Heavy Medal Finalist #13: To Night Owl from Dogfish
Introduction by Heavy Medal Committee Member Cherylynn
To Night Owl from Dogfish is unique among the candidates we are considering in format. This is an epistolary novel. The whole book is made up of emails, voice mails, and letters between the characters. I think this is a different way to organize and present the story, a stylistic choice that works well with this story. It tells what everyone is feeling without characters all being aware of what was happening. These letters are written by many people, not just the main characters. Each character is distinct although not always completely fleshed out.
Even in the first few emails sent back and forth, the two main characters are distinct. Bett Devlin is dramatic and adventurous. She comes from California, loves to surf, and is interested in sharks: so her nickname is dogfish. Her writing includes capital letters and + symbols to express herself. Avery Bloom is quieter and spends her time worrying. She comes from New York, is interested in science and medicine, and has periodic insomnia: so her nickname is night owl. Her writing has much more exact grammar. Even the parenting styles of their fathers are different. Sam Bloom is Papa who loves his daughter to the moon and is warm and reassuring to a worried daughter. Marlow Devlin is encouraging and wants his daughter to enjoy life.
The plot seems like a plot we have heard before. We start with two girls who are forced to meet because they are going to become a family when their dads get married. The dads breakup–the girls try to get them back together—old and new love interests cause problems—everything ends in a wedding. I would like to say that I thought this was refreshing in so many ways. The story started with a matchmaking story, but it is more about sisters and friendship. Looked at from the perspective of the main characters and the deep friendship that they develop over two summers, I found it to be more unique. The ending is one of the best parts. There is a wedding, but it is not the dads who get together, but an old lady who is special in all of their lives.
I found this book to be a heartwarming story of two girls who become best friends. This is a subject that is important to children and how friends are made is something they care very much about. It definitely meets the criterium of excellence of presentation for a child audience. It is a little less serious than so many others this season, but the theme of acceptance and love is strong and well developed and the character delineation is exceptional considering the special format used to write this novel. I think this is a strong contribution to children’s literature this year.
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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