Heavy Medal Finalist: THE FAITHFUL SPY by John Hendrix
I must begin with a disclaimer. Though I try to remain neutral in my analysis and discussions, I find myself incapable of such literary integrity in this context. I absolutely love THE FAITHFUL SPY written by John Hendrix. There are a couple flaws which friends have pointed out to me in our discussions and I am sure those will come out at some point as my renowned committee colleagues discuss this title—-but this introduction will focus on what I see as the three strongest positive literary aspects of this novel.
First of all, the character development of Dietrich Bonhoeffer is exemplary. It is a challenge to succeed at this in fiction, let alone crushing it within a story that is based on a true event. The way the author takes us inside the mind and soul of Bonhoeffer creates a dynamic, rounded character. I felt, as the book went on, I could say I KNEW and understood the character as I would know and understand my best friend. Bonhoeffer was a multi-layered character and Hendrix does an excellent job in carefully peeling away those layers without losing the reader’s interest in the process. Quotations from his childhood at the age of four—chapter one, page 8 [page numbers refer to the softcover edition]—take us into his mind at an early age and the explanation of his time in Harlem take us into the evolving convictions of this man who would risk his life to kill Hitler. Hendrix connects these convictions to the story on page 33 ,chapter 2… “To think that something like this kind of repulsive segregation could come to his Germany was impossible.” By the end of the novel, the reader can clearly see the heart of the man.
A second positive strength of the writing here is how Hendrix effectively weaves powerful threads of primary sources into the story of THE FAITHFUL SPY. I have read many novels which attempt this but only turn out sounding like a different, just as boring version of a school textbook. [ I am a school teacher of 30 years, so I can get away with that comment about textbooks.] The prose is written in simple, but beautiful language and the word choices are perfectly placed around the quotations that are used. I can cite many examples throughout the novel where this use of sources is done so well like beautiful verbal brushstrokes on a literary canvas that many see as masterful. The pictures painted with these sources are what ties the entire story together and builds the Bonhoeffer world inside the reader’s mind. Some exemplary examples are 1. The letter to his mom…chapter two, page 30. 2. Bonhoeffer’s journal… chapter six, page 138. 3. His quote about Hitler…chapter six, page 150. These are just a few examples of how Hendrix effectively draws a realistic picture of this historical event.
A third positive literary strength in this novel is how Hendrix beautifully complements the text with his bold, vibrant pictures woven throughout the novel. Now I am well aware of what the Newbery Criteria has to say about pictures and photos used within a novel. And, in my opinion—an opinion which has caused some of my best literary friends to give me respectful, impatient glares this year—- the text of this novel can stand strong all by itself without the pictures. But the drawings wonderfully reflect the themes of the story. Hendrix uses the colors of the backgrounds to symbolize the mood of what is happening. The pictures create another way for the reader to feel the emotions the words have already painted—emotions of fear, despair and hope. I must admit I am very biased in favor of effective graphic novels. I think this is a graphic novel…..even though during my second read, I did not feel that the pictures dominated my thinking like many graphic novels do. The writing of Hendrix is what makes this novel distinguished. The pictures are not necessary but do reflect the mood of the story as it progresses. I believe that one of these days a Gold medal will be placed upon the cover of a Graphic Novel—-I wanted it to happen with the first installment of MARCH—-. One could argue whether or not that statement is true and, when it happens, how it will turn the Newbery world upside down. But, I find it hard to think one could argue against THE FAITHFUL SPY as being one of the most distinguished books this year.
Introduction by Sam
As usual, we will start with positive comments about the book, then open it up to broader discussion, including concerns and questions, later today. Heavy Medal Committee members and other readers are all invited to chime in.
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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