It’s been three months since I’ve made any progress towards my goal to read all the Newbery award-winning books since the dawn of Newbery award-winning books. Admitted, I’ve been avoiding the 1933 winner, which I had read before and didn’t like. Two years later, I can say it’s actually worse than I remember. I don’t think I have the stamina to address all the indignities in this book, but here’s the lowdown:
Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze, by Elizabeth Foreman Lewis, chronicles thirteen year old Fu Yuin-Fah’s life after he and his widowed mother move to the city of Chungking (one of the big five in China) to make his fortune as an apprentice coppersmith. In a Ragged Dick manner, Fu learns to climb the ranks of Tang’s workshop and navigate city life during a tumultuous time of political upheaval, instability, and modernization. Lewis doesn’t state when, but with mentions of Dr. Sun Yet-sen and someone with vaguely Communist ideas, I’d say Young Fu’s story takes place about the same time Lewis was in China as a missionary and teacher, 1917.
When Lewis writes, she has a habit of telling, rather than showing. As a result, the story is a tedious mishmash of dialogue and exposition. Also, her characters tend to be caricatures and stereotypes: the nagging mother, the superstitious peasant, the wise unworldly scholar. And she has a habit of suddenly switching points-of-views during the narrative, effectively halting the flow to go into the mind of a side character we’ll never meet again. Worse, their perspectives don’t offer anything new, but echo the superstitious and pessimistic mentality expressed by almost every character in the book. (more…)