Welcome to Newbery Pie. This week, we’re discussing M.C. Higgins, the Great, winner of the ’75 Newbery Medal.
Sara’s Review: Oh my, oh my, where to begin? This book feels impossible to summarize. Every chapter, I felt as if I were trudging up the mountain with the characters and trying to not to fall off it into a reading coma. It still wasn’t as bad as I, Juan de Pareja, which I should have given 1 pie. The Higgins family lives on “Sarah’s mountain,” an important part of the family’s heritage. It is so important that the patriarch of the family, Jones, ignores the dangerous spoil heap left by irresponsible strip miners that threatens collapse on his home. M.C. isn’t as oblivious, and finds hopes for escape in the arrival of “the dude,” who comes around with a tape recorder to record his mother, Banina’s singing voice. M.C. thinks he will make her a big recording star and the family will leave the mountain. M.C. has a pole in his front yard that he sits on stop of and surveys the land. Two other important characters in the story are Lurhetta Outlaw and Ben Kilburn. One part of the story that I did like was confronting the prejudice of assuming that Ben’s family are witches because they were born with the deformity of having six fingers and toes. The Kilburn family sells ice to the Higgins family and in one scene, Jones acts like M.C. has the plague because he allows one of the Kilburns to touch him. At the conclusion of the story, M.C. stands up to his father about both Ben and the spoil, deciding to build a wall to save their house.
I feel like I am missing something with this story. Not only did it win the Newbery in 1976; it also won the National Book Award in 1975. I would definitely say the book is distinguished in terms of setting and M.C.’s character development (and that of Jones to a certain extent). It was a tough read though. I rewatched Mr. Schu’s and Colby Sharp’s Newbery Challenge videos about the book. Mr. Schu says, “Blah about M.C. Higgins, the Great, and you can quote me on that.” Colby said, “I didn’t like it.” I didn’t like it either so I’m going to give it 2 out of 5 Newbery Pies.
Benji’s Review: I’m kind of conflicted about this book. I see some good in it, but I really didn’t enjoy reading it, especially the first 50 pages or so. As an adult novel, it might have been decent, but I think most kids would have some trouble following the Faulkner-like steam of consciousness writing. The only thing that really makes this book a kid’s book is the fact that M.C., our protagonist is a teenager.
M.C.’s guide to getting the girl: First stalk her a little while she’s walking by herself through the woods, then jump out and scare the bejezus out of her. Next, climb up on your pole and burn something. Wave it around a lot and make construction-worker-type cat calls at her. Then jump down, and stalk her through the woods again, this time at night. Jump out and scare her again. This time, take your knife out and stab her, just a little. The next morning, approach her tent, hoping that she’s forgotten all about your nighttime assault with a deadly weapon. Ask her if she wants to go for a swim. Invite her over for lunch. In the end, when she leaves, don’t worry about it too much. You can always have conversations with her in your head.
Jone’s guide to being a good dad: Slap, punch and kick your kid every time you see him. This will make him tough. It’s all in good fun, right? Even when you hurt him. Can’t afford a good birthday/Christmas present? Give him a pole. Poles make great gifts. Pass down your superstitious, ginger- fearing ways to your children. I mean gingers are just WEIRD, right? IGNORE the giant mountain avalanche heap that everyone says will fall on your house and family one day. For real. Don’t do anything about it. It will take care of itself. When your son finally mans up and decides to build the wall to stop the heap, something you should have done years ago, don’t offer to help. Just go get him a shovel. That’s enough.
I also give the book two out of five Newbery Pies. It still wasn’t as bad as Smoky the Cow Horse or The Dark Frigate, though!