Thursday, November 15, 2012

2013 Second Takes: No Crystal Stair, by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson

Well, Sam was the lone critical voice crying in the wilderness on this one, and I'm afraid he's going to remain that way. I agree with the rest of the universe that this is a very good book. Here's why!

Stylistically and structurally, it appeals to my tastes as a reader. I love ensemble casts and I love narratives with multiple voices. I feel that multiple perspectives, however fragmented, tell me more about a subject than a single viewpoint does.

Personal tastes aside though, I think this approach is a particularly effective one for the subject matter. Micheaux lived his life in public. He crossed paths with hundreds of people daily, and I think the multiple voices give a sense of the scope of his influence. At the same time, the man seems to have been something of an enigma, and the way Nelson uses these fictional fragments to piece together his identity acknowledges that as well. It feels almost like literary Cubism, different facets of Micheaux emerging depending on the angle from which he is viewed.

Sam also wrote that "It also seemed to me that a child reading the book would have a hard time following what was going on without some kind of encyclopedia or timeline of the Civil Rights Movement, as much of the background information felt overly elided." I'm with him on that one, but I don't think it's a flaw in the novel. I think that complexity does place it outside the Newbery range, though. In terms of reading level, it's not inaccessible to a middle school reader, but I think a high school reader is more likely to come in with the requisite background knowledge.

So, no Newbery love from me, but I think the starred reviews and awards are well-deserved.

1 comment:

  1. I love your description of this as literary Cubism. I find that it's really difficult to generalize what middle school students know and what they do not know. My predominantly Latino students probably don't know this background information, but some of them did know who Pablo Neruda was (THE DREAMER by Pam Munoz Ryan), and that floored me. I don't think it's inconceivable that there are middle school students out there that have sufficient background knowledge for this.