Goodbye Stranger and Rhythm Ride
Okay, here’s a second look at our last pair . . .
When I read all the overwritten books that got published this past year–and they are legion!–I just wanted to make GOODBYE STRANGER required reading for their authors. Stead uses a minimum amount of description, allowing the dialogue to carry plot and characterization, for maximum effect. Stead demonstrates an acute understanding of and appreciation for middle school kids, and the beautiful relationship between these three girls–Em, Tab, and Bridge–is handled as well as anything this past year. I listened to it on audiobook this time around and it enhanced my appreciation of the exceedingly fine characterization even more–if that were possible. The plot moved along at a zippy pace, and the interspersing of the first and second person chapters served the theme as well as the narrative.
And yet, in spite of it all, this one has a hard time vying for one of my top three spots, and I’m at a loss to explain why I’m feeling slightly underwhelmed. A good friends said this book does what it sets out to do extremely well, but doesn’t necessarily set the bar very high. I think that perhaps there is some truth to that, but I also think I’m part of the problem, too. This particular set of characters, themes, and events just didn’t resonate as strongly with me as some of the others on our shortlist. I wouldn’t mind seeing the Medal or an Honor on this one; I’m just not driving the bandwagon myself.
This one was a bit of a surprise when we announced our shortlist, so I hope more people have been able to track it down, read it, and will comment on it. The voice is clearly a strength of this book. I love the personification of a musical element–The Groove–as the narrator. The voice isn’t always consistent, but it’s consistently memorable.
Perhaps it’s also fair to say that this one is quite successful, but doesn’t set the bar very high either. Clearly, this is an introduction to Motown and the brief and breezy treatment is perfectly suited to the style of the narrative and audience for the book. It’s easy to be enamored of the books that play to the older end of the age range such as THE HIRED GIRL, GOODBYE STRANGER, and MY SENECA VILLAGE, not to mention MOST DANGEROUS and THE BOYS WHO CHALLENGED HITLER, but this one is solidly middle grade–and there needs to be some acknowledgement in the different developmental reading abilities of these respective child audiences. How does this one fare in your estimation?
P.S. Is there a better cover this year? No!
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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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