A few weeks ago I rejoiced as the American Library Association announced its 2014 book awards, which include the Newbery, the Caldecott, the Coretta Scott King, and the Printz. The Printz, though a much newer award, has become my favorite of the book awards. The award is named for a librarian in Topeka, Kansas who was an active member in the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) and dedicated his life to ensuring that his students had access to quality literature that expanded their horizons and made them think. The first award was given in 2000, and recognizes the best book written for teens based on literary merit.
This year the winner of the Printz is a book called Midwinterblood written by Marcus Sedgwick.
Midwinterblood is a huge story that is broken up into seven short stories. The first story takes place in the year 2073, as a reporter named Eric Seven travels to a mysterious island called Blessed, whose inhabitants are rumored to have found the secret to immortality. The island seems familiar to Eric, and a girl named Merle seems even more so. Eric is drawn to her, and is drawn to the island and its mysteries. As he gets to know Merle and works to unravel the island’s secrets, he unearths some sinister things about the island and its inhabitants.
The plot above is only one of the seven vignettes that we get of the island and its inhabitants, as the story traces the lives of a star-crossed pair back through time. We slowly work our way back through 2011, World War II, and the early 1900s to a more primal time. Each story contains versions of Eric, Merle, and their love– and as readers travel back, we get closer to the root of the stories and the first time that Eric and Merle found each other.
There is a reason that this book won the Printz. The writing is mysterious and gorgeous, but unadorned. Its simplicity is beautiful, and there were several times that I wanted to read passages aloud because they were so lovely. Sedgwick expertly crafted this book– all seven of the stories are incredibly different and contain a variety of characters, but are all connected and woven together with great care.
I could not put this book down. Each story answers some questions about the mystery surrounding Eric and Merle, but also opens doors to other mysteries. The mystery within the book is a very dark one, and the tone of the stories that encompass it is equally dark. The book made me squirm and made my skin crawl, in a way that I have not experienced since I was very young and was listening to ghost stories around a campfire.
This book follows inhabitants of Blessed throughout the ages– there are vikings, vampires, ghost stories, and things that are even more primal and unsavory. But I think that that is the appeal of this book. It is dark, gruesome at times, and terrifying at others. Sedgwick is able to tap into the primal fear that thrills through us all when we think that someone is following us or lurking in the shadows while we walk home at night. But he couples this with our primal need for love and acceptance, something that has not changed throughout history, no matter how much our culture changes.
I don’t think that this is a book that I would read again or have on my bookshelf. But Sedgwick is a brilliant writer who deftly taps into emotions that we all experience, and while I may not want to own this book, I did go and check some of his books out at the library. I am excited to read more from such a talented author. Here’s to more gorgeous prose and more delicious nights of staying up late and hiding under my covers.