I originally intended my post about the Newbery Medal to focus on this year's winner. But I started ranting and decided to do a separate post for those people who gave up before reaching the end of that last one. The soap box is hard to climb down from sometimes.
I am deviating a bit with this blog from my usual focus on books for boys. As ambivalent as I tend to be about the Newbery, I really liked this year's winner and feel compelled to write about it to get the word out, assuming anyone really reads this blog. When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead is the 2010 Newbery Medal Winner. The main character is a girl, and the themes are mostly girl-centric, but I think there is enough science-fiction, mystery and just plain good story telling in this book that boys would like it, too.
Miranda is the heroine. She is at that awkward age of 12, not quite a teenager, but not a kid anymore. She has had one real friend her whole life, Sal (a boy), who is suddenly not her friend anymore. At the same time weird things begin to happen. A semi-crazy, sometimes nude man has taken up residence on her street corner and she begins to receive mysterious notes in disturbing places. The notes point toward a pivotal event in her life that has yet to happen, but of which the writer seems to know the outcome. As she tries to decipher their meaning, Miranda is also on a journey of discovery as she forges new friendships and finds herself.
This book has been called The Time Traveler's Wife for kids because of it's circular plot and themes (minus the nudity and the sex). There are also many parallels to A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle, which is Miranda's favorite book and is referenced a lot in the story. I started When You Reach Me last night after dinner and read it in one sitting. (Well, actually two sittings -- I took a break to put Isaac to bed and run about three chapters in.) It is saying a lot about the hook when a parent of a four-year-old can read a book that is longer than 32 pages in one night. It is one of the best books I read this year, for kids or adults, and in my opinion the most well-rounded, universally appealing Newbery Medal winner in a long time.
But will boys like it? If they can be convinced to overlook the fact that on the surface it is a "girl" book, then I think the science-fiction and mystery elements to the plot will pull them in. There is a little bit of a girl-boy relationship theme, but less than there was in the 6th Harry Potter book and a lot of boys, and grown men, managed to get through that. The cover is fairly gender-neutral, so when the boys judge it by its cover, literally, they shouldn't see anything off-putting.
Librarians and parents will have to work to "sell" this book to boys, but I think it can be done and is worth doing. I am making Matt read it this weekend, so maybe he will weigh in with his perspective when he is finished. In the mean time, happy reading.