Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Snatching Defeat Out of the Jaws of Victory

At least, almost.

I am the Messenger by Markus Zusak is a marvelous book. I enjoyed it a great deal. It has a wonderful main character and deals with post high school people who aren't going on to college, a group that often doesn't get a lot of attention. The quality of the writing, the imagery, is fantastic.

If only it had a different ending.

The ending is gimmicky with way too obvious a message. I was left wondering if Zusak couldn't come up with an ending and wrapped the story up with what we see here.

As I was reading I am the Messenger, I kept wondering what made it a YA book. Okay, Ed, the main character, is nineteen. But he could just as easily have been twenty-nine or thirty-nine or even forty-nine. There was nothing about Ed's situation that was specifically young adult. Plus there was plenty of adult language and sexual situations that were handled in an adult sort of way.

An instructive ending, though, definitely marks a book as being for the young. Adult readers don't expect to get a blatant lesson with their literature, and I can't think of any cases offhand in which they do. With a better ending, I am the Messenger could have been a crossover book like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.

Which is not to say no one should read this book. It's a great read with one big flaw.

What's With These Quill Awards?

The number of book awards just seems to grow and grow and grow. This isn't a bad thing, by any means, since awards should bring good books to the attention of the public. Though, of course, there's no guarantee that that happens.

At any rate, we've got a brand new one called The Quill Award, which allows the reading public to vote for favorite books. I like this democratic attitude, but how were the books the public gets to choose from nominated? "Quills staff identified thousands of English-language titles, released in the U.S between August 1, 2004 and July 31, 2005; that had received starred reviews or had appeared on national bestseller lists during the year." Then a Nominating Board chose its favorites and those became the nominees. So it's possible that some of these books are popular (appeared on national bestseller lists) rather than good (receiving starred reviews). Though God knows it's a mystery how some books receive their stars.

So here are the nominees for categories we're interested in:

Children's Chapter Book/Middle Grade
DRAGON RIDER by Cornelia Funke, translated by Anthea Bell (Chicken House/Scholastic Books)
HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE by J.K. Rowling, illustrated by Mary GrandPré (Scholastic/Levine)
IDA B...AND HER PLANS TO MAXIMIZE FUN by Katherine Hannigan (Greenwillow Books)
PETER AND THE STARCATCHERS by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson (Disney Press)
A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS BOOK ELEVENTH: THE GRIM GROTTO by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist (HarperCollins Children's Books)

Young Adult/Teen
47 by Walter Mosley (Little Brown and Co.)
ABARAT: DAYS OF MAGIC NIGHTS OF WAR by Clive Barker (Joanna Cotler Books)
HOW I LIVE NOW by Meg Rosoff (Wendy Lamb Books)
WORMWOOD by G.P. Taylor (Putnam Juvenile)

I'm not a fan of Cornelia Funke, didn't care much for this year's Harry P. book, and really disliked Ida B.. Two of the books in the YA category were written by well-known adult writers, so they may have made it onto bestseller lists for that reason. I haven't read the third sisterhood book because I didn't like the first one. However, in this category I have a very clear favorite--I'm a big fan of How I Live Now.

I hope I can get the other members of my household to watch the awards show in October.

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