As a general rule, I don't seek out Newbery Medal winners. Somehow I've gotten the impression that they tend to be improving. Or sappy. Or improving and sappy.
So I wasn't looking for Criss Cross by Lynne Rae Perkins. I didn't even know what it was about when I stumbled upon it at the library.
Which meant that I got to have an incredibly wonderful experience, because Criss Cross is an incredibly wonderful book.
I guess I'd have to say that Criss Cross is about yearning. It's about a group of kids (I've read in reviews that they're fourteen, but I missed the exact age when I was reading the book) whose lives criss cross over a summer in the 1960s. They're getting ready to be grown-up and move on with life.
Reviewers say the story is told in "vignettes." I would call them moments. Some of these moments don't seem terribly connected to some of the other moments, but when you are reading about each moment, you are there. You are in the moment.
This was the first book I read after I finished my wealthy-girl-gone-bad reading mission. As I started reading Criss Cross, I felt as if I were hungry and eating a really good meal at a nice restaurant. And by "nice," I mean a restaurant you really like, not necessarily a restaurant that has been labeled "nice" by someone else. I kept thinking, "This is so good," "This is fantastic," the way you would--or I would--if I were eating a really good meal.
There's stuff in here about learning to drive, listening to the radio, reading, guitar lessons, trying to connect with members of the opposite sex, a summer job, a summer fair, those awful booklets put out by companies that make sanitary napkins...There are moments about all these things.
I cannot exaggerate how much I enjoyed this book. It reminded me of Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury, a favorite of my college years. But even as I was reading it, I wondered if kids would get it. How many of them would know who Julie Christie is? They would never be able to enjoy the subtle Jonathan Livingston Seagull reference.
Sure enough, if you read the reader reviews at Amazon, there are a lot of complaints--and not just from kids--because the reviewers think nothing happens. And before Criss Cross won the Newbery, there were only 20,000 copies in print. Hey, I wouldn't complain about that figure, but when you compare that to the numbers that a lot of lesser books manage to pull in, it does give one pause.
All I can say is, nothing does happen most summers. And yet everybody is different by fall.
The chair of the Newbery Committee described Criss Cross as an "...innovative, and risk-taking book in which nothing happens and everything happens." I think that's definitely the case. I think the Newbery Committee was innovative and risk-taking for giving this book its medal. I definitely will be paying a little more attention to their awards in the future.