Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgewick is the winner of the 2014 Printz Award, the Newbery for Young Adult books. While preparing to write this review, I was taking a look at past winners and surprised by how many of them I have reviewed - and loved - here and also pondering the current trend of adults reading YA literature. Be sure to scroll to the bottom of the review for a list of these titles and my take on the scolding Ruth Graham gave us (adults who read YA) earlier this year.
I don't think I've ever read a book like Midwinterblood, which is a series of chapters, short stories that can stand on their own, really, that are seemingly unrelated at first but then, as you read on, become clearly linked by patterns and symbols that repeat and reappear in new ways. By the final chapters of the book you are audibly gasping as you recognize the significance of things you encountered in earlier chapters and glimpse the bigger picture. As the great Eoin Colfer says in his review of the book for the New York Times Book Review, Sedgewick achieves the difficult task of creating a "sustained sense of foreboding," the literary equivalent of a "roller-coaster ride with multiple peaks" with his writing, which Colfer as a "reader and a writer," finds admirable. The structure of Midwinterblood alone is amazing, but Sedgewick adds another layer to the novel as mysteries within mysteries are revealed and obliquely strange occurrences are explained.
Fine. I'll come right out and say it, but please know that I didn't WANT TO because it will change how you think about this book that you haven't read. And I read/listened to this book (wonderfully, eerily narrated by Julian Rhind-Tutt) Midwinterblood without knowing anything beyond the fact that it won the Printz and was a collection of linked short stories and that's how you should go into it too! It's a little like the movie The Sixth Sense - you don't want to know that Bruce Willis is dead before you even watch it. Hope I didn't ruin that for anyone... So, read on if you want to know what I'm talking about and I admire you if you stop here. But, if you stop here, scroll down to the bottom to check out the other cool covers for Midwinterblood and see the other amazing Printz winners I've read and loved.
There are vampires (and Vikings and WWII pilots and archaeologists) in Midwinterblood. But you don't know it until you are almost at the end of the book! What you know first is that there is something on Blessed Island that is dark and dangerous. It turns out to be an orchid that some believe can grant eternal life. In the first story, which is set in 2073, Eric Seven is a reporter traveling to the island to look into this myth. Once on the island, he finds and idyllic, peaceful way of life that slowly begins to reveal somewhat sinister underpinnings that slip away from Eric like fingers of fog as he continues to drink the "restorative" tea made from flowers on the island that his hosts give him. This first story is strange and unsettling and a little stand-offish. But I promise, but the third chapter you will be thick into what come to be, as the Publishers Weekly review notes, "Seven stories of passion and love separated by centuries by mysteriously intertwined - this is a tale of horror and beauty, tenderness and sacrifice." You will be thinking about Midwinterblood long after you finish reading it, unravelling the threads and connecting the dots.
Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley
Shipbreaker by Paolo Bacigalupi
Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
PRINTZ HONOR WINNERS
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler, art by Maira Kalman
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart
You may be aware of Ruth Graham's article for Slate, Against YA which has the header, "Read What You Want. But You Should Be Embarrassed When What You're Reading Is Written For Children." As someone who forces herself to read a work adult fiction once a year and occasionally feels bad about it, I read and pondered this article seriously. And Graham makes some great points about the "uniformly satisfying" endings in YA novels and urges adults to seek out adult literature that has "stories that confound and discomfit" and "people you can't empathize with at all" among other things. She's right I have no doubt my brain is flabbier from shying away from adult books (which I once read vigorously) in the last ten years. But, as I get older I realize that I can choose what I let into my life, my literary life and my imagination and I am weary of reading books about adults with sad and ruined lives, regardless of the brilliant writing and wisdom that these novels ultimately reveal. I've experienced a small wedge of that in my own life at this age and I don't feel hungry for anymore of in, in print or otherwise. I'm not a twenty-year-old excited to read Raymond Carver and Alice Munro anymore. They served me well when I was twenty and wanted to be a writer, but now, well. . .
Source: Purchased Audio Book