Saturday, February 19, 2011
The Unwritten vs. When You Reach Me
I've been struggling all day with what I would be putting into this post, because it is really a difficult choice to decide on which of these fantastic books should advance to Round 3 of the Smackdown. I've been waffling back and forth, changing my mind several times on which book I will choose. Just when I think I've got it, the merits of the other come back into play.
Even as I begin to write this blog, I'm not sure which book will be my decided winner.
When You Reach Me (by Rebecca Stead)
There are a lot of things to really like about this Newberry Medal-winning novel. It is a simply written, well-told and layered story set
in New York, where a young Miranda begins receiving mysterious notes regarding a possible upcoming tragedy in her life. Plot points include her mother practicing to be a contestant on The $20,000 Pyramid, her struggles with a fading friendship, new friends, perceived enemies and the (perhaps underplayed) story of Miranda accepting her mother's boyfriend fully into her life.
Although some elements of this story were fairly predictable, I was engrossed from the beginning, wanting to know if the predictability I felt from the midway point would indeed come to fruition. Although I am not a fan of science fiction or fantasy, I am a sucker for time travel, which plays an important role in this novel. I enjoy the complexity of it and the paradox of how it can or couldn't work. Ever since 1985, Ithought it would be cool to have a Flux Capacitor in my car. The author uses many references to one of my favorite childhood novels, A Wrinkle in Time, to help explain and parallel the time travel portions of her novel.
In the end, I suppose this novel could be called a coming-of-age novel, as Miranda matures and makes important realizations in her life moving forward. The ending leaves nothing to the imagination, explaining everything, which is typically something I would assume a teenaged reader might prefer.
A few things I didn't care for with this novel: the cover and inside-the-flap blurb are bad. I don't think either one does justice to the novel or the story inside it's pages. I know there is some kind of saying about judging a book by it's cover, but it makes it look too much like a children's book. Also, the novel is almost needlessly set in 1979. Nothing is mentioned that would link the reader to the era, except for the game show her mother will be on. I thought this could be more detailed, so the reader could learn a little more about life in that era.
Overall, this book was excellent. An engrossing read that would appeal to the junior high and high school age. I didn't expect this at first based on the main character being in Grade 6, but the story works on enough levels to keep readers of a broad range content.
The Unwritten (by Mike Carey and Peter Gross)- Graphic Novel
I have always been resistant to the graphic novel when placed next to a novel. I guess there is still a part of me that believes that comics are for kids, or that they aren't able to create stories as complex as a novel could. I guess I was wrong about that.
I share some similarities as the previous Smackdown reader who advanced this book to the second round. I don't care for fantasy as a genre. I just have trouble buying into it. And I don't care for the Harry Potter series. I haven't read a single word of it, and I struggled through the first few films before completely losing interest in the series. I just don't get its appeal. Despite these prejudgments, I did my best to buy into the story being told in The Unwritten. And I did.
The main storyline of The Unwritten is the blurring of the lines between reality and fiction, something that affects the main character as well as draws comparisons to our celebrity and gossip-obsessed society. Tommy Taylor is the fictional character created by an author in a 13-part series (very similar to the Potter series), and Tom Taylor is not only the son of the author, but the inspiration for the character and the embodiment of fiction in reality. Until the fiction begins invading his reality. Characters from the stories begin to appear in his everyday life, he becomes at times a pariah of the press and at times a possible messiah for the fickle public.
This graphic novel is excellent. It is clever, tells an interesting story, makes teachable commentaries on our world, and creates a clever list of classic literary references throughout the story. This was the one skill that was taught to Tom Taylor by his novelist father: where important novels were written.
I truly wish this would have been explored further, because they indicate that there is some kind of multi-dimensional map where the worlds of fiction and reality collide. As a reader, I'm interested, I'm paying attention. But this was not detailed too much during the story, because it is being set up as a series. Which leaves the ending of this story as nothing more than average. As a first installment, The Unwritten is excellent, but left me wanting too much more at the end. There was no satisfaction for me in completing the story. And despite loving this graphic novel, I wonder if I will take the time to continue on with the series. I can foresee some of its teen audience feeling the same way.
Some negatives about this book: The Unwritten does not belong on the bookshelves of a junior high school. The language is too adult, and the authors did not shy away from freely using F-bombs in a gratuitous manner. It is debatable if this should be in high schools for that reason alone. I think this is a book better suited to being recommended to specific students, instead of generalizing a grade that it is suitable for. The minimized audience for this story is one of its few flaws. The second major flaw of this book is that it is only Part 1 of a series. I would have preferred to take the time to read the whole thing as one installment, to be better able to judge the story as a whole.
Moving on to Round 3...
A tough decision. Two excellent books that I really enjoyed. They are from different genres, which makes the direct comparison even more difficult. Ugh.
My winner for this round is When You Reach Me. It has a broader appeal and could be recommended to all students. It is a great novel that I think readers of a variety of ages would enjoy. It also see this as a book that could possibly be taught in the classroom.
I still highly recommend The Unwritten, but feel that its more specific audience, graphic images, language and the fact that it is a series will end its Smackdown run.