Round 4: The Big Kahuna

My prediction: “Far Far Away v Rose Under Fire v (return from grave) Eleanor & Park, Judge Jennifer Holm. And what will win here? I think Eleanor & Park.”

How close was I? Boxers & Saints vs P.S. Be Eleven vs Eleanor & Park judged by Jennifer Holm

Alas, I wasn’t right enough to really matter — at this point, the odds were against me. I only had a one in three chance of being right.

And the odds weren’t with me. Boxers & Saints triumphed!

BoB 2014 RND4 FINAL REV The Big Kahuna Match: Between Boxers & Saints, P.S. Be Eleven, and Eleanor & Park

I’m going to do something a bit different here: not talk about the actual decision. All three books are terrific; Holm writes beautifully about all three, and about her choice.

Rather, I’m going to talk about two things that I didn’t see in the decisions.

I was thrilled to see various critiques of books; acknowledging of flaws; and people both liking and disliking books. Some did it from emotion, some from in-depth knowledge of certain topics in the books.

What I would have liked to see:

Eleanor & Park is a wonderful book. It’s a thrilling look at first love. But, I would have loved to see a discussion of Park’s heritage. As Laura writes in Clear Eyes, Full Shelves, “as a Korean-American, I found this simplistic attitude that portrays being a minority solely as a negative solely based on racial appearance shallow, offensive and frustrating because this type of poor depiction has been going on for my whole life, repeatedly, in every cultural medium.

Angry Girl Comics also offers a critique on Park: “Park’s Asian-ness is only brought up in the context that it is different to what Eleanor is used to, that it is EXOTIC and MAGICAL and because of that she likes him. No, but it’s in the text, where Eleanor openly admits to fetishizing.

And Lost in Cynicism also discusses the issues of Park, his mother, assimilation, and accuracy within the text of Eleanor & Park. Part of that discussion also touches on the realities of the American military presence in Korea.

I am not saying that what is discussed in those posts are reasons not to like the book.
I am not saying that someone else’s reactions and analysis trump your own.
I am saying that there are some things here, to discuss, to consider, to ponder; and to allow for the possibility of a book being flawed and being something you love.
And while people may disagree, here’s one thing I do believe: me, as someone who is not Korean American, should listen when someone who is Korean American points out to me how they read a book about a Korean American.

And, given there were decisions that talked about when a word was first used, I would have liked to see this issue of Eleanor & Park discussed.

I’m not done.

I loved Boxers & Saints. I gave it three blog posts. Why?

While Boxers & Saints is sold as a set, and the judges (as other reviewers and various groups did) read it as a set, it is also sold as individual titles.

That can be purchased individually.

That, when they end up in a library, have catalog information that makes each book appear to be a standalone. (No, really.)

The reader handed the set will, well, read it as a set.

The kid reader, browsing library or bookstore shelves? Won’t see a set, won’t read it as a set. And I would have liked to see this discussed, at least briefly  — that yes, this was an interesting decision for the publisher, and as such it has some negative implications on the reader experience. Is this a reason for it not to have won SLJ BoB? Absolutely not! I just wish I’d seen someone acknowledge the problems presented by having two books — not one book, but two books — make up one story.

So, what are your thoughts on this year’s SLJ BoB?



One thought on “Round 4: The Big Kahuna

  1. I haven’t read Boxers & Saints, so I can’t speak to what you’ve discussed here with regard to that novel. However, I have read and loved Eleanor & Park, or at least I had been completely enamoured with it until I read several discussions about the way it portrays Park’s Asian-ness, objectifies his mother, and even mentions a few token black characters, who aren’t really friends with Eleanor in a meaningful way. Right now I’m at the point where I feel bad that I loved it so much and failed to see some of the stereotypes portrayed in the novel for what they are, but hopefully, with time, I’ll be able to see it in a way that lets me acknowledge it’s flaws, but still see it for all the reasons that I originally loved it (and more).


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