13 November 2011

Crispin: The Cross of Lead (Avi)

So here's the problem: the two medal winners from the oughts I've read this month? Nowhere near as good as the older ones I'm rereading. It is impossible to tell how much of this is due to childhood memory and the gut-level good associations of Roll of Thunder and Island of the Blue Dolphins. I do think the prose in Single Shard and this week's newer read, Avi's Crispin: The Cross of Lead, is objectively less sophisticated--and this is a complaint I didn't have with this year's winner (the stellar & evocative Moon Over Manifest) and 2010's (the brilliant, brilliant, OMGBRILLIANT When You Reach Me). But when all is said and done, I just didn't think Cross of Lead was a good book.

There are good things about it, of course--Avi deftly conjures his medieval milieu, especially the omnipresence of Christianity in everyday life. But rather than stay with his protagonist as he believes himself to be at the outset--the poorest of the peasantry, who's only eaten meat a few times in his life--Crispin ends up being [SPOILER] the bastard son of the local lord, whose mother was gently born and literate. Which moves the narrative from that of a completely neglected class to that of a clich├ęd Secret Royal tale. Very disappointing.

The death of his previously-unknown father causes him to be pursued by a broadly-evil steward, kin to the lord's wife, who wants to make sure Crispin doesn't claim any part of the estate. Chases ensue. Then Crispin hooks up with a juggler/spy with fabulously anachronistic ideas about the Equality of Man and the Unnecessity of Organized Religion (seriously, in 1300s England? Maybe there was one guy. But not several, and not a secret brotherhood of rebels). More chases ensue. Then nothing is resolved, and there's a sequel I'm not interested in reading.

(Another COMPLETELY UNFAIR thing that bugged me? The old-fashioned-y words and locutions in the prose are three hundred years too late for the time the book is set--vaguely Shakespearean. I know PERFECTLY WELL that they would have been speaking Middle English at the time, and OBVIOUSLY you're not going to write a kids' book in Middle English . . . but if you're going to use anachronistic vocab, why not make it modern-modern? Yes, this is a stupid quibble. But it's one I had, and this is my blog to air my stupid quibbles--really, it should be on the masthead.)

Next Thursday, back to childhood faves! This time it's Elizabeth George Speare's 1959 Newbery winner The Witch of Blackbird Pond.


  1. Martha aka The Auntie14 November, 2011 15:12

    Also A Wrinkle in Time... another favorite. I was visiting my local library earlier this week and was struck by the preponderance of series. I actually counted, and in the new book section two thirds were series. I have a problem with that. Sometimes the first book in a series is good but subsequent books tend to deteriorate. Do we really want to reread thinly disguised versions of the same book? Has the book industry decided to only go for the sure thing? Arrgh!

  2. It's true, esp. in YA: everything's "Book One of a Trilogy," even if the premise (and the writing) don't cry out for it. I second your ARRGH!


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