Not signed up for YALSA’s 2016 Hub Reading Challenge? Read the official rules and sign up on the original post. Anything you’ve read since the awards were announced counts, so sign up now!
It’s week three of the 2016 Hub Reading Challenge! How are you doing so far? There are so many great books eligible this year, my biggest problem right now is simply deciding what to read next.
Of course, what I actually decided to read (or re-read) next is a book I devoured all the way back in January of last year, Marcus Sedgwick’s The Ghosts of Heaven. I haven’t seen a whole lot of discussion of this 2016 Printz Honor title, though I know it had some early–and clearly warranted–buzz, but it was my favorite book of last year, and the one I was most hoping to see acknowledged at the ALA Youth Media Awards last month.
I’m not sure I can articulate, even after a third reading, exactly why this book has made such an impression on me, but lets start with the first of the four interconnected stories, “Whispers in the Dark.” I’m a hard sell on free verse, but this story of a stone age girl on the cusp of making a connection that will lead to written language absolutely haunted me. It’s elegant and understated, while virtually dripping with foreboding and the thrill of discovery. The second story, “The Witch in the Water,” seemed to be rushing headlong to an inevitable conclusion, though understanding that diminished none of the anger and claustrophobic horror I felt reading it. Accusations of witchcraft never end well. “The Easiest Room in Hell,” the third story, was terrifying, and also made me cry. A lot. The creeping horror that’s threaded through the first two stories really ramps up here, as a new assistant superintendent discovers the truth about the asylum he’s come to manage, and about one of the inmates in particular. And then finally, or maybe not, depending on how you’re reading, there’s the fourth story, “The Song of Destiny,” which has the distinction of being the only story in recent memory that actually made me gasp out loud in shock, as though I was watching a horror movie on a big screen. Stories set in space do tend to creep me out–I find them stifling and scary and absolutely compelling all at once–but this one really, literally, made my hair stand on end.
And the ending. No spoilers here. But this one–for me at least–sticks the landing. Absolutely.
I can’t honestly say that I’d give this book to everyone. I want to, but it’s the kind of book that feels huge and personal and important and (that word again!) haunting and I’m pretty sure it isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea. But if you haven’t read it yet, do yourself a favor and dip in.
If you have read it, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. If you’re not reading The Ghosts of Heaven, what are you reading? What’s been the most challenging or rewarding title you’ve picked up so far? What are you hoping to pick up next? Remember, you can find a complete list of eligible titles here.
– Julie Bartel, currently reading Ms. Marvel Vol 3 and All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely.