Wednesday, February 1, 2012

2013 Contenders: The Wild Book, by Margarita Engle

One of the best things about Margarita Engle in general, and The Wild Book in particular, is her keen eye for detail. The slim verse novel is loosely based on the life of Fefa, Engle's grandmother, and it's clear that Engle paid close attention to the stories that her grandmother told.

The Wild Book details the life of a girl with dyslexia in the uncertain world of 1912 Cuba, and the descriptions of the everyday details of that time and place are startlingly observant. When she speaks, for instance, of encountering during a family camping trip "the coiled tunnels / hidden in trumpet-shaped / seashells," the vividness of the imagery is undeniable. Additionally, the book creates a sympathetic and realistic portrait of a child struggling to come to terms with and overcome her learning disability when such things were poorly understood.

I did wish I had a better view of the other characters in the book. Fefa is clearly drawn, but aside from Mamá, and to some extent Fefa's brother José, the other characters seem one-dimensional or vague. Some of that is understandable, given how much of the action takes place in Fefa's head, but I did find myself wishing at times that the other people in her environment were captured with as much detail as the daily events and surroundings of Fefa's life, which were truly beautiful.

I think this is a long shot for the Newbery, though it wouldn't surprise me if it shows up on the Notables list. I do think it's a very real candidate for both the Schneider and the Belpré, and I'd keep my eye on it, especially after its official publication in March.

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