I grew up in a book-loving family, but when I was a kid I dreaded getting books as gifts. Why? Because when I picked up a flat, rectangular package wrapped in birthday paper, I knew what was inside.
A medal book.
Medal books were the kind of books grown ups wanted me to read. They were broccoli on a page. I would dutifully put them on my bookshelf and ignore them.
So today, I'm here to tell all of the internet that I was wrong.
Medal books are actually pretty good. Some are downright amazing. For the next three days, I'm featuring Printz winners and Printz honor books. (On Friday, Hunger Games Mania will commence.)
To keep things fun, I'm including Printz trivia. There are no prizes, but you get bragging rights for being smart. First up, this year's Printz winner:
by John Corey Whaley
Atheneum Books For Young Readers
May 3, 2011
Printz Winner 2011
Mature content: cursing, sex
I started Where Things Come Back and fell instantly in love. I mean, the book opens in a morgue. The narrator is a smart, snarky boy stuck in a small Arkansas town. There are lots of quirky Southern Gothic-type characters, like a high school girl whose boyfriends all seem to die under tragic circumstances. There are references to To Kill a Mockingbird, Our Town, zombie movies, the Bible, and even Twilight -- does any twenty-first century author name his main character Cullen without irony?
I loved where I thought this book was going. I was happy.
Then something completely unexpected happened. The narrative shifted to the third person. The setting shifted to Ethiopia. This new storyline was like Book of Mormon: The Musical without the gross-out humor and the singing. Me: "What? Just? Happened?"
The narrative kept switching back and forth like this, from Cullen's story in Lily, Arkansas to the missionary in Africa. Back and forth, back and forth. Cullen's younger brother Gabriel disappeared. The missionary returned to the United States. The rare Lazarus woodpecker was sighted in Lily, Arkansas. I kept reading.
I read and read, seeing absolutely no way that the author was going to be able to tie everything together in a way that made any sense. But I'll be darned if he didn't pull it off. Okay, he used a bit of narrative slight-of-hand, but in a way that left my mouth so wide open I was expecting Cullen break the fourth wall and tell me I'd be catching flies.
This book is not for everyone, to be sure. It's almost impossible to describe. I'm kind of a control freak when I read -- I like to know in general where the author is taking me. With this book, I had to let all that go. And I'm really glad that I did.
Give it a try and let me know what you thought.
Printz Trivia for the day:
This Printz Honor book was adapted into a 2004 indie film starring Kristen Stewart. Can you name it?
Sure, you can answer in comments! Just avert your eyes if you don't want to read other people's guesses!
If you don't know the answer, then tell me: have you ever read a book that took a completely unexpected turn?