Sunday, September 25, 2016

Two more new YA books from the Burt Award for Caribbean Literature

Lynn Joseph's Dancing in the Rain,  third place winner Burt Award for Caribbean Literature, 2015: another book answering the question why write? Or the power of stories

My last post was about books that bear evidence to the power of stories. Dancing in the Rain is one such  book.
Offline for three days, one felt  lost in space without  the ritual of opening emails.  I decided therefore that  I could use the time to consider at least one philosophical question. Would there be an answer if one opened one's mind? I needed to make sense of things. And the world was not making sense.  No doubt, there are others who  feel the same from time to time, and especially in today’s world.
In stepped Dancing in the Rain. I was pulled into the story by the lyrical writing. It's a joy to read; images abound, almost like being able to watch the  frames of a movie gently gliding by.  Joseph's characters are delightfully drawn;  you do indeed get to know them, want to know not only the outcome of the story, but the outcome of each of their own personal stories. The colours of the Caribbean  depicted (it's set in the Dominican Republic) are vibrant and magical.    
Against this mystical, magical background, two horrendous occurrences make their appearance,  the destruction of the Twin Towers in New York on 9/11, and the Holocaust. The main characters are suffering from the effects of  9/11.  It’s significant that a book for young adults should deal with a traumatic occurrence which falls within present memory. It is contemporary; it is topical in a world where so many things seem out of our control, so beyond our wildest imaginations, and not in a pleasant way. The Holocaust appears as  a story within the  story, its purpose to draw attention to the different ways people survive after a tragedy of immense  proportions. So, in a sense, it informs the present.
The young protagonists ask philosophical questions and seek answers to the things we adults ourselves often do not understand. Yet,  it seemed as if by interacting with the characters and their story, and the  really brilliant protagonists, we understand what we always knew, but sometimes forget, that the only one way to deal with disasters is with faith/ hope and courage;  Joseph more than once refers to the importance of hope.
Joseph also speaks about joy and love, 'you are my heart', 'you are my joy', both of which I firmly believe in, and which from time to time appear in my stories.
So  did I have a breakthrough as a result  of my  journey with Joseph's characters, their philosophy, their brand of magic? Well something happened. It occurred while reading Dancing in the Rain. I have never doubted the power of stories, the power of books.  I gave thanks for the power of this story.
Children of the Spider by Imam Baksh, first place winner Burt Award for Caribbean Literature, 2015
 This is a rollicking adventure story set in Guyana. It’s really well written,  it keeps you on the edge of your seat, bed, wherever you read. Quoting from the blurb: Maya is a girl on the run. Driven by desperation and the search for her father  . . . she meets Joseph, a boy without the gift of speech but with much to say. Intriguing, right? The blurb also tells us . . . the story moves from the lush hinterlands of Guyana through the bustling city of Georgetown . . .It is a refreshing take on Caribbean myth and mythology from an interesting new voice.
So I was cheering for both Maya and Joseph. I enjoyed the trip from the interior to the coast, the river boat, the chase by the villains,  some of this world and some not, through markets and canals and along the roads of Georgetown.  The character of  Anancy, when it appears, is different, without losing the anancy characteristic, and is in fact  quite delightful.  I enjoyed the very clever mix of the present time along with this  old folktale character,  and what seemed to be another new created myth. And what do we know? Maybe the new isn’t new at all.
This is a great read!
This is a book to be in schools right now, at secondary, or even upper primary. Our Caribbean children will love this. For my part, it will show them we can also have adventure stories just like anything coming out of the developed world, and better, in fact.
Here we are with three new books, all Burt winners, Children of the Spider, Dancing in the Rain (both Blouse and Skirt Books - I salute Tanya Batson-Savage and her Blouse and Skirt Books for publishing these books); and Gone to Drift, (Papillote Press, review in my post of Saturday, June, 11). All are different, all contemporary, all great reads;  which should be in schools, which could hook our children onto reading. I believe the print run for the Burt Awards might in fact allow for many schools across the Caribbean to access these books. Will the powers that be put them on their master list which controls all reading? I do hope so, because they are enchanting,  they are enticing, they are exciting, and because it’s time to have some contemporary Caribbean stories in schools.
I feel really pleased that the Burt Awards are turning out to be so fantastic, helping us to develop  a library of outstanding  young adult books.

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