Judged by Jess • Find her on Goodreads
I am genuinely not sure where to start.
Without having read most of the other books in the bracket, I’d hazard a guess as to say that this is one of the most divergent battles in the entire bracket. It’s Young Adult versus Middle Grade. It’s historical versus realistic contemporary. It’s Australian author versus American author. It’s a publication date of 1957 versus one of 2010. One takes place in one magic night and the other spans months. In truth, I am hard pressed to come up with a place where these books overlap, except in the obvious, which is that both books feature the journey of young people. And in the end, maybe that is the place to begin.
The Great Wheel by Robert Lawson is the story of Conn Kilroy, a young Irish immigrant, who goes to America to seek his fortune. Before he leaves Ireland, it is prophesied that he will travel west and “one day […] ride the greatest wheel in all the world.” No one, including Conn himself, is quite certain how to take this prophecy. But when another relative offers him a chance to leave New York and travel west to Chicago in order to help build the Ferris Wheel for the World’s Fair, Conn goes. Much of the book is taken up with historical minutia detailing the building process for this thing that every other engineer swore could not be built. And to a certain extent, I found the minutia interesting, because the Columbian Exhibition has always fascinated me. But then there was also lots of discussion of rivets and pouring concrete and digging 36 foot holes in the ground, and well, with that I was less fascinated.
The other part of the book was Conn’s relationship with another young German immigrant named Trudy. They meet on the journey to the United States, and when they part in New York, she tells him that she will be with her Uncle Otto in Wisconsin. Conn spends much of his limited free time in Chicago writing unsent letters to Trudy, and wishes desperately to see her come to the Fair once he has taken over as one of the guards on the Ferris Wheel. Of course once this happens, there is a miscommunication regarding Trudy’s wealth and status, but as happens in fiction, all is resolved by the final page of the book.
I liked this book. Conn is an interesting protagonist, the romance is sweet, and it features a historical event and location in which I have a great deal of personal interest.
Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley is a very different book. It is set in Australia and is the story of a group of young people as they navigate one momentous night in their young lives. The girls, Lucy, Jazz, and Daisy, are primarily out to celebrate the end of year twelve and to chase down two local graffiti artists, Poet and Shadow. The boys, Ed and Leo and Dylan, are about to go steal computer equipment from the school, each for reasons of their own. Their paths intertwine and the story of their convergence is the book.
I have an interesting relationship with Australian-penned Young Adult fiction. At first read, I almost always think the prose is terrible. (Sorry, Beth.) It’s florid, or maybe it’s almost that it’s formal in a way that it takes me time to warm up to. Sometimes I’m willing to put in the time and sometimes I’m not, and being honest, if this hadn’t been an assignment, I wouldn’t have made it past this particular line in the first chapter: “I want to collide. I want to run right into Shadow and let the force spill our thoughts so we can each pick each other up and pass each other back like piles of shiny stones,” without putting the book down. But this was an assignment and so I kept reading and I’m glad that I did, because I ended up liking the book, nipple piercing threats aside.
Did you all listen to the musical Rent obsessively in high school or college? I’m probably dating myself with that, but I did, and this book captured the feeling of one of my favorite songs in the entire production, so I’m going to go ahead and quote the lyrics here, even though they’ll look ridiculous in print:
Why are entire years strewn/
On the cutting room floor of memories?
When single frames from one magic night/
Forever flicker in close-up on the 3-D Imax of my mind
That feeling is real. That feeling exists. And for managing to capture it so well, I am choosing to advance Graffiti Moon into the second round.