The Awards U Win
Indulge me a little bit with this one, friends, and follow me into this thought experiment. Let’s pretend that the quick arguement I’m about to give in terms of age range of Newbery and this book fully convinces you that the book is eligible. I’m open to arguements that it’s not, but I’d love to focus our discussion on the merits of the book according to criteria, beyond just age range. Do we think that if this book is on the table in the real committee meeting, and there is a convincing arguement that it falls into our age range, it has a chance?
For the sake of clarity, though, I will say that I *do* think this book is eligible and would be happy to argue for it in discussion. I think a 14 year old is clearly a member of the intended audience, and that many 12 or 13 year-olds would also be in the audience for this book. A 16-year-old main character is certainly written to be appealing to a younger audience and the content matter is not beyond the comprehension or understanding of the upper-range of our audience. It is, in fact, a reflection of the lived experiences of many young people in our communities.
So, what else? Thomas does a superb job of demonstrating the tension that is universal in young people trying to navigate between two (or more) versions of themselves. In this book, Starr is navigating between two worlds and two versions of herself that she is able to share. She’s trying to find the people who can hold both parts of her and is working on trusting that whole version of herself. This is so universal and so well-done and poignant. While not every young person is navigating the harsh situations that this protagonist is, many are torn between their school self and their home self (or their church self, camp self, etc.). This gives young people who may not directly relate with Starr’s situation a point of relation with her conflict.
Starr’s first-person voice is authentic – at times seeming older than her years, and at others almost painfully naive. As the boundaries between her two worlds break down, the audience feels the tension and really roots for Starr. Other characters are well thought out, realistic, and well-rounded. Thomas does not shy away from portrayals of everyone from friends to family to police officers as complicated and real people with complicated and real relationships with each other. Her relationships with her parents, her police officer uncle, and her white boyfriend are particularly nuanced.
This novel really explores the tensions that come when a young person (or any person) is torn between two worlds and two belief systems. We not only see Starr torn between her school and her neighborhood, but we see her parents torn between choosing personal safety vs. fighting for their community. There are also themes of fear vs. taking action for what one feels is just and right, personal privacy vs community justice and more.
The pacing is strong, the writing is powerful, and the themes are handled with great care. I, personally, would be thrilled to see it recognized by the Newbery Committee.
Filed under: Book Discussion
About Sharon McKellar
Sharon McKellar is the Supervising Librarian for Teen Services at the Oakland Public Library in California. She has served on the Rainbow List Committee, the Notable Children’s Recordings Committee, The Arbuthnot Honor Lecture Committee, and the 2015 Caldecott Committee. You can reach her at email@example.com.
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