This was a rather longer-than-planned-when-I-started-writing-it comment on Nina Lindsay’s Heavy Medal post on Karen Cushman’s WILL SPARROW’S ROAD and Grace Lin’s STARRY RIVER OF THE SKY. Figured that it might be of interest for those who read this blog, but not theirs, so here it is. That said, I serve notice that the following aren’t reviews as much as some scattered thoughts about the two books (hence the title of this post).
I was glad to see these two books thrown into the mix. In WILL SPARROW’S ROAD I thought Cushman did a terrific job with her first male protagonist, delighted in her deft and rich rendering of Elizabethan England, and admired the skill with which she had Will deal with his own ignorance about those different from himself in a way that felt both accessible to 2012 young readers and sufficiently of his time as well. I could imagine some finding the plot a bit spare, but to my mind it was a case of enjoying the journey. A most delightful read.
And I also took a great deal of pleasure in STARRY RIVER OF THE SKY. For whatever reason, perhaps the fact as Nina suggests that Lin is becoming more skilled and confident in her particular form, but I enjoyed this book more than the previous one. I was engaged immediately, curious about this boy called Rendi and his refusal to let us in on his back story. In fact, while he isn’t exactly an unreliable narrator, he exhibits some of those characteristics that make you the reader wonder if you can trust him. The ending worked for me — somehow by then I had completely bought in to all aspects of the book and so just went with the final bits.
And though it doesn’t “count” for Newbery, the design and art for the Lin book is extraordinary. And more and more this inability for the Committee to recognize this is frustrating me. (They are only allowed to consider illustration and design when it hinders appreciation of a book, not when it is an asset*.) The book is not eligible for the Caldecott as it is not a picture book, nor something in the vein of HUGO CABRET and that is too bad. I have railed many times about the “design thorn” which keeps Newbery Committee members from being able to bring to the table this aspect of the books they are considering when these have so much to do with advancing the story. Growl.
* From the criteria: “The committee is to make its decision primarily on the text. Other components of a book, such as illustrations, overall design of the book, etc., may be considered when they make the book less effective.”