le plus loin le plus serré

le plus loin le plus serré
mourning art

in memoriam

"yet I tell you, from the sad knowledge of my older experience, that to every one of you a day will most likely come when sunshine, hope, presents and pleasure will be worth nothing to you in comparison with the unattainable gift of your mother's kiss." (Christina Rossetti, "Speaking Likenesses," 1873)

Monday, January 18, 2010


The awards and honors for children's/YA books were announced today, and I am very pleased to have read the Newbery winner this past weekend: Rebecca Stead's WHEN YOU REACH ME.

To be fair, and honest, I only acquired a copy of it because last week, the Newbery buzz surrounding it was deafening, and I wanted to read it before it became an unobtainable award-winner. BUT I am glad I read it - it was quite, quite a good book, and deserves the recognition it's getting. I've had, for quite awhile now, a half-formed syllabus of intertextual children's books for some future imaginary class, and WHEN YOU REACH ME is an excellent fit (with A WRINKLE IN TIME).

My only bafflement with the book is its temporal setting - why 1979? why not set the book now, or even in a less specific semi-contemporary year? I suppose a book has to be set sometime and 1979 is as good a year as any (better than most, actually, since it's the year of my birth) -- but it didn't feel as central to the plot as it is prominently noted in the book.

The Printz award winner, for best YA novel, is for Libba Bray's GOING BOVINE, a book which I am not entirely sure I've heard of, though once I saw its cover on amazon, it looked very familiar. The synopses online make it sound pretty intriguing and compelling - the tone is compared to Vonnegut and Douglas Adams, both of whom I like quite a lot. I'm a bit prejudiced against Bray because of A GREAT AND TERRIBLE BEAUTY, which I thought was a great and terrible book, but it looks like she has more in her brain than pseudo-Victorian quasi-erotic gothic meanderings.

The Caldecott goes to a Jerry Pinkney book, THE LION AND THE MOUSE, which again is familiar to me by its cover but not by its content. Pinkney's a brilliant artist, and I've no doubt he deserves the Caldecott. He could be a semi-permanent winner of the medal, and I'd feel okay with it.

There are a host of other awards for various qualities - nonfiction, translations, the Coretta Scott King, and so on, none of which I have much to say about. The full list is on ALSC's website.

I think I will need to add WHEN YOU REACH ME to me personal collection; I finished it on Saturday, but it's still very, very strongly present in my mind, in a sad but satisfied kind of way. The book isn't sentimental or gushy at all, but somehow managed to produce a very strong affective response from me. And the writing - the structure, the tone, the narrator's voice - are all wonderfully done.

Nicely done, Awards Committees!

Monday, January 11, 2010


I Dropped Everything And Read yesterday (after work, anyway), and zipped through Marcelo in the Real World.
And I think the hype is justified. It was a lovely book, and a smart one. Marcelo is a wonderfully engaging character, intriguing and peculiar and very charming. 

I don't know anything, really, about autism-spectrum "disorders" (which, as Marcelo makes clear, is not quite the right word to use), so I cannot speak to the verisimilitude of Marcelo's particular situation. But his difference comes through clearly through his narration, and through his use of third person in conversation (a quirk I found absolutely delightful. it's such a small, simple way to mark difference, and it casts every conversation in a slightly different way).

Francisco Stork evidently drew on his own experiences to create Marcelo, so I take his (Stork's) word for it that there is some kind of authenticity. Then again, perhaps creating an authentically autistic character doesn't matter; since autism seems to come in an infinite variety of forms, how could we ever know authenticity? And it doesn't matter - almost - what diagnosis Marcelo has, because that isn't the point of the book. The point of the book is everything else - his relationship with his father, his relationship with Jasmine, with God, with ponies, with Ixtel.

I also really like that Stork made Marcelo an attractive person, physically. Maybe my mind was set wrong as I read, but it seemed to me that, between the lines, we're made to understand that Marcelo is HOT. And I think, generally, people as a group don't tend to think of anyone with any kind of mental disorder/disability/difference as physically attractive, as sexy or hot or appealing. But why shouldn't they be?

I cannot say that Marcelo in the Real World was a life-changing book for me. But, like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, this one definitely shifted my perspective, again, on autism/autism spectrum. I think the justice angle of the book, the social justice and the sense of feminism that underlies a lot of the book, is hugely important, and for those reasons, I think I'll add Marcelo to my (so far very small) list of books about empathy and philanthropy. Altruism, maybe - I'm not sure what the word is. But I have a small collection of characters and books who are good, who DO good, for no other reason that because it is right to do good. The Brothers Cheeryble from Nicholas Nickleby were the first on my list.

I'm glad Marcelo has gotten so much good press lately; it deserves it (and so does its wonderful editrix, Cheryl Klein).

Sunday, January 10, 2010

...coming soon....

Marcelo in the Real World.

There's been rather a lot of chatter about this one on the listserv, and - to my happy surprise, because Cheryl Klein is a person I like, respect and admire (and owe an infinite debt of gratitude to) - the book turned up on a year-end Best of YA list on NPR.

At the bookstore, I insisted they order in a number of copies, and now I have one in my possession. Tonight I will begin reading, and I am very, very excited. I'm hoping I can pace myself and not just spend all of tonight reading it, since I have a number of other things I need/want to accomplish (not least, reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe again for teaching on Tuesday).

I love the anticipation of a new book, especially a new book I've heard great things about, and which I've had to wait for.