In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Flood waters: the National Book Award

Dear Annie,

Yes, happy 500th post!  

This past weekend I read
Goblin Secrets
by William Alexander, winner last week of the National Book Award for Young People's Literature.  As you know, I often try to predict the American Library Association's Newbery and Caldecott medals.  But I'm always clueless about what kids' book the National Book Foundation is going to pick.   I don't know what to make of this choice.

Goblin Secrets takes place in the city of Zombay where some people have been turned into not-quite-people (a play on name of city?) because their hearts have been removed and replaced with machinery.  Other parts of some people are machinery too: eyes and limbs.  The hearts are used as fuel -- "coal" -- to power other machines.  This world has some wonderfully original imagery: there's so much dust in Zombay that dust fish live in the piles on street corners, for instance.  It's a richly imagined, although not always understandable place.

Rownie, who's maybe 8 or maybe 10 years old, is a street urchin kept (not really cared for) by Graba: she's Baba Yaga in an urban setting.  His older brother Rowan has disappeared, believed to have become an actor.  Acting is illegal in Zombay "Players are liars," declares an official edict.  "Citizens may not be players and must not pretend to be other than they are."  Rownie falls in with a troupe of goblin actors.  Goblins appear to be humans who have "changed" into something more magical but are ostracized by the rest of society.  They wear masks in their performances, which may (or may not) have personalities of their own.

The tension in the tale comes from both the fascination with the illegal art of acting, and predictions of an impending flood which is anticipated to wipe out the poorer half of Zombay.  There are also the witch Graba's attempts to recapture Rownie.  Plot elements abound in this book.  There are wonderful moments.  But for me, the moments didn't add up.   The climax of the book centers on whether a flood can be stopped and a city saved.  I admit I wondered when the judges made their choice, and in what city: was it pre- or post-Sandy?

The writing is up there in the higher levels of kidlit, but the story doesn't knit together.  Goblin Secrets does not feature an early adolescent boy who must save the world through individual physical combat, for which I am grateful.  The boy only needs to save one city.  And it doesn't end on set-up for a sequel, although one is possible.

It feels like a good debut novel, with issues one feels the author is good enough to work through in the future.  Awards -- so odd.

Here we are facing Thanksgiving week, and about to see each other -- I can't wait!  So, dear readers, we're taking the rest of the week off to enjoy the holiday.  We'll be back next week.



No comments:

Post a Comment