Friday, March 20, 2015
Newbery Reviews: M.C. Higgins, the Great by Virginia Hamilton (1975 Medal Winner)
M.C. is a precocious 13-year-old boy living on his family's land, Sarah's Mountain, in Ohio, where he sits atop a footy-foot pole and dreams of the day his singing mother will become famous and take them away from his father's crumbling property. As strip miners shred away the beauty of the land, M.C. runs in the woods, secretly befriending a white boy from a strange, nearby commune, and a mysterious girl with a bizarre name and a face that steals M.C.'s heart.
This is one of the Newbery's that people seem to be divided on. I haven't read any of Ms. Hamilton's other books, so I would not know if this one isn't as good as they are, as I have read in other reviews.
Personally, I liked it. The voice was strong. It felt like I was running along M.C., jumping over roots and dodging branches while he told me his thoughts. I understood his divided wishes to stay at Sarah's Mountain and to leave forever. I loved his younger siblings and his human family. They were flawed but loving, and they learned to work out their differences. And just like M.C., I couldn't wait for his mother to come home, yodeling her way up the mountain.
At the same time, the book is very literary. I don't have a problem with that, but younger readers might. Without spoiling anything, the book has a long, place-setting beginning, and an abrupt and loose ending. Negative reviewers of the book say this was a turn-off. However, I really think the point of the novel was not so much what was going on around M.C. as much as his personal development. This may make M.C. Higgins, the Great more of a YA novel as opposed to its intended MG audience.
What I didn't care for was M.C.'s relationship with Lurhetta. I found her irritating and found his crush on her even more irritating. And again, I would have preferred a tidier ending, and more of his family's backstory. The whole book is rather scrambled and plotless. I think whether not a reader likes the book comes down to whether or not the reader likes M.C. as a character and the narration.
Rating: Three stars
Favorite character: M.C.'s mother
Recommended age: 12+
Content level for parents: A character nearly drowns. Someone forces someone to kiss them (but it's playground-type behavior). A man suggests the members of the commune are interbred. Members of the commune are referred to as "witchy."
For more Marvelous Middle Grade Mondays, check out Shannon's post here.