When the Whistle Blows by Fran Cannon Slayton (Philomel, June 2009)
I'm incredibly torn on this book because it comes down to the age-old debate of quality versus taste. Some would disagree with me but I believe you can be awed by a book's quality...and yet still not enjoy it. I call it the Shakespeare Syndrome (I also mentioned it here) - I recognize Shakespeare's greatness (nay, his genius)...but that doesn't mean I actually like reading his stuff. It just doesn't do anything for me.
If I were to give this book a rating (on GoodReads) based on quality, I'd give it a 4 out of 5 - the storytelling is fantastic. In particular, Slayton's sense of place is impeccable. I do wish some of the characters were more fully drawn, not to mention that there are too many peripheral characters. Overall, though, I was impressed with the whole book. Especially for a debut author. Holy crap. And it's no accident that Richard Peck is blurbed on the interior cover of the ARC - Slayton's writing style is invocative of Peck's A Year Down Yonder and Long Way from Chicago.
That said, I gave the book 3 stars on GoodReads based on my personal tastes. First, I'm not a big fan of historical fiction. So there's that. I also don't find trains particularly interesting, or the time period in which this story takes place. And while I do love stories about relationships, I just wasn't drawn to the stoicism on display here. It left me cold. Again, though, let me state that this isn't reflective of Slayton's writing. It's all me.
So while it wasn't my cup of tea, I do think it was exceptionally written and I wouldn't be the least bit surprised, nor disappointed, to see a shiny medal on it come January (though it's definitely too early in the year to be making big statements like that). An excellent debut novel.
- Tarie's review at Into the Wardrobe
- Diane's review at SLJ
- Jen Robinson's review (I love that she points out the authenticity of Jimmy's voice - it does indeed ring very true)
- Sarah Miller's review (Agreed. There are multiple times a day when I wish I could hurl rotten cabbages at things...or, more specifically, people.)
Hi, Laura! Thanks so much for the link love! :D
I totally understand what you mean about recognizing that a book is good but not enjoying it. There was a YA novel that I read and thought was really good, but didn't like. So I very coldly wrote a positive review of it. It wasn't my cup of tea but I couldn't ignore that objectively speaking it was very good!
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