2014 Honor – Doll Bones

VERDICT: Treasure

Laurinda’s Rating: 4.5/5

Doll Bones by Holly Black, a 2014 Newbery Honor winner, is a story about stories, about growing up, and about one creepy doll. Alice, Poppy, and Zach have been playing together for a long time. Using a variety of action figures and dolls, they create their own stories. On the brink of adolescence, Zach’s dad feels that dolls aren’t manly, and throws out all of Zach’s figures. This precipitates changes in the friends’ relationship. It also causes Poppy to pull The Queen, an antique bone china doll, out of the case in which it is typically displayed.

And then, The Queen appears in Poppy’s dreams, telling her that the doll is made of a young woman’s bones, bones that must be laid to rest. Poppy talks Alice and Zach into undertaking a real life quest. Without parental permission, they buy bus tickets to the city in which the doll was made, and set off on a quest of their own. Like any good heroes, they face various obstacles along the way. They don’t always meet them with grace, but they do overcome them eventually. They succeed in their quest, and in hashing out a way forward in lives that dawning adolescence was making unfamiliar.

I listened to this as an audio book and really enjoyed it. There aren’t any jump scares, just some of the usual creepiness of dolls – eyes open when they shouldn’t be, clearly cremains inside the doll body, adults around them thinking they were a party of 4 when only 3 actual children existed, etc. The author balances adventure with the hard work of preteens negotiating relationships between each other in a way that children don’t do as self-consciously. She also integrates the store of Eleanor (the girl whose bones were used in the making of the doll), revealing that story piece by piece, with information integrated as a method for moving the plot along.

As a librarian,  I was also amused, and appreciative, of the author making the librarian VERY non-stereotypical. She also showed some of the realities of dying towns – kids were upset that the library was closed on the weekend, librarian found them because she was coming in to do selection and ordering when the library was closed, etc.

Late elementary school and middle school is the target audience, with some complexities to the relationship stuff that might skew it more towards the middle school side, just because kids a bit older have started to deal with those issues in their own lives.

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Non-Newbery: A Monster Calls

VERDICT: Treasure

Laurinda’s Rating: 5/5

This is an absolutely heart breaking, beautiful book. It was written by Patrick Ness from ideas left by Siobhan Dowd, when she died of cancer.

A “monster” – The Green Man, Lugh, it has gone by many names over time – appears one night in Conor’s backyard. His mother is sick, and he can’t accept that. The monster tells the boy stories, which are woven into the narrative, alternating with the boy’s life. Bullying, and the monster’s stories, are the only times when Conor feels “seen” by those around him. The adults around him, in their haste to be sympathetic, let Conor get away with anything, making him feel invisible. This, in turn, leads to actions to force them to deal with him.

Conor is also plagued by a nightmare in which his mother is falling over a cliff, and he can’t hold on. The monster helps him figure out why the nightmare happens and forces it to its conclusion – Conor letting go of his mom. The monster also sits with Conor while his mother dies in real life.

There were ugly tears, and a lot of them, while I was reading the book. The narration style is fairly simple, but the message profound. The monster’s tales aren’t simple, moralizing passages, but present fairly complex truths. Their integration with Conor’s life is well handled and heightens both. I highly recommend this for everyone. I’d say middle school and up will get the most out of it. It’d be fine for younger readers that don’t get scared very easily – no gore or objectionable language, some bullying, and, of course, death.

2017: The Girl Who Drank the Moon

VERDICT: Meh. Treasure….ish?

Laurinda’s Rating: 3.5/5

I read this book about six months ago. I was so meh about it that the review has sat half finished since then. The Good: The plot is original and plays with some of the common tropes of fairytales, like “wicked” witches and monsters in the woods. It features strong, multi-faceted female characters, who do their own rescuing. There are Magic and Monsters and Good vs. Evil. The Bad: The style is awkward. It speaks pseudo fairytalese, but doesn’t quite commit. It also shifts between characters a bit to frequently. I found myself skimming the last hundred or so pages, hoping desperately that the book would FINALLY end.

Overall, give this is a try if you like fantasy or fairytales. Just because I didn’t love it, doesn’t mean you won’t!

 

2002 Honor: Everything on a Waffle

VERDICT: Treasure

Sally’s Rating: 3/5

Polly Horvath’s Everything on a Waffle follows the quirky adventures of a small town girl who moves in with her uncle when her parents are lost at sea. Everyone in the Canadian town of Coal Harbor thinks they are dead, but Primrose unwavering believes that they are alive and will return to her one day. As Primrose gets to better know the locals, she gains a greater appreciation for the town she lives in and begins to understand her place in the world.

This was a very sweet book. Primrose’s genuine interest in the peculiar townfolk leads to some thoughtful conversations on hope, faith and family. Despite some heavy subjects involving child custody battles, a family friend starting to lose her memory, and even accidents involving Primrose cutting off her toe, the story is very optimistic and heartwarming.

Since the book tended to focus on isolated events in each chapter, it was somewhat hard to feel connected to the story and the characters. Most of the townspeople were characters with an odd quirk that defined their entire personality, which meant there wasn’t a whole lot of substance to sink your teeth into.

Every chapter includes a recipe that Primrose mentions throughout the book, which adds some fun activities for younger readers and makes this an ideal read for the whole family. Overall, it was an enjoyable story, but not particularly memorable.

2017: The Girl Who Drank the Moon

VERDICT: Treasure

Sally’s Rating: 3.5/5

The 2017 Newbery Medal winner, The Girl Who Drank the Moon, tells a story with a magical cast of characters, including an ancient witch, a friendly swamp monster, a tiny dragon, and a girl who has consumed the power of moonlight.

The premise is great. The book cleverly turns some fairy tale tropes on their head – the wicked witch is actually a loving grandmother figure, the special child is the one causing havoc with her immense powers, and the typical hero becomes a bitter man out to get misguided justice.

The first hundred pages were really strong, focusing on the witch, Xan, and her dilemma of dealing with her mistake of putting the powerful magic of moonlight into Luna, a child she saved from being sacrificed. Her interactions with Glerk and Fyrian were great to read about, but the plot loses steam halfway through once Luna loses her memories of magic. By this point, the book became a chore to get through as the scope of the narrative expands to some plot points that didn’t really interest me. The ending, however, satisfyingly ties up all the emotional character beats.

The writing style is where I took issue with this book. With the constant point of view hopping, the narrative seemed to frantically shift whenever I just started to get into the plot of a certain character, resulting in many of the characters lacking depth. The narration makes the reader feel like an observer rather than a participant in the action – which I guess imitates the storytelling style of fairy tales.

I wanted to like this book more than I did. I liked that the author was experimenting with different story components that you don’t often see in children’s books, but it failed to come together in an engaging way.

Recommended for lovers of fairy tales and magical beings.

1968 Honor: Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth

VERDICT: Treasure

Sally’s Rating: 3/5

E. L. Konigsburg’s Newbery Honor winning book follows the ups and downs of a new friendship between two lonely girls who have overly vivid imaginations.

When Elizabeth moves to town, she has no friends until she meets a classmate who claims to be a witch. Elizabeth is taken on as an apprentice where she must go through a series of tasks to prove herself – eating raw eggs for a week, creating an ointment that will let them fly, and casting small spells (just using their imaginations). As their friendship grows, one final task threatens to tear the girls apart when Elizabeth is ordered to throw their pet toad into a boiling potion.

In my opinion, the two main characters set this book apart from other contemporary fiction books. Elizabeth is a lonely girl who just wants a friend and blindly follows Jennifer’s instructions no matter how strange they sound. Jennifer, on the other hand, is a character who doesn’t care what other people think about the way she talks, the way she acts, or the way she dresses. Both characters complement the other, making it easy to understand why their friendship develops since both of them are outsiders. You can feel their desperation for a friend in every conversation they have, even if the girls don’t have much in common at first.

This book was not exactly what I was expecting; however, the nostalgia factor made this book more enjoyable than it should of been. If you ever enjoyed playing make believe as a kid, this book will probably bring back some of those memories. Its downside was the slow pace, outdated feel of ’60s day-to-day life, and the fact that nothing exciting happened in the plot – it was basically just Elizabeth doing a lot of random things to become a witch.

Overall, I found this to be a good excuse for a walk down memory lane. Konigsburg also wrote the Newbery winner for this year as well – From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler – which I thought was far superior to this one.

1922 Honor: The Golden Fleece and the Heroes Who Lived Before Achilles

VERDICT: Meh

Sally’s Rating: 2.5/5

Padraic Colum’s The Golden Fleece and the Heroes Who Lived Before Achilles, the runner up to the 1922 Newbery Medal, tells the epic tale of Jason and the Argonauts as they venture out on a quest to find and retrieve the mythic Golden Fleece.

The book is divided into three distinct, varying-in-quality sections. The first part covers the introduction of the heroes and the gods, the second part narrates the finding of the Golden Fleece, and the last segment meanders along with random tales of what happened to the heroes after their voyage. The main quest was entertaining enough to read with a prominent cast of legendary characters made up of Jason, Heracles, Atalanta, and Orpheus, but the final section questionably breaks away from the main quest to focus on random stories featuring the secondary characters who are not as interesting to read about when they are off on their own.

The writing style is very similar to what I’d call textbook-style mythology: it’s a straight up narrative with little character introspection. The language might be a little archaic for modern readers, but its very simplistic plot makes it accessible to those who may struggle with the style. It reads like a young person’s version of the mythology textbook that would be read in college, and its long page count makes it a chore to get through.

I’d only recommend this Newbery Honor for those who love epic quests and bigger-than-life characters. Lovers of Greek mythology will find some merit in this book as the tale is one for all ages.