Round 3, Match 1

My prediction: “Boxers & Saints v Far Far Away, Judge Patrick Ness. I’m putting my money on Far Far Away.

What it was: Boxers and Saints vs Far Far Away! YAY.

What advanced: Boxers and Saints. BOO.

BoB 2014 RND3 1 Round 3, Match 1: Boxers and Saints vs Far Far Away

I am not booing Ness’s decision; no, I’m booing myself and luck in that I didn’t guess the right title.

Ah, well.

Even if I were giving a boo to Ness, based on his judgment, I think he’d be able to take it — after all, he can dish it out.

Boy, can he dish it out.

But I actually got sidetracked by something that really didn’t have to do with the decision. Rather, it was Ness’s assertion that the young adult books of his adolescence weren’t good: “I, like so many others my age, tended to skip teenage fiction altogether and go straight to Stephen King for one simple reason:  Judy Blume aside (and God bless her forever and forever), most of the rest of it lied.

And it goes on, and all I can think, is — huh.

I know, I know, I know — it’s the golden age of YA. But just because there is a lot of terrific YA books now, doesn’t mean that there weren’t terrific books then.

Just because the books weren’t in your library or bookstore, didn’t mean they weren’t in mine, or others.

Just because you didn’t know about them, didn’t mean they weren’t there.

Just because you didn’t want to read them, didn’t mean they weren’t read and loved by others, and that, yes, they meant something to others.

Norma Klein, Julian Thompson, Janine Boissard, to name just a few. Check out Lizzie Skurnick’s imprint at Ig Publishing for more.

I get it, I get it: not everyone found these books, or liked these books. But…they were there. And they pushed boundaries: having sex without being in love, parents wanting unruly children dead. Just to name a few.

Sorry to go so far off topic, and to react to a bit of a minor part of the review, but this is one of my buttons!

Topic: one other thing. Boxers & Saints, which is two volumes, is talked about as one book. Not two. Which I’ll be writing more about later!


Round 2, Match 4

My prediction: “Rose Under Fire v True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp, Judge Katherine Marsh. Another choice between two books I read; and so I’m picking Rose.”

The actual matchThe Thing About Luck vs The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp judged by Katherine Marsh.

RND2 LUCK SWAMP Round 2, Match 4: The Thing About Luck vs The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp

And for the third time, half-right. So all I needed was for True Blue to move up. Alas, that was not to be. It’s The Thing About Luck that advances.

Why? It’s all about the “punch in the gut,” and delivers that.

One thing I liked: Marsh, like me (and others!) compares Luck to Laura Ingalls Wilder. She says because of “their depiction of farm work and its trials and rhythms,” but I see it more as the details and the how-to aspect. Just as Wilder has me convinced I can make a cabin complete with door, and smoke a pig, just from reading her books, so, too, does Luck make me think I can cook for a mess of people and drive a combine.

Oh, and how do you define “punch in the gut”? The urgency with which one turns the pages.

Or, in my case — how hard you have to resist skipping ahead to read the last chapter.




Review: Harriet the Spy

And now, after last week’s chapter by chapter readalong, and look at essays, my review of Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh.

The Plot: Harriet, eleven, writes down all she observes about her family, friends, and neighbors. When her private, and honest, notebook falls into the hands of her classmates, she has to face the unpleasant consequences.

The Good: Oh, Harriet!

I read Harriet as a child, discovering her as a child. My memories of that — other than the cover image of a red sweatshirt trumping the blue one described in the book — are focused on the “spying” element of Harriet’s life. The outfit, the route, her sneaking in and around homes, peaking in windows, and, of course, the honest, unvarnished, unfiltered observations she wrote down.

There were things that didn’t register me, as a 1970s child of the suburbs, reading about a 1960s child in New York City. Because I lived in a house, I didn’t realize the significance of Harriet living in a house. I wasn’t quite sure who or what Ole Golly’s role was, but I accepted her being there and that her loss was significant. Harriet’s spy clothes didn’t seem out of the ordinary, and my focus was less on her dressing like a boy and more on that her clothes were old. Egg cremes, I assumed, were made with raw egg and thought that was gross.

As I reread, now, as an adult, what struck me first and foremost was Harriet herself. Her independence and her strong sense of self. I also noted the parts were Harriet, despite calling herself a spy who wants to know everything, didn’t realize what was going on around her. She had no clue that Ole Golly was getting engaged; she didn’t realize when her schoolmates were talking about her or intending for messages to be intercepted. This underscored, for me, just how much a child Harriet was; how typical, how ordinary. She is not a superhero or above average: she is just like the child who reads about her.

Part of Harriet being like her reader, wherever that reader lives, or whatever the family background, are Harriet’s emotions. With her notebook, with the reader, she is honest about what she thinks and feels; honest about what she thinks she sees. There is an attraction to that honesty, whether the reader is that honest or wishes they were. And then she is exposed: the world sees what she really thinks. Or, at least, what she was thinking at that moment in time. Her privacy is violated.

And then this is when Harriet becomes her most real. Because, before, you couldn’t really accuse her of being “mean” because it was just her and her notebook. Now, though, that changes. After her classmates get angry and team up against her, Harriet’s words and actions shift. I confess, I didn’t reread and annotate whether or not her observations of others changed, but her actions certainly did, beginning with tripping one classmate and then writing a list of things she knows will hurt them. And actually doing those things.

One thing I like about this — that Harriet having the outlet of writing out her feelings meant she didn’t express them, so actually helped her. I loved how the adults in her world didn’t truly interfere in her life or the lives of their children: the level to which they allowed them to work things out, to the extent they are even aware of what is happening. No helicopter parents here. The parents stepped in when they needed to: the letter from Ole Golly, helping Harriet to channel her need to write to a more productive outlet. 

The easy answer for Harriet, for a book, is to have Harriet realize that she is being mean — mean because she’s been hurt. Mean because she doesn’t realize the cycle she contributed to, and that by doing these things she is just making it worse. To have her realize that she’s being mean when she starts tripping people, and that even if she didn’t intend to be mean when she writing in her notebook that people saw it as mean. To have Harriet learn empathy. To have her feel bad and resolve to be a better person.

But Harriet the Spy isn’t easy. Instead, it gives a more complex answer. It allows Harriet to feel and believe exactly how she feels and believes, without making her feel guilty about it. Without making the reader feel guilty. There is no shaming.

Instead, there is Ole Golly’s words of wisdom: Apologize. A lie that makes someone feel better isn’t bad. Writing is to put love into the world, not to hurt others. This gives Harriet both a structure to operate under, but also introduces the child to the world of grownups, a world that isn’t black and white, but is full of shades of gray. It is about the delicate balance between being true to oneself, but not hurting others. It’s a balance that some people never learn, never caring that their “honesty” hurts others; thinking their own feelings always trump others.

In the essays in the Fiftieth Anniversary edition, many focused on Harriet as writer. And that is there. And, of course, writers are going to concentrate on that part of Harriet the Spy. But also there is this fundamental lesson about growing up: sometimes, you have to lie. Just don’t lie to yourself. And you have to make a decision on how to use your words: to hurt? Or to put love into the world? Those words can be the newspaper or notebook that Harriet writes, but it is also all human interaction.