Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Crispin: The Cross of Lead, by Avi [2003]

My Rating: 6/10

Quick Summary: The 13-year-old formerly known only as Asta's Son becomes entangled in mysteries and troubles after the death of his mother, and has to flee across the countryside of 14th century England.

Going into this, I was sort of wondering if this book winning the Newbery was sort of similar to an Oscar that's given to actors not because they were awesome in the role they were nominated for, but because they had previously deserved the award and not received it.  Avi has been around a long while, and though he got a couple of Honors, he'd never won the big one.

Also, as I was reading through this book (set in 1377), I was reflecting on the fact that almost all of the Newbery winners I've read for this blog have been set in the past.  From the 1200s (Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!) to the 1970s (When You Reach Me & Criss Cross), historical novels seem to be the way to go in order to be Newbery bait.  I have to wonder if this is one of those "it's a period piece, so it must be highbrow!" sorts of phenomena.

Speaking of Good Masters!  Sweet Ladies!, it was sort of funny to have read both the books in reasonably short order, as this was set not much later, and they both spent a lot of time talking about the lives of English peasants in the Middle Ages.  There were a couple of bits in Crispin that made me think that the two authors were reading the same research materials.

It took me awhile to get around to reading Crispin: The Cross of Lead because on the surface, I didn't find it very appealing.  The flap copy was rather uninteresting, and frankly, I thought the title was dreadful.  (I've recently discovered that this was the first book in a series, so that helps explain it- next up we have Crispin: At the Edge of the World and Crispin: The End of Time).

Once I started it, though, it was interesting enough to keep me going.  This was Avi's fiftieth book, so clearly, the man knows something about the writing process.  But there were moments that felt rather formulaic to me (the moment when Crispin decides to go out despite being warned by his mentor to stay hidden made me roll my eyes and groan, and then put down the book for awhile).  I felt like a number of the plot points were never full developed (sequel bait, I imagine), and Avi didn't really pay off some of the emotional scenes.  Yes, there were some decent reflections on freedom and free will, but on the whole, they weren't particularly well integrated into the text.

I feel like so many of these posts are just me giving negative critiques of the books, but yet again, I honestly have to ask: why did this book win the Newbery Medal?  It was unremarkable, if well researched, and about the only child I'd ever recommend it to would be one obsessed with the Middle Ages.


  1. I haven't read it, but this book doesn't really appeal to me. Your review DID make me crave a YA period piece I adored as a kid but hadn't thought of in forever. All I could remember was the heroine's name was Charlotte and that was somewhere in the title. I googled and it's The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, also by Avi. Ha! I wonder what that one would be like if I reread it now, if it would suffer from the same weaknesses as the other historical YA novels. I have a feeling that I mostly loved it because I hadn't yet discovered Elizabeth Bennet.

  2. I remember liking True Confessions as a kid, too. Perhaps it was better, or it was simply that we were the target audience then, and no longer are.

  3. It will be interesting as you go backwards through time, if the Newberry books become "more deserving." I wonder if this trend of the Newberry Award to be more Oscar-like is recent or if it's been with us for a while.

  4. There have been a couple of outstanding ones in the bunch even so far. Just a number of duds as well.

    Once I hit the early 90s, it's going to be a bit trickier to evaluate the winners as a neutral party, as many of them were books I read (and loved) when I was still in the target age group.

  5. I think a historical setting may be the Newbery equivalent of actors playing mentally ill/disabled parts. Surefire award bait!