2002 Blue Ribbon Dissents
Unanimity and consent are all very well and good, but sometimes pure passion needs
its own outlet. I'm speaking, of course, of the passion for a particular title,
a title that didn't manage to make the Blue Ribbons list but nonetheless aroused
in its admirer the desire to praise, to advocate, or maybe even to whine a little.
Here, then, are our consolation prizes, our chance to appeal a book's case to
the world: our 2002 Blue Ribbon Dissents.
--Deborah Stevenson, Editor
- Honey, Elizabeth. Remote Man. Knopf. Gr. 6-10 (October)
Remote Man is the online moniker of thirteen-year-old Ned, an Australian computer
geek with a passion for reptiles, a nascent interest in peers and other humans,
and a line on an international endangered/exotic animal-smuggling operation.
This pomo James Bond thriller features a guerilla International Wildlife Federation
that crosses borders and time zones via the internet to thwart the cold-eyed
thieves who capture and merchandise wild animals to the highest bidder. Honey
skillfully relates the continual interplay between face-to-face and virtual
reality, as an informal network of teens from Australia, Jamaica, France,
and the U.S.A engineer the downfall of the smugglers and return a rare python
to its native Australian outback habitat.
The story is told in fifty short and snappy chapters (whose titles include
"Revenge with a Vengeance," "Dancing at Starbucks," "Mom dot com," and "E-mail
and the Detectives"). The text is an intriguing pastiche of texts: traditional
book text, expressive and misspelled email and chatroom texts, newspaper
articles, a page from Ned's passport, computer screen displays, line drawings,
handwriting, and icons.
The pace is relentless and the pages nearly turn themselves, as readers
accompany Ned and his friends on a chase that takes them to outback Australia,
middle-class Massachusetts suburbia, a French castle, the hilly terrain
of Jamaica, and a Manhattan townhouse filled with endangered animal skeletons.
As with James Bond, the readers never doubt the ultimate success of the
team's mission, but the unwinding of their tale (including a final elaborate
and remarkably believeable sting operation) makes this slalom ride of an
adventure one that readers will not want to miss.
--Christine Jenkins, Reviewer
- Oates, Joyce Carol. Big Mouth and Ugly Girl.
HarperCollins. Gr. 7-12 (June)
Often, when adult writers turn to younger readers, they seem either to find
condescension irresistible or to bring with them the baggage of adult success
that they're unable to let go of in order to write for a new audience. In
Big Mouth and Ugly Girl, Joyce Carol Oates avoids both these pitfalls,
writing with clarity, sympathy, and realism about her protagonists. It's noteworthy
also in what that realism's about: Oates takes a currently relevant topic,
school violence, and moves beyond the close-focused problem novels that explore
the lives of the troubled, instead exploring the milieu that fear of such
situations has created. Her Big Mouth--Matt, the popular junior whose life
is destroyed when he's accused of plotting against the school--is heartbreakingly
authentic, down to his desperate, ill-conceived humor about his situation,
but it's even more the story of Ugly Girl, Ursula Riggs, who moves from her
determined and aggressive disinterest in the world and its opinions to truly
caring for Matt. While there may be more things to fear than fear itself,
that reactive fear can be as destructive as its object, and protection can
exact a very high price indeed. That reality may not be as easy to describe
or convey as the more concrete forms of danger, but it's one young people,
like the rest of us, must live with; there's true brilliance in Oates' evocation
of this often-unconsidered threat and of the human bond her hero and heroine
find in the face of it.
--Deborah Stevenson, Editor