Wednesday, January 11, 2012

My Name is Mina

A dozen years ago, when the first Printz Awards were announced, David Almond's SKELLIG was named an Honor Book. The selection was surprising -- not because of the book's indubitable quality, but due to the young age of its characters, as well as the intended age of its audience (BOOKLIST recommended the title for ages eight to twelve.) Almond went on to the win the Printz in 2001 for KIT'S WILDERNESS and has gone on to write a succession of intriguing, often brilliant novels. Now he is back with a unusual and rather daring new novel, MY NAME IS MINA, which features a protagonist first introduced in SKELLIG. It's always a risk for an author to return to previously-created characters and narratives. Sometimes it works (Susan Cooper returned to her 1965 novel OVER SEA, UNDER STONE after eight years and the resulting "Dark is Rising" series is considered a classic) but more often it doesn't (Louis Sachar's SMALL STEPS didn't live up to the acclaim of HOLES.) In this case, David Almond succeeds wonderfully, creating a unique and powerful novel that seems every bit the equal of SKELLIG.

In SKELLIG, Mina was the neighbor of protagonist Michael, but she comes front and center in this prequel, telling her own story of the months leading up to Michael’s arrival in the neighborhood. Written in the form of a journal (the font resembles a child’s printing), Mina muses about leaving school to be taught at home, her sorrow at her father’s death, and her interest in words and writing and nature. Less a plot-driven narrative than a character study, this luminous book may not appeal to everyone, but special readers will be amazed at how brilliantly the author captures the essence of the imaginative, misunderstood, almost mystical and always evolving title character in a book that can truly take its place on the same shelf as SKELLIG.

PRINTZ WORTHY? Absolutely, if we're talking about literary quality alone. But one has to remember that SKELLIG itself felt rather "young" for the Printz Award, and this prequel concerns an even younger character. Ah, if only British novels were eligible for the Newbery!

What do YOU think?

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