by Lynne Rae Perkins
MG fiction. 337 pp.
One of my little oddities is my inability to not finish a book. I know that many people don't understand this little obsession, Tolkien Boy not being the first. A number of years ago, I took a children's lit class wherein we had to do a buttload of reading. I started reading Ginger Pye by Eleanor Estes because I thought it would be good to read all the Newbery books. But I utterly despised the book. My professor, baffled, asked me why I would finish reading such a horrendous book considering how many wonderful books there were out there. I told him that I just have to finish a book if I begin reading it.
Anyway, the moral of this little story should indicate how I feel about Criss Cross. Criss Cross won this year's Newbery award, and this year's Newbery committee won this year's WTF award. You could say it's a fair trade, though generations of kids will be cursed with this book on their recommended reading lists. I feel for them.
I should say that I had been biased going into this book--Pat Castelli discussed this book as part of her presentation at UVSC. Her handout summarizes the book as follows:
The "story" emerges in the 2006 Newbery Award in slice-of-life chapters from various points of view, thus it may be difficult to engage an average young reader. While 14-year-old Debbie is the main character, four of her friends are almost as important, three boys and a girl, Patty. The cover art shows a girl with her back turned and her fingers crossed behind her back with the statement, "She wished something would happen." Many young readers [and I might add older readers] may share her wish regarding the book. That said, there are charming scenes in this book and some that are absurd.
On one of the listservs I'm on, one reader came to the defense of the book by noting that
the Newbery is awarded to the book the committee deems the "most distinguished contribution to children's literature" in any given year. It is not given to "the book kids will love the most" or to "the most marketable book" or to "the most readable book" or even to "the *best* book."
Taking all of this into consideration, I still think the committee was smoking a whole lot o' pot when it chose this book. I'm all for literary and experimental writing, but you still have to give me a friggin' storyline to follow. Sheesh. And maybe I can forego an actual storyline if you give me a character to actually care about through the little slices of life. This book didn't do that; by the end of the book, I couldn't even really tell you who any of the characters were. Another great gripe I have of this book is the author's complete inability to maintain point of view. POV shifts were haphazard and odd.
Really, in the end, this book very much should not have won the Newbery. Avoid it like the plague. Read Shannon Hale's Princess Academy instead.