Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Book Thoughts: National Book Award nominees "change in schedule" thing turned into a month long blogging vacation. That was weird and unexpected. And I apologize for not jumping back in with a regular review post, but the National Book Award winners are being announced TONIGHT and I actually managed to read all of the nominees, so I felt some round up of my thoughts was necessary, as a follow up to the finalists post I did a month ago, even if I don't have time for full reviews.

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi is the one title that did get a full review since I read it back during the summer when 5 or 6 day a week blogging was more feasible for me. I still love this one as one of my top picks of the year and, I'll confess, I want it to win the big award. Smart science fiction (even if that isn't what Bacigalupi would call his work, according to a tweet I saw earlier this evening and managed to not save) is woefully underappreciated, and I would hope that winning a big award like this could change some of that perception.

Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine is probably the most controversial title on this list, as many bloggers seem to be undecided on whether Caitlin's Asperger's is authentic and what the author should or shouldn't have revealed about  her personal connection with autism-spectrum disorders. For me, I felt Caitlin was fine, but her teachers and counselors weren't using therapy techniques that seemed like they would actually work. Also, in that little author's note at the end, Erskine writes that she wanted to write about school violence/shootings and Asperger's because they are both cases where early intervention is necessary, which totally threw me for a loop, as the wording used made me feel like the two issues were being compared in ways they just shouldn't be. Unfortunately I've returned the book to the library and the text isn't available on Amazon, so I can't pull a direct quotation for you, but the comparison was really unsettling for me. Verdict: a complicated story that may have been trying to fit too much into one package to truly be successful.

Dark Water by Laura McNeal. The jacket copy on this one sells this as a "forbidden romance" which makes me uncomfortable because this isn't a love story. This is a story of obsession and lust. Pearl falls in "love" at first sight, but we never get into Amiel's head and he's one of the least talkative characters I've ever seen (thanks to an accident that damaged his voice). There's an inherent power imbalance, since Pearl is the niece of the man who employs Amiel (who is an undocumented worker), so to me it read a lot like Amiel spends most of the book indulging the whims of a younger girl who could probably get him fired, if not deported, if she didn't get her way. Not that Pearl comes across as that petty, but it seems like a logical thought process for someone in Amiel's position. Verdict: this may be a case of poor advertising, but while the writing is painfully beautiful I couldn't get over the fact that this was "supposed" to be a romance

Lockdown by Walter Dean Myers. What a frustrating and terrifyingly realistic book. Why frustrating? Because it's obvious that the juvenile prison where Reese is being kept is a corrupt institution. Also, the "code" among the inmates is only going to keep them walking in place, or headed for a real prison. A terrifying look at our "justice" system that lets known drug dealers out on plea bargains while kids who screwed up are locked away without the help and support they really need. Also fascinating is the inclusion of an elderly survivor of the Japanese occupation of Dutch colonies in Southeast Asia. He gives Reese a historical perspective, in the midst of his senile and racist tirades. Makes this much more than just a prison story. Verdict: I still want Ship Breaker to win, but I wouldn't be too disappointed if this took the prize instead

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams Garcia left me wanting more - namely the story of the girls' mother. I can't think of a single other book where I've been more fascinated with a parent than with the young protagonists. Garcia drops hints that Cecile has a less-than-idyllic past - including an oblique reference to wishing she'd gone to Mexico to "take care" of her pregnancies before her daughters were born. What really drove her to abandon her family? Why, after so many years, did she agree to take her daughters for the summer? On that note, why would the girls' father insist on sending them to someone who wasn't totally committed to their welfare? Ever since The Rock and the River I've been dying for more insight into the Black Panthers, and I think One Crazy Summer could have been a great story for me - if it were either from Cecile's perspective, or if Delphine had been just a little older than 11 so Cecile could have shared more of the facts of her story. Verdict: Left me wanting too much more.

Any last minute predictions before the awards announcement tonight? Want to take issue with any of my thoughts? Leave a comment! And for my fellow Twitter-users, the whole awards dinner and ceremony is going to be live-tweeted, so be sure to follow along! I know I will be watching.
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