved) but also ultimately its failing. Because he is given so much airtime, the un-equalness in vitality of voice is stark. If Wiles had not tried to make this such a balanced pair of perspectives, it would not have stood out quite at much. But I see also that her theme depends on the perspectives being balanced. She has gotten herself in a “d***ed if you do, d***ed if you don’t” situation here; I understand that Sunny’s perspective is largely based on Wiles’ own, and so of course Sunny’s voice will seem more “real.” And this is primarily Sunny’s story. But where the author “falls away” in almost every aspect of this book …which is what makes it a contender in my view… I’m painfully aware of Raymond being a character in a book, not a real person. And that feeling works against everything else that Wiles has accomplished.
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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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