In talking about this book, winner of the 2012 Newbery Award, one of the blogs that I read said something like “the downside of winning the Newbery is that forever after that when people read the book, they’ll be mentally weighing its value to figure out if it ‘should’ have won.” I couldn’t help but think about that as I was reading the book myself. I liked it. It was good. But I don’t think I would have picked it over A Monster Calls or some of the other choices available this year.
Jack’s characterization is great, and so are those of his very different parents and Ms. Volker. But Mr. Spitz didn’t make any sense at all right from the beginning (well, the old busybody part did. But his weird relationship with Ms. Volker, and the fact that such an old man was able to ride around on the tricycle were both odd.)
As a history buff I rather enjoyed all the random historical stories that were thrown into the book, but I don’t think from a literary perspective that they really worked very well. It felt too much like the author was excited about history and wanted to get kids excited too, so he just included them in the hopes that he’s spark some interest. Their connection to the larger book didn’t make much sense. Right at the end Jack talks about how learning about history is important because if you don’t learn from history you’re bound to repeat it, making the same mistakes over and over. And that’s true for Jack, but that doesn’t apply to the historical vignettes we’ve been learning about. None of the historical stories relate to anything going on in the book, so that Jack doesn’t learn anything valuable from the stories, other than that he likes history. Since the author could pick and choose what dates to kill off the old ladies, I think it is a missed opportunity to have connected the stories to things going on, even if only on a thematic level.
I did enjoy the book. It was humorous (though not actually funny. It’s a subtle difference, but it’s still a difference. I was amused for much of the story but never tempted to actually laugh.)