When Janssen mentioned that she was going to read the the five 2010 National Book Award finalists in the category of Young People's Literature I decided to jump on board and do the same--there is nothing like being ahead of the popularity curve (which is just a tad slow around here) and being able to say "oh, yes, I read that last year"--very pompous of me! I thought that I would read the books and then just before the announcement was made do a post of my reviews and predictions. It wasn't until this past weekend, though, that I realized that putting all of my reviews on GoodReads (and then Facebook via GoodReads) kind of defeats that idea as most of you probably have access to me through one--if not both--of these social mediums. On realizing my goof, I did withhold one review and of course I haven't made any predictions whatsoever. So, then, without any further ado, here are my reviews and predictions:
Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi (6 out of 10 stars)
Summary: In a futuristic world, teenaged Nailer scavenges copper wiring from grounded oil tankers for a living, but when he finds a beached clipper ship with a girl in the wreckage, he has to decide if he should strip the ship for its wealth or rescue the girl.
A little more swearing than I care for in a teen novel and I didn't care at all for the scene in which teen alcohol use is portrayed as an acceptable means of celebration and escape. In general, though, this is an excellent read that puts climate change at the root of this dystopia. I enjoyed the characters and felt like there was some good development and good dialogue (particularly in the final 2 chapters), though there was a bit of repetitiveness in the use of a few phrases and ideas (blossoms of pain; fear that whoever is dying might not (for different reasons) actually be able to die) that weakened the overall writing. I am, though, looking forward to reading the next installment.
Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine (7 out of 10 stars)
Summary: Ten-year-old Caitlin, who has Asperger's Syndrome, struggles to understand emotions, show empathy, and make friends at school, while at home she seeks closure by working on a project with her father.
I liked it. I found it a little unexpected and rather interesting, unique, charming, and even informative. That said, it felt a little flat. And while I loved the idea that getting into someone else's head and understanding them can change the world, maybe even lessen the violence we too often witness, I felt the author's note was a little heavy handed and didn't quite connect with the story--It seemed really to be more a story of closure than a story of averting future violence through knowledge and understanding. If I were handing it to a junior or teen reader I think I would also hand them something on Asperger's syndrome as that is a major issue but is not really directly addressed.
Dark Water by Laura McNeal (5 out of 10 stars)
Summary: Living in a cottage on her uncle's Southern California avocado ranch since her parents' messy divorce, fifteen-year-old Pearl DeWitt meets and falls in love with an illegal migrant worker, and is trapped with him when wild fires approach his makeshift forest home.
There is a sad, depressed quality to the writing that hints of tragedy and had me feeling rather unsure of this book from the beginning. And then there were pieces of writing (such as: "He nodded and watched me with his sepia eyes") that just felt ridiculous. Around page 120 the book started to grow on me with some better writing (such as the paragraph on p. 134 that described a desire to be nine again), but still there was this love story going on between 2 characters who barely speak to each other, barely know each other, and have nothing in common--I couldn't decide if this was unrealistic or typical teenage love/drama. Then the book just sort of dragged on and on always hinting of the tragedy but never getting there (actually it did get there eventual, but it took its own sweet time). By the end the tragedy and the romance all just felt so frustrating, stupid, and pointless that I was really rather glad to close the cover on this book. Also, I think I wanted a bit more social ethics--we should care about illegal migrant workers because they are human too type of a message--something that would really make a teen reader think/reconsider ideas.
Lockdown by Walter Dean Myers (8 out of 10 stars)
Summary: Teenage Reese, serving time at a juvenile detention facility, gets a lesson in making it through hard times from an unlikely friend with a harrowing past.
There is a realness in the dialogue and reasoning of this book that is intense and feels true--and there wasn't very much swearing which was so refreshing when so many authors think they must load these types of books in order to stay true to reality--a notion proven untrue by this excellent read. The result was a great read that has the potential of changing perspectives of people on the outside looking in and on the inside looking out. This is the book that I wanted Dark Water to be. With the inner thinking that the main character goes through and the examinations of the situations of inner city youths, Myers has created a character that you will sympathize with and root for. And yet, he does all of that without removing the concept of personal responsibility--the character's and ours.
One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia (7 out of 10 stars)
Summary: In the summer of 1968, after traveling from Brooklyn to Oakland, California, to spend a month with the mother they barely know, eleven-year-old Delphine and her two younger sisters arrive to a cold wwelcome as they discover that their mother, a dedicated poet and printer, is resentful of the intrusion of their visit and wants them to attend a nearby Black Panther summer camp.
An excellent introduction, for junior readers, to the 1960s Civil Rights movements, the Black Panthers, etc. Where I wanted more of a social impact drive from books like Dark Water (teen fiction), I felt this was very age appropriate. I did occasionally think that the 3 girls acted above their own ages (particularly Fern who grasps complex scenes and writes poetry about it). And I felt the end wrapped up just a little too neatly (girls understanding mother, mother understanding girls, everyone (nearly) flying off into the sunset). I think I wanted a stronger feeling that not everything was magically fixed--that there was still a lot of work to do and that all involved were committed to doing that work. But maybe this is a point that the girls were truly acting their ages--by needing a mother more than needing to hang on to the bad and being able to forgive in a way only children seem to readily be able to forgive.
So now on to the predictions:
Well, I really just didn't care for Dark Water so if that one wins I will have serious questions about the win. After that, though, I wouldn't be too upset should any of the other books wins. That said, I just don't really see Ship Breaker winning (and really it shouldn't). So, in my mind at least, it is down to Mockingbird, One Crazy Summer, and Lockdown which to me is a contest between 3 potentially powerful books. And while I really would be happy with any one of these books winning, I suppose that the purpose of making a prediction is the actual making of a prediction. So, so, so...really these books are so different, how do I choose? Okay, Lockdown is my pick--but I think it really might be One Crazy Summer (way to hege my bets).
The announcement comes tomorrow!