A couple of weeks ago I decided I would set myself a little challenge - to read all the Carnegie long listed titles before the winner is announced next year. This is no mean feat, as although I've read 11 of them already - there are 52 in total! Well I would have started my challenge immediately but I was part way through reading the second Department 19 book, The Rising. I will refrain from talking too much about that as I know it will make many of you painfully jealous and there are SO MANY AWESOME plot points I don't want to give any away!
So once I finished that I finally got myself down to Daunt books to visit my friendly book boy and request he buy me a book with his discount (book purchasing method 1 - let's call it supporting a friendly Indie) and that book was My Name is Mina by David Almond. This book is a prequel to David Almond's first book, the Carnegie winning Skellig. Ashamedly I have never read Skellig, so found myself coming to this book as a fresh standalone. Which, for any of you in the same position, is absolutely fine, aside from you may get slightly less satisfaction from the ending.
I have to say when I first started reading this I couldn't get my head into it. I couldn't work out why - perhaps coming to it from such a high action thriller? Perhaps because all my reading is done on my commute and I'm largely standing and feeling rushed? The book reminded me a lot of Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli which I just adored so I just couldn't understand why I was less interested in this. I stopped and thought about it, quite literally as I was walking along the street in a rush. I had a slightly obvious epiphany - I am a grown up, in a sometimes stressful and always busy profession. I live in a city thats always rushing and jostling me around and often surrounded by people huffing and sighing and grumping about like we grown ups do. When I read Stargirl I was a teenager with plenty of free time, less cynicism, and more belief in everything being just wonderful. I was quite whimsical! But wait! I still am whimsical and childish and I got really cross at myself for not letting this story carry me away just because I was having a busy week.
So I came back to the story and paid attention - I looked around me on the tube and felt sad for anyone else who wasn't using their journey to have a little escape like me. An escape back into the mind of a child, where the world is full of completely amazing things - in Mina's journal she writes words she thinks are particularly delicious over and over, or really big across the page. She writes mini stories and poems and spends lots of time sitting in a tree, watching the world and waiting for the eggs in the nest above her to hatch. She's by no means always happy, as she finds the process of being a child and growing up quite painful, and philosophizes on this transition throughout. She has perhaps clung to her more "childish" ways longer than most others her age, but this only means she still knows how to take notice of all the little things and take delight in them.
I was just enchanted by the book once I got my brain in the right mode. Everyone should be a little bit like Mina - her "strangeness" is to me what makes her more sensible than most - I think as we grow up, we lose the strangeness of being a child, where we create magical worlds and imaginings in our head, and question things that grown ups accept. I think that's something to lament - which is of course really why I work in the world of children's books!
Most appropriately, Mina does seem to have something quite apt to say on this, so I will leave you with a lovely quote from the book:
"It's so strange: grown ups trying to become young, young ones trying to grow up and all the time, whatever people want, time moves forward, forward."
My Name is Mina by David Almond is available now in paperback, and is longlisted for the 2012 Carnegie Medal - see the full longlist here.