Heavy Medal Mock Newbery Finalist: THE MANY ASSASSINATIONS OF SAMIR, THE SELLER OF DREAMS
Introduction by Heavy Medal Award Committee Member Kyra Nay:
Let this be a lesson.
You can’t disagree with a good story.
Or so argues gregarious, charming, resourceful Samir, silver-tongued purveyor of sand-logged bolts of wool, rings that turn men’s fingers green, and the finest cherry paste, with more combs than the Queen of Sheba and his noble steed Rostram, champion among donkeys.
In a series of misunderstandings and misfortunes, thrice-orphaned Monkey finds himself indebted to Samir and swept into the world of the Silk Road in the 12th century – a world of caravans, merchants, outposts, and bazaars with wondrous, exotic goods traveling from Turfan to Samarkand. In this world, as Monkey learns, everything has a price.
“In this world of roving markets, it seemed that life was a constant trade, And everything was inspected for its value….Even people were priced this way. Everyone had to be of use in some way.” (page 95).
No price is higher than the one on Samir’s head, for Monkey soon discovers that no less than 7 assassins are in pursuit of his new master. It will take all of Samir – and Monkey’s – cunning to survive.
In epic, descriptive prose, Nayeri captures scenes from the roving village of the caravan, dwindling away with each new assassination attack and the stark landscapes they travel through.
“The moon had quadrupled its value by the time we reached the outer edge of the haunted desert and dangled in front of us like a shiny coin”pg. 122
As Monkey is relaying this story to unknown listeners, evoking great legends of human history from Gilgamesh to Beowulf, Nayeri makes effective use of asides to the reader like “which you probably know” or “you may have seen,” a subtle technique for explaining specific vocabulary like caravanserai (pg. 49).
With indelible characters, immersive scene-setting, and distinctive language, THE MANY ASSASSINATIONS OF SAMIR, THE SELLER OF DREAMS is a strong contender for the 2024 Newbery Medal.
I’d be especially interested in discussing two elements in comparison to other titles on our list:
- Monkey is one of several unreliable narrators on our Mock Newbery list – Ebony and De’Kari in EB AND FLOW, GG in THE LOST YEAR, and Simon in SIMON SORT OF SAYS. Did you find this element more compelling in this novel or in another text?
- Delineation of setting has been a strength in books we’ve already discussed – ALEBRIJES, THE EYES AND THE IMPOSSIBLE – and others to come. How does THE MANY ASSASSINATIONS compare in your analysis?
About Emily Mroczek-Bayci
Emily Mroczek (Bayci) is a freelance children’s librarian in the Chicago suburbs. She served on the 2019 Newbery committee. You can reach her at email@example.com.
SLJ Blog Network