Friday, January 27, 2012

Newbery Lament

So, if there are any readers out there, checking in, you'll have noticed that I struck out blindly with my Newbery predictions. Ah well. The one year I feel as if I've read a wider range than usual, and I'm smacked back to earth and proven totally out of my league! As I said, ah well. At least I'd heard of DEAD END IN NORVELT. I actually own a copy of it. It just hasn't risen to the top of my pile yet.

The two gems that I would have personally loved to see some admiration for were PIE by Sarah Weeks and ICEFALL by Matthew Kirby. ICEFALL did manage to receive a Cybill nomination this year, as well as an Edgar Award nomination, so at least it has that going for it.

Why did I like these two books so much? I don't know. PIE isn't necessarily the type of book I'd normally enjoy. Over at Heavy Medal one commenter summarized it as "light entertainment fluff". I suppose it fits that description, but it doesn't really pretend to be anything else either. It's "light entertainment fluff" done extremely well, and Weeks doesn't hide it.

I liked the mystery. I like the friendship between Alice and Charlie. I like getting to know Aunt Polly through seamless flashback scenes. I like the humor. I like that it doesn't take itself too seriously, as evidenced by the numerous jabs at the Newbery Medal (some characters in the book make it a point to go after a "Blueberry Award", which coincidentally enough has criteria eerily similar to that of the prestigious children's literature award). I like that it is kid friendly and gender neutral. My 5th grade class loved it as a read aloud.

Sure there were things that didn't make sense, like why would anyone care about a Mayoral election in a town as small as Ipswitch? And why would anyone hate their sister as much as Alice's mother hated Polly? And how could a woman as talented as Polly afford to live by giving away her labor for free? And why in the world would a woman leave a much sought after piecrust recipe to . . . well, that I better not get into.

Unlike the light, whipped mystery in PIE, Matthew Kirby's ICEFALL weaves a tale that Megan Whalen Turner herself would be proud of. The plot is fairly simple: To keep his family safe during a time of war, a Viking king sends them to hide in a glacier of sorts, and wait out the winter to return until all is safe. While in hiding however, his family and their protectors, begin to fear that someone amongst them is up to no good.

This is really a coming of age tale, set against the back drop of the Vikings' time. Solveig is the book's star, the king's ignored daughter, who has to not only get to the bottom of the treachery unfolding before her, but also learn how to question the blinding trust she's placed for so many years in those she's loved.

It's a slow start, glacier paced at best, but it adds to the claustrophobic atmosphere Kirby is after. By the time things begin to fall apart, we actually care because we feel as if we too, are trapped with this group of characters. Everyone seems to be a suspect, yet no one seems to be a suspect. It's a brilliant series of events that end in a thrilling, emotional climax. And . . . Kirby has succeeded in creating something more accessible than Megan Whalen Turner's heavier work, yet keep it in the same vein as her tales without sacrificing anything. I can't say enough about the book. Give it a read.

(Somewhat obvious by now) Final Grades:



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