The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books Image
Seal Image
The Bulletin
of the Center for Children's Books:

Focus On ...
Each month we offer a focus on a particular author or artist. Sometimes we use this space to discuss a rising new talent or an established star, but we also like to celebrate those who now live on only in the rich legacy of their books . Occasionally, as this month, we highlight a particular topic of interest to one of our editors. See the archive for focus pieces from previous months.

Dueling Reviews

While Bulletin reviews are the work of individuals, we share opinions around here whether they're asked for or not (usually they're asked for). A lot of books are read by more than just the reviewer; starred books in particular must be in order to receive a star. There are no guarantees of unanimity with this group. I read Chris Lynch's Whitechurch and thought it terrific; two other people in the office felt the same; I then passed a copy on to Elizabeth Bush, who I knew woul d love it. Surprise! What you see here is my final review followed by the review Betty wrote as if she had been initially given the book, followed by her comments on the process and mine.
--Deborah Stevenson, Associate Editor

Lynch, Chris. Whitechurch; HarperCollins, 1999. [192p]
Library ed. ISBN 0-06-028331-9    $14.89
Trade ed. ISBN 0-06-028330-0    $14.95
Reviewed from galleys    R*  Gr. 9-12

Oakley, the narrator, is the requisite levelheaded sidekick to his manic friend Pauly, in a friendship so close that town gossip occasionally paints them as lovers. It might be simpler if that were true: Pauly's girlfriend, Lilly, will soon leave town f or college, which sends Pauly into deep denial and desperate plans to entice her to stay; Oakley has loved Lilly even longer than Pauly but has accepted the role of her friend, and he knows that her departure is necessary and inevitable. Part of why her departure is necessary is that Whitechurch is a small and circumscribed town of little opportunity, but a bigger part is Pauly, whose inclination towards the grandiose, the extreme, and the dramatic makes him not just frustratingly impractical but genuine ly dangerous. The blurb refers to this as a short-story collection, and readers will recognize the first chapter here from Harry Mazer's anthology Twelve Shots (BCCB 10/97), but the flavor is more that of a sequential novel, with tension buildin g and with Oakley's poems providing links between chapters as well as hints at the pressures he contains within him. Lynch masterfully depicts the small town and its inhabitants. Pauly, the boy heading for what can only be disaster, is heartbreakingly c redible and as unstoppable as a meteor. Oakley is a characterization tour de force in that he is effectively evoked yet defined by what he doesn't have, his will (" . . . most of the time 'Yes' is my word. Acquiescence my mode"), until finally his passiv ity changes to action, the one action sure to result in terrible tragedy. The book crackles with intensity and often with hilarity (the thoroughbred rat derby, in which one of Pauly's schemes of course goes horribly awry, is raucously funny); ultimately, this is a taut and unforgettable portrayal of friendship and its sometimes terrible price. DS

Lynch, Chris Whitechurch    Ad    Gr. 9-12

Lilly's decision to go away to college in the Fall is firm and final, and her emotionally unstable boyfriend Pauly is ready to snap. Armed from the opening chapter with a Colt .45, Pauly is a walking time bomb, and his best friend Oakley, bound to him th rough habitual loyalty (and, no doubt, co-dependence) is unable to stop the inexorable approach of tragedy, which leaves a innocent stranger dead. Lynch paints a chilling portrait of the troubled Pauly-dreary in his childish antics, annoying in his clin giness, and treacherous in his obsessive mission to keep Lilly in his hometown, Whitechurch. Likewise, the portrayal of Whitechurch itself offers much to ponder about the nature of small town claustrophobia and entrapment. Lynch's characters, though, re main distant, evoking little genuine sympahy-tragic types who carve out their own hell within a town contrived of literary symbols and devices. Could Pauly, who is virtually unable to function without his audience of Oakley and/or Lilly, have managed to steal a gun on his own? Or does drama merely demand that he have a gun to put in his mouth for an gut-wrenching opening scene? Would a small town actually welcome a new prison into its environs, as Oakley alleges? Or does the prison simply justify the phrase "sentenced to Whitechurch"? Does the wise, sensitive town librarian [Is there any other kind?] have any role in the story? Or does her unexplained death merely demonstrate that no one-even one of Whitechurch's more enlightened citizens-gets out o f there alive? Ultimately, it is problematic whether readers drawn in by the shock-'em opener and its heady promise of a violent conclusion, will follow Pauly through the more sluggish pace of everyday life in Whitechurch. EB

Whatever would possess a reviewer to tilt with the boss over a review that's already gone to press, and over an issue that's officially a "lost cause"? Because she agrees wholeheartedly that this is a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate how diverse opin ions waft around the Bulletin office, and that opposing views are accommodated without bloodshed.

A starred review of Lynch's Whitechurch appears in this month's issue, but a couple of questions hang in the air. Will the book's supporters still be enamored of it come Blue Ribbon time? Will skeptics (like myself) find themselves unable to shake off the presence of a particularly powerful character between now and the January 2000 issue? Miracles of both stripes can and do occur in Bulletinland. We'll have to wait and see.
--Elizabeth Bush, Reviewer

Armed with like-minded colleagues, I was able to consider her articulate viewpoint (and you're only seeing the written part--the conversation was extremely stimulating too) from the generous position of the person whose opinion had already held sway. We encounter different views all the time, however, and our treatment of them depends on a number of factors. Sometimes one reviewer's reservations result in reevaluations by those who had held more positive opinions, for instance; here, though I see the po int of many of the questions Betty raises, these questions don't ultimately seem that problematic in light of the novel's achievements. And while the editors get the final sway, we try to give a book the benefit of the doubt anyway; if our positions had been reversed and I had had Betty's reservations about the title while everyone else had loved it, I most likely would have revised my review to reflect the more positive opinions. I'll also note that if in fact Betty had been the only other person to re ad this book, her objections would have been sufficient to remove its star.

As Betty notes, it will be interesting to see how we all view this book over time, especially when the Blue Ribbon discussions begin to fly fast and furious. It is far from the only title that has elicited considerably different views from different i ndividuals around here, despite our general amity, and we've always found surprises when we've reconsidered these issues down the line. We thought, however, that our readers might be interested in a glimpse of some of the inner Bulletin workings behind the seamless document that arrives in your mailboxes every month. As Betty notes, there's no bloodshed in the process, but the discussions are spirited indeed.
--Deborah Stevenson, Associate Editor

[Back to the Bulletin Homepage]

This page was last updated on April 1, 1999.