Monday, September 3, 2007

Character studies

So, it's two-ish weeks later, and I used the long weekend to power through the last five disks of What is the What, finishing it on my walk this morning. Even thought I don't like to spend two weeks reading anything (I also spent this weekend reading the oh-so-fun The Thirteenth Tale in its entirety), I have to say that listening to Valentino's story was always compelling, and that the time spent never felt like 20 hours. The reading by Dion Graham was excellent -- well delineated characters, lots of varied pacing, an accurate (to me) portrayal of a foreign culture. Certainly, I learned a lot about Sudan and its diaspora -- things I simply haven't learned by listening to the aforementioned National Public Radio (since I don't give NPR the almost-undivided attention I give to audiobooks).

It is among the better audiobooks I've listened to this year, but I'm thinking that it's more a good book than a good audiobook (I felt this way about The Book Thief last year). I think its length does present problems -- often long, thoughtful (as opposed to action-filled) books don't make a good audiobook because the end is so very long in coming.

And, Valentino's story is a lengthy journey -- he was in essence a refugee for about 15 years. Much of the time, he was in mortal danger, but the nature of his journey ... walking, walking, walking, waiting, waiting, waiting ... makes for listening where, for example, distinguishing between the refugee camp in Ethiopia and the one in Kenya often difficult. The compelling part of Valentino's story, I think, is the people that he meets and loses along the way. They are beautifully drawn characters -- each is clearly identifiable -- and they are distinctly portrayed by the narrator.

So, good book, outstanding characters, expertly narrated, why am I hesitating?

Is this a book for teens? Often, it seems we struggle with books on the young end of teendom; I can safely say that this is not a book for 12 year olds! I also have no doubt that high schoolers can read, relate to, and enjoy (well, not exactly enjoy ... this book is often unbearably sad) Valentino's story. But, does it belong on our list? Is it -- as our charge requires -- "significant to young adults?"

There are an awful lot of questions here.

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