2016 Newbery Books

The 2016 Newbery books are all incredible! Read as I team up with my sister to review this year's winners. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
Photo via Kaboompics.com

I was so excited when the 2016 Newbery books were revealed several weeks ago, and I immediately started checking them out from my library. I’ve recruited my sister Melanie (you can see her previous posts here, here, here, and here) to help me review them. (Spoiler alert: all of this year’s books are really, really good!)

Last Stop on Market Street
(review by Melanie)

I was surprised and impressed to discover that Last Stop on Market Street won both the Newbery Medal and a Caldecott Honor. After reading it, I believe both awards are well deserved. The artwork is simple, perfectly integrated with the text to add details that immerse the reader in the story, rather than distracting from it. The story itself is uplifting without being preachy, as a grandmother teaches her grandson a new way of looking at life, gently changing his perspective of everything they encounter. In just a few pages, the author creates multidimensional, interesting characters that are both relatable and engaging. My favorite part was the ending, which inverted my expectations but was shown only through the illustration.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Echo
(review by Melanie)

Echo is uniquely structured as a frame narrative containing three distinct stories, with the connection between them revealed only at the end. Each story climaxes with the protagonist facing a seemingly overwhelming problem, and then immediately cuts to the next story. It felt almost like reading three half-novels, but fortunately all three characters are compelling enough to hold the reader’s interest in their story, even as you are preoccupied with the previous story.

The ending that brings all three stories together is satisfying, if a little rushed. The power of this book is that each story is engaging individually, but together they create something greater than the sum of their parts.

It is yet another book set in World War II (as Monica discussed), but with subtle inversions of the tropes typical of these books. The main character of the first story, set in pre-WWII Germany during the Nazis’ rise to power, is in danger not for being Jewish, but for having a facial birthmark, deemed a “physical deformity” by the Nazis. The second story is set a few years later in America, where two orphans are affected by the Great Depression, without even mentioning the War. The girl in the third story, set in California during the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, is not Japanese, but Hispanic, and faces racism against herself as well as her Japanese friends. Though World War II provides the context, each story focuses more on the specific struggle of the protagonists, rather than the wider consequences of the war. As a result, the stories are suspenseful, but much more lighthearted than many other YA books that focus heavily on the war.

(Side note from Monica: I also read this book, and I had many of the same thoughts about it. The ending is a bit too tidy, but if I had read this book at eleven or twelve, my mind would have been blown. Echo provides a refreshing look at the all-too-typical WWII story.)

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

The War that Saved My Life
(review by Monica)

The other WWII-focused book in this year’s set couldn’t be more different from Echo. This dark yet hopeful story turns completely on the fact that it is set in WWII-era England. Ada is a 9-year-old girl with an untreated club foot, being alternately abused and neglected by her mother. Ada has rarely set foot outside of her London apartment and has barely learned how to walk when she sees her opportunity for escape. A large group of children from the local school is being evacuated to the countryside for fear of bombings in London, and Ada takes her younger brother and leaves with him. Although she is guarded and fearful and their new guardian is reluctant to take them in, Ada starts to open up and grow in her new surroundings. But with her abusive mother still in London and the war raging on throughout Europe, things are not as easy as they start to seem.

This book is a compulsive read, athough at times it is sickening to read about the abuse Ada had suffered and how her brother Jamie picked up on it. It’s a fascinating, disturbing, but ultimately hopeful look at a young girl’s growth against the dramatic backdrop of World War Two.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Roller Girl
(review by Monica)

I just realized that this graphic novel was written and illustrated by the same person, and I’m totally impressed. The story, which focuses on a young girl who decides to join the youth roller derby team just as her best friend seems to be distancing herself, is really good, and the illustrations are awesome. Astrid isn’t perfect, by any means; in fact, she’s one of the most flawed MG characters I’ve read in a while. She’s selfish and impulsive and vindictive, but that doesn’t make her unlikable. She’s just struggling to figure out how to grow up when her closest friends seem to be moving on without her. And the setting of roller derby, something I know very little about, was pretty cool, and I think a lot of kids (boys and girls) will agree.

(On a kind of silly side note, this book made me realize just how important it is to represent varied skin colors, backgrounds, and life experiences in our literature. When I saw the cover with Astrid’s blue-dyed hair, I was already predisposed to like the book because of my own blue braids. And I’m nearly 25 years old! Can we really deny the importance of diverse books, especially for MG and YA?)

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

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