Dead Mothers and Diaries
It’s almost like we deliberately tried to start our book discussion this year on the darkest notes. Two novels Steven discussed both feature dead mothers/parents. The two titles I’m going to present in this post also have dead mothers — not only that, both mothers died giving birth to our protagonists. Even more, both books are in diary form. In The Night Diary, by Veera Hiranandani, 12-year-old Nisha writes to her dead mother in a secret diary, recounting the family’s harrowing experience during India/Pakistan partition in 1947. In Sunny, by Jason Reynolds (#3 in the Track series,) the almost-13 Sunny pours his heart out to his “Dear Diary.”
The similarities end there. Night Diary and Sunny are set decades apart, half a globe away, against very different backdrops, and the narrative voices of the two first person narrators are diametrically different.
Nisha’s is a thoughtful and gentle tone, describing in evocative details both her domestic life (cooking, playing with her brother, secretly making friends with a neighbor girl) and the harsh journey to pursuit safety during which Nisha witnesses disturbing and violent acts. What is distinguished about this title is how Hiranandani manages to reveal how individuals’ lives could be turned tragically topsy-turvy due to a single political decision in a way that young readers would be able to understand and empathize. The uncertain fate of Nisha and her family creates the tension that keeps readers engaged through the chapters. The delineation of its setting is also outstanding: readers could vividly see, hear, and smell the environment and the foods described by Nisha/Hiranandani.
Sunny’s voice, on the other hand, is full of nervous energy and out-of-the-box observations. His almost obsession to connect life experiences with various sounds adds a unique flavor to the narration — the “tick” the “tick-bada-bada-boom” or the “whirr” and the “brrrggghsssh” are visceral lines that pull readers into Sunny’s worries, joy, struggles, and triumphs. It is emotionally effective. The main theme is Sunny’s relationship with his single-parent father: how it evolves from somber, businesslike, and tense into something more tender and mutually understanding. I appreciate the taut and focused narrative structure. It does not deal with a large social-political landscape but the interior portraits of both Sunny and his father are rich enough to maintain reader’s interest throughout.
Sunny only received one reader’s suggestion from March to August. The Night Diary had stronger support – 6 reader suggestions! Does either feel like a serious Newbery contender to you?
P.S. I love both cover designs even if that does not enter the Newbery discussion.
Filed under: Book Discussion
About Roxanne Hsu Feldman
Roxanne Hsu Feldman is the Middle School (4th to 8th grade) Librarian at the Dalton School in New York City. She served on the 2002 and 2013 Newbery Committees. Roxanne was also a member of 2008-2009 Notable Books for Children, 2015 Best Fiction for Young Adults, and the 2017 Odyssey Award Committees. In 2016 Roxanne was one of the three judges for the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards. You can reach her at at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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