13. Walter Dean Myers, Riot.
Yanno, when I heard Myers was going to do a YA about the 1863 Draft Riots
, I had a hard time waiting for it, I was so excited. Myers! 1863 Draft Riots!
When it finally came out and started getting poor reviews
, my faith was still unshaken. They just don't get Myers,
I told myself.
But now that I've read it? I should have had more faith in the other reviewers.
The screenplay format didn't work at all for me -- not enough characterization, not enough information. A screenplay is such an unfinished presentation of a story, and without the additional creativity of a director and actors, I struggled to know what I was supposed to be getting out any given scene. Mind you, I was a huge fan of the way Myers used the screenplay within Monster
(as one of two contrasting and deeply flawed documentary sources). But here? I continually fought the format.
(Also, this was not convincing as a screenplay, either. The soliloquizing -- oh, the soliloquizing! -- seemed far more like a stage script than a screenplay. )
It may be that my antipathy for Claire -- our light-skinned, biracial Black and Irish heroine, who has close emotional ties to both aggressors and victims of the riot -- can be attributed solely to the format, but I found her characterization wholly unconvincing, and her "dilemma" uninteresting. I kept wanting Priscilla -- Claire's dark-skinned best friend, who works at the Colored Orphan Asylum
-- to take over the role of POV character. Like Claire, Priscilla has plot-drivingly-useful emotional ties to the rioters, but unlike Claire, Priscilla does
things; she doesn't spend the "movie" standing around gasping about how shocking, shocking
it all is. (Shocking!
I would have liked better historical notes in the back, too. They conclude with a reference to how "far-reaching" the effects of the riots are, and how they were a part of shaping NYC into the city we see today, but there's not enough information in either the screenplay nor the historical notes to know what Myers is referring to in those lines. (It wouldn't have needed much more explanation, either: the link I dropped above
concludes, "Many blacks fled Manhattan, and the riots drove a wedge between black and white workers that lasted through the civil rights movement of the 1960s." Just a sentence like that would have been helpful.)
In all, eh.
I hope that there's someone out there that loves this book, but it isn't me. 14. Zetta Elliott, A Wish After Midnight.
This has been getting buzz forever
, but I was dragging my feet because it was self-published (which too often corresponds to an obvious lack of professional editing), and because the library didn't have it. But then I heard that Wish After Midnight
was about the Draft Riots, too...
Oh, but I loved this. It's well-written (I need not have worried about it being self-published) and utterly engrossing. The usual one-line summary is about a black girl in contemporary Brooklyn who tosses a penny into a fountain to wish for a different life, and gets transported to 1863 Brooklyn. The wish, it turns out, doesn't happen until seventy pages in, and I did not mind one bit.
Genna is lovely and awesome and there are so many perfect
little moments where the Genna-ness of Genna shines through. I adore Elliott's characterizations, most especially how much she can communicate in a single vignette. Some characters are on-page for only a page or two, but still I know (or can guess!) enough about them to make my heart squeeze tight. (But I do not wish for more page-time for those characters: Elliott gives me enough that I am content to let these bit players go, when it is time for letting them go.)
When the big time-swap finally happened, I fought it. I was attached
to the story we had been reading. But then I turned a page, and another page, and another page after that, and it turned out that Genna-in-1863 was almost as engrossing as Genna in contemporary Brooklyn.
And frankly, being attached to the before-shift story? Syncs us up emotionally with Genna, which is a useful thing. When she misses her brother, we have fond memories of him, too. The lack of that syncing is often a problem I have with "loss" stories -- we, the readers/viewers, haven't seen enough of what was lost to have any attachment to it.
During the 1863 section, Kindred
kept batting around in the back of my mind -- there are obvious comparisons between two contemporary black women being dropped, without preparation or warning, into slavery-era U.S. and what they have to do to survive there -- but that comparison was not a distraction, nor did it detract from my enjoyment of Wish After Midnight
. Genna is not Dana, Brooklyn is not Maryland, and (skip spoiler
Judah is most certainly not Kevin.
My one complaint about the book? Cliffhanger ending.
(Okay, not as cliff-hangery as it could
be, but still.) I don't know how fast Elliott has been writing Judah's Tale
, but I would like it very much if she would please write faster.
And re that spoiler on that final page? Yes, she's sold me. I very much want to see where she's going to go with this.