Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Certain October by Angela Johnson

A Certain October made the Mock Printz list. Angela Johnson's 1993 novel Toning the Sweep remains one of my favorite YA novels. Also, if you haven't read the picture book Lily Brown's Paintings do so immediately.  My eyes would mist when I read it for storytime. Little brother stories always get me.

I looked forward to reading this novel in part because of Angela Johnson's talent for capturing complex and emotional stories within her short novels. This one takes 158 pages and that is generous considering the undersized physical book. Pick it up and go. Read it in a night.

Scotty and her friends hang out at a place called the Endangered Species Café. The metaphor for teenagers is apt and Scotty's life changes in both beautiful and terrible ways. Angela Johnson gives us this one month view of rather ordinary teenage life: homecoming dress shopping, caring for little brother, loving parents, BFFs, late night talk, boyfriends, girlfriends, all that in between mystery, school work. Then there's that tragedy that knocks Scotty hard. Take a look at that cover because it's going to be all right.

But if I'm ever asked if there was a time in my life that made me the person I am, I will point to a certain October that stays with me like a song played over the radio a hundred times at the start of the day. You can't get it out of your head so all you can do is go through it. (p. 1-2)

Short novels may get the short end of the award discussion much like early reader books for the Newbery buzz. It certainly isn't impossible as Angela Johnson won the award for The First Part Last at a whopping 132 pages. But they can be overlooked in favor of more complex plot-driven or world-building stories. The skillful language and nuances of the story are certainly exceptional and, in my opinion, a good reflection on teenage life.  That being said, as much as I admire what this novel accomplishes, I have a difficult time holding it up to Code Name Verity or The Fault in Our Stars. I need to read a few more Mock Printz titles so my comparison list remains incomplete. (next up: Brides of Rollrock Island) ( soon as I finish Alex potential The Round House)

Three reading notes. 1) There's a character with a rollerskating Earth tattoo which made me smile thinking about. 2) Scotty's homework is on Anna Karenina which is perfect timing for the movie. 3) Mean librarian. Yeah, okay, they're out there.

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