Thursday, March 7, 2019

2020 Contenders: Bat and the End of Everything, by Elana K. Arnold

Bat and the End of Everything is the third volume in the adventures of Bixby Alexander "Bat" Tam, following A Boy Called Bat (2017), and Bat and the Waiting Game (2018). It picks up essentially where Waiting Game left off, with Bat about to finish the third grade, and still caring for Thor, the orphaned skunk kit. He's full of concerns, ranging from who is going to care for the class pet, Babycakes the rabbit, to the fact that his best friend, Israel, will be spending much of the summer in Canada. And underneath it all is Bat's greatest worry -- the need to release Thor back into the wild soon, even though Bat doesn't want Thor to go.

What holds End of Everything together is the strength of its characterization. Bat remains one of the most carefully detailed characters with autism in children's literature, and his family and friends also seem poised to walk of the page at any moment. Both the conflicts and the solutions to those conflicts arise organically from who the characters are; nothing feels forced or arbitrary. This, at least in my opinion, is the most distinguished feature, not only of End of Everything, but of the Bat series as a whole.

The ending is awfully sunny, and I suppose it's possible to complain that it steps around some of the issues that have previously been raised in the story. I thought it was prepared and foreshadowed enough that it was perfectly effective, as well as fitting in with the general tone of the series, which is suffused with optimism and love. End of Everything is a bighearted book, one unafraid to conclude with the novelistic equivalent of a group hug.

I'd be surprised if the third installment of this series was where the Newbery committee decided to recognize it. Indeed, series for younger chapter book readers include some of the best-loved books in American children's literature, but for whatever reason, they don't tend to do well in the Newbery race; we cherish Ramona, Homer Price, Ruby Lu, Clementine, and Ivy and Bean, but none of them have ever taken the gold medal. Regardless, End of Everything is cozy and lovely, and anyone who's followed Bat's adventures this far won't be disappointed.

Publication on March 26, 2019, by Walden Pond/HarperCollins

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