2005 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 2005 Blue Ribbon Dissents.
--Deborah Stevenson, Editor
Lester, Julius. The Old African. Dial. Gr. 7-12 (December)
The Old African has been mute since losing everyone he loved in the horrors of the Middle Passage, a story told in flashback as he saves first one slave and then many more by leading his people from their plantation into the sea and back to Africa. This complex narrative interweaves realistic scenes of brutality with the magical realism of escape, as sharks lead the fleeing slaves to safety and the bones of drowned captives are restored to life. Bulletin reviewer Karen Coats calls Julius Lester's prose "luminous and dreamlike" while Jerry Pinkney's paintings "seem to have drawn the feelings of pain, anguish, and hope into themselves and sent them back out in shades of amber and gray, deep turquoise, and rich lustrous browns." Based on a legend from Ybo people enslaved in Georgia, this is a challenging book in both format and content: not a picture book despite its prominent illustrations, and not confined by conventional genre borders between realism, folklore, and fantasy. Whether salvation from an historically hopeless situation is seen as a problematic resolution or an innovative cultural aesthetic, the impact of the book lies in its power to compel consideration of both possibilities. --Betsy Hearne, Consulting Editor
Lynch, Chris. Inexcusable. Seo/Atheneum. Gr.
Leaving a book of this impact off this year's Blue Ribbon list is not inexcusable exactly, but it is hard to defend. Listening to Chris Lynch's Keir Sarafian struggle to defend himself from the truth as his victim sees it is an engrossing vicarious experience and, finally, a salutary one. Through most of this "good guy" rapist's fevered apologia ("The way it looks is not the way it is"), the reader is forced to see through KeirŐs eyes, knowing that the way he tells it is not the way it is, but also knowing that Keir actually believes his version to be the truth. In the end, after Keir gets a sickening glimpse of himself in the eyes of the young woman he has assaulted, we are able to leave the narrow confines of his mind and walk out into the clear light of day with his victim, empowered by her "unfathomable grace" and stunned by the artistry of the writer managed to get this story told in all its literary and psychological complexity. --Fern Kory, Reviewer
This page was last updated on January 1, 2006.