Round 1, Match 2: Graffiti Moon vs. The Great Wheel

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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.


Congratulations to Graffiti Moon, which moves on to Round 2!

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33 thoughts on “Round 1, Match 2: Graffiti Moon vs. The Great Wheel

  1. Yeah, the details of The Great Wheel bogged it down for me, too. I did like hearing some of them, but then my eyes would just glaze over!

    And I think your Rent comparison is FANTASTIC for Graffiti Moon.

    1. I don’t know where the Rent thing came from! It was just there all of a sudden, perfectly fixed in my mind as a point of comparison. Bu man, it really just fits.

  2. I enjoyed all the construction details (just weird that way, I guess), but a good portrayal of the experience of an Irish emigrant (from where I’m writing, that’s what he is!) this is not. It was pretty clear that the author didn’t care enough to try for anything approaching accuracy, while I’d bet every last detail of the materials and equipment used was perfect.

    Can’t say anything about Graffiti Moon, obviously!

    1. I thought I was the only person who loved the construction details! It made me think I could be an engineer when I read it as a kid, the way A Ring of Endless Light made me think I could be a marine biologist.

      1. Didn’t everyone want to study penguins after AROEL? (Although, I technically was a biologist for a while… less so now. But the degrees still count.)

        I loved the construction details! And how no one was sure the wheel could even be built, and the rival construction crews. I don’t know why. It didn’t make me think I could be an engineer, but I enjoyed it all the same.

        1. I LOVED the rival construction crews. And the way they were nervous the wheel wouldn’t be a perfect circle! And the way they pour cement when it’s freezing cold! And the little wheel running on faith!

    2. I’m curious, were there specific aspects of the Irish Immigration part that were egregiously wrong? Or was it just everything.

      1. Both. I mean, there’s stereotyping everywhere, but the “wise woman” and her prophecy sending Conn off to “the fair young land” is particularly stomach-turning. And — almost callous, in a way. Conn’s mother is dismissed by his aunt, the parish priest (and, saddest of all, by Conn himself) for mourning his emigration but this happened to millions of people and was almost always the last time they’d ever see their family, you know? It’s tied up with the Great Famine, of course, and so it’s a real tragedy, not just some fussy mother not wanting her darling boy to leave her alone some night to go to a dance!

        Then how he actually leaves is just careless – they get the letter and next day he’s on a ship from Galway with Scandinavians, “Poles and Slavs” and Germans on board. Handy to get Conn away from his mother’s tears quickly AND to have him meet Martin and Trudy, of course, but the chances of any of that happening that way are very, very small.

        It’s both convenient and extremely unlikely that his uncle Michael would have done so very well for himself, going to New York alone and poor. It’s a nice myth, that the ones from the old country (old countries, really) who were destined for “greater things” could get that kind of success just by working hard. It could have happened, conceivably, but – you know those famous “No Irish need apply” signs! – not explaining the unlikely success serves to present the dream and deny the reality. FWIW I have no problem at all with this celebration of America as exceptional, as the future, as the land of opportunity, as it relates to the World’s Fair and Ferris and the people he attracted to work with him. I found that part very appealing historical fiction, and if Lawson had just skipped the whole emigration/immigrant business, it could all have been solid historical fiction.

        Oh – one more thing – Trudy could have been Catholic, but it’s much more likely that she wasn’t, and Conn never even considers this potential problem. Given the way the British used religion as a very important part of the oppression of the Irish at the time, it’s too hard to credit that he wouldn’t have thought of it at all! But then, Conn as authorial cut-out figure wouldn’t, any more than he seems to have thought at all about his mother once he’s left his village in Ireland.

        (Okay, this might be only about twice as long as it should have been, which isn’t too bad, actually, given what I might have done!)

        1. Interesting!

          I do have one quibble though, and that’s with the matter of religion. Certainly, it should have been a consideration, but given the time period and where they settled, it’s about equally likely that she would have been a German Catholic as a German Lutheran.

          I’m from Wisconsin. There are a lot of German Catholics. Especially in the southern part of the state.

          1. Fair enough! Even with her being equally likely to be Catholic as Protestant though, it’s pretty unimaginable that it would be AS irrelevant to Conn book as it apparently was to the author. But then the entire political context of life in Ireland at the time is also, so it’s not surprising that this particular aspect is ignored.

        2. I do agree on the Irish immigrant thing not reading true. I didn’t take Conn’s dismissing his mother as problematic in that sense (it was a bit problematic, but I guess I just didn’t associate it with Irish stereotypes). I did blink a little bit at the sheer extent of Conn’s good luck when he arrived in America, and the complete lack of discrimination. There’s not even a token mention of it. Although, I put that down to the intended audience and not wanting to go into that issue.

          I also think that the total lack of religious references once Conn reaches America is a bit odd (I didn’t notice it specifically as relates to Trudy), but just in general. Because almost any other book I’ve ever read set in this time period, religion is fairly ubiquitous.

          1. Because almost any other book I’ve ever read set in this time period, religion is fairly ubiquitous.

            I immediately went blank about any other books set in the time period, until Betsy-Tacy!! And in those it’s a – thing (nicely handled because the parents are LOVELY) – when Betsy and Julia started going to the Episcopal church. And – Episcopals vs Baptists isn’t even close to Catholics vs Protestants in terms of violent conflict. (Sorry, I should have just left it with the happy of Betsy-Tacy, instead of reverting to depressing history!)

          2. Couldn’t reply to your comment Hallie, so I’m replying to my own because it’s sort of in the right place…

            Betsy-Tacy is relatively positive when it comes to dealing with religious issues. But not all the books are, and it really depends on the religion. Also, it can be subtle, because the protagonists are usually Protestant. And in Canada (for some reason my brain is coming up with Canadian examples), depending on where you were, the bigger divide was also generally Protestant versus Catholic, which was further complicated by the fact that it’s then (often) the Irish and French, and then the English and Scottish, etc. I think in all of the other books that I’ve read that are set in this time period or close to the time period (Anne of Green Gables is around the same time, so is Fifth Business, and some other Robertson Davies, just off the top of my head) religion isn’t always a huge thing, but it’s at least mentioned in passing. More just references to the French Catholics who live on the other side of the bay, or something. It is a thing people are aware of (even if it’s just Emily having to sneak out of her house to talk to Father Cassidy the Catholic priest about something for her story in Emily of New Moon). So even if the author didn’t make a big deal of the religious differences (and I can see why you wouldn’t in a book like this), it was definitely noticeable to me that religion wasn’t mentioned at all.

            Especially given the importance of the parish priest in the first few chapters.

            1. (Fingers crossed you see this, Andree!) Yes, I totally agree about the dad’s coolness with Betsy and Julia’s switch of denomination being unusual rather than otherwise. And as you say, that wasn’t Catholic to/from Protestant. I didn’t mean that it made the ignoring of religious background any more realistic in The Great Wheel at all – quite the contrary. One famous Penal Law (a series of anti-Catholic laws the British had going starting from the Tudor conquest – variously repealed and staying in place till Independence) required Catholics to subdivide their property equally between all their sons, while Anglicans could, of course, leave it to the eldest son. If one of the heirs converted to Anglicanism, however – he could get benefit, and the eldest could get it all. Of course this resulted in most losing the ability to live on their family farms, and becoming tenant farmers. (And a LOT of the landlords were absentee landlords, living in England and sucking all they could out of their Irish land-holdings.) I think the Tithe laws had been repealed by the time the book takes place, but you don’t just forget the fact that your father or grandfather had to pay a tenth of his meager income to the church of the foreign oppressors! And the priest wouldn’t forget the fact that his predecessors hadn’t been allowed to teach at all, forcing them into having secret hedgerow schools – a very dangerous practice, of course.

              And this is all just the historical context specific to Ireland – it’s not as if Britain and many European countries had been without long and bitter religious wars!

              1. (Let us take a moment to celebrate that I can reply to this now. Thanks Beth!)

                Maybe that’s why religion isn’t mentioned then? The fact that if it was, it would probably just create issues that the author didn’t want to dive into… I kind of get it. On the other hand, it did jar me out of the story a little, so….

                I don’t know.

  3. 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.

    SO the funny thing is that on my most recent reread about a week ago, I read that line and went, “Hmmmmm, not sure that works for me, I wonder what Jess will think about the prose!” NOW I KNOW. It’s pretty crazy that you bounced off the exact same line.

    1. Okay, that is hilarious. I don’t even particularly think that line fits with the rest of the book! I did read it a few weeks ago, but I don’t remember anything else approaching that level of needing to roll my eyes at it, at least not for the prose alone.

      1. I looked out for other lines like it, but I didn’t find anything, either – then again, at a certain point I stopped looking out for prose because I was enjoying the reread too much.

        1. I’ve been thinking about the Aussie writer thing more, trying to nail down why it’s always such an adjustment for me, and I think a lot of it boils down to description? I am not a descriptive reader. I do not visualize, I cannot visualize. So when writers get lost in pages of description, my eyes tend to glaze over. And I feel like there’s a lot more of that in Aussie YA, which makes sense in a way since if they’re going to sell in the US, they need to set the place more. But it ends up coming across as mystic almost and I just don’t have the patience for it because I just don’t care.

          It also explains why I prefer Saving Francesca/The Piper’s Son to Jellicoe, because they’re much more grounded books.

          It’s a theory anyway.

          1. That makes sense, though I think I’d draw a distinction between descriptive in general and the sort of particularly Australian prose. Tolkien’s one example of an author who’s very descriptive, and I found it so boring. I’m not bored with the prose in most Aussie YA; I just find it lyrical and beautiful.

          2. (I tried to reply to Beth’s reply, so it was going to both of you, but that wasn’t an option!)

            I’m just kind of boggling at the idea that you both feel you can recognise a definite type of prose as Australian YA. I don’t think I’d necessarily spot Saving Francesca and Finnikin of the Rock as by the same author, let alone spotting them (and Graffiti Moon) as Australian. I haven’t read as much Australian YA as either of you, probably, so maybe it won’t be easy to explain, but what little I have read seems about as variable as American YA is.

          3. Hallie, I can’t speak for Jess, but I can tell – I’ve started books and not known they were Australian, then flipped to the copyright page to find out if they were. I remember reading Susan Cooper and wondering how a British book could’ve won a Newbery; turns out she moved to the US but she was British. I don’t know what it is, and it definitely doesn’t exist in ALL prose, but there’s something there.

            1. [Quick technical note to our Leader: many of your comments don’t have a reply option – I went back to the email notification where there was a “reply” button and hoped for the best, but not sure what this particular bug is about!]

              I’m flailing even worse now, because – obviously clues from slang (even I’m picking up a smattering of it!) make sense, but your “something” in the prose itself leaves me clueless. (Hah – did you do absurdly well at those bet-you-can’t-guess-if-this-is-written-by-a-man-or-a-woman tests too?)

          4. [Hallie, it’s got something to do with the number of comments WordPress allows in a thread. I have no idea how to fix it. My tech-savviness only extends so far. Keep in mind that if you allow infinite responses, eventually you end up with those one-word-on-a-line (or worse) completely illegible comments. Trying to find a positive here 🙂 ]

            It’s almost like – word choice, and the way the words are strung together. And the dialogue, too, but not just the dialogue. I DON’T KNOW. But you’re right – I was good at those, too! CLEARLY I AM PSYCHIC.

          5. I think it really just boils down to a style thing. And I wouldn’t say that I get it right 100% of the time–Michelle Cooper is Australian, and I don’t think the Montmaray books read that way in any real way, though that might be a historical thing–but especially with the contemporary YA, they just FEEL a certain way.

            Which is a terrible explanation, I know. I’m sorry.

          6. I’ll just hit on this “reply.”

            Beth, you might want to look into installing Disqus. It’s free and fairly easy, as far as I remember.

            In regard to Australia YA, this might send terrible, but so much of American YA sounds the same that I think, as much as anything, I just figure that the stuff that is actually different is probably Australian. 😛

          7. Beth: Oh, psychic. You do know that there will be random, scientific (i.e. double blind) tests of your ability, right? Wait, they can’t be double-blind. And I’ll have to work hard to ensure they’re books you haven’t come across yet… PROJECT.

            Jess: You apologised for your inability to explain, so no tests for you. 😉

            Katie: Hahahahahaha. I love it.

  4. I have never seen Rent, Jess. Go ahead. Throw the tomatoes now.

    Though I agree with you, the books for this battle seem to be varying degrees of different and though it makes it hard to judge, it makes the reading interesting and different. I’m certain I will walk away with a few books I want to read after each round. 🙂

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