Journey Outside, by Mary Q. Steele – The Newbery Project

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Journey Outside. It made me want to stay in.

Journey Outside. It made me want to stay in.

And now we have a new tag on this blog: “Terrible Newberys.” Thanks to Journey Outside, when you’re searching around for new book ideas for your kids, you can also quickly figure out what books NOT to try.

Truly, I disliked Journey Outside from page 1, and it didn’t get any better after that. The main character — whose name completely escapes me, he was that forgettable — spends most of his early life underground, floating around on a raft in a circular passage of caves. Eventually, it occurs to him that… hmmm… perhaps that pile of rocks looks familiar…

How he managed to pass the exact same rock formations for years and years before he noticed is never really explained; although it’s painfully apparent that the reason his father and grandfather haven’t noticed is because they are trapped in their own narrow understanding of the world, and afraid to look beyond it. Among its other flaws,  Journey was way too preachy.

I’ve also managed to forget most of the other characters the boy meets once he escapes from the cave.  They were all uninteresting, annoying, or just plain bad. I wasn’t sure in the end if the “Outside” was really any better than the underground world of the raft people.

I read this book because I had the realization that, working my way backwards from the current Newberys, it would take AGES before I ever got to read (or re-read) some of the great books of my childhood, or to discover some of the great books I missed as a kid. I LOVE old books. Usually, the older the better (Okay, yes, there is a limit on that. I’m really not into Plato.) So I decided to start at 1970 and to work my way back from there and from the 2000s at the same time.

Happily, Journey Outside is not the only book I’ve read from the 70s (or I might have just given up the whole project).  I’ve also fairly recently read Frog and Toad Together (lovely!), Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIHM (one of my childhood favorites!), Bridge to Terebithia (I cried. Yes, I did.), The Westing Game (plot too complicated for audiobook, but good and mysterious in paper form). So, I guess I won’t give up on the 70s. Not just yet.

Journey Outside, by Mary Q. Steele

Newbery Honor: 1970

A.R. Book Level: 5.7 (but really, don’t do this to your 5th grader)

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6 responses »

  1. Julie of the Wolves is another great 70s Newbery winner. I loved Steig’s Abel’s Island (honor book). Just noticed that LeGuin’s Tombs of Atuan was an honor book as well. I guess it’s time to reread that series and blog about it.

    • Julie of the Wolves was one of my favorites as a kid! Of course, the heroine’s name could have had something to do with that. I also loved Tombs of Atuan, thought my memory of it is vague now. Maybe I’ll read it as my next 70s book :-)

  2. Clearly you’re not much into metaphors or deeper understandings lying below the surface of a novel. I thought Journey Outside was an excellent story – but then I have managed to read Plato and apparently enjoy literature on a different level than you apparently. Your critique just comes off as snarky and obnoxious.

    • I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy reading about my take on Journey Outside. I’m glad we’re free to have different views, though, and that the world of literature is large enough for us all to be able to find something to read and love.

  3. I read Journey Outside when I was a young child, an avid reader from the age of two, I had all the classics and much of the science fiction classic world already under my belt by the age of 12. I devoured short stories and novellas by the hundreds as well, and this one was one of the most memorable. I couldn’t remember the title, and on a recent search I found it along with your blog post about the story. I loved the story. It was very clear to me as a child that it was entirely symbolic and represented a social mindset in a very creative environment. It certainly never struck me as being a story to be taken literally. Because of its unique presentation of this type of social development I thought it to be a wonderful story and well suited for children to learn and ponder the ways humanity can convince themselves that they are progressing while actually running after their own tails. I don’t think it is necessary for everyone to like this presentation, nor do I think one who doesn’t like it isn’t well read. I just want to provide my own take on it, so others may be interested enough to at least give the book a try rather than passing it up altogether.

    • Thanks for commenting, and for providing such a well-considered response. I too have been an avid reader all my life and long ago got to the point where there was nothing left for me to buy in the Barnes & Noble classics bin! I think it’s interesting that you read Journey Outside as a child and enjoyed it. The story is clearly meant to be symbolic, but for me it just wasn’t an enjoyable version of this type of writing. I’d be curious to see what you think of it if you were to re-read it now. You may have an experience similar to mine when I re-read A Wrinkle in Time about a year ago. I had loved it as a kid, when that type of science fiction/fantasy was new to me, but as an adult, everything about the book seemed too obvious. It struck me that a ground-breaking story like that doesn’t feel as groundbreaking anymore after you’ve read all the other books that (perhaps inspired by L’Engle’s story) followed. I do appreciate your comment though, for, as you point out, Journey Outside may be a good fit for others, and if so, I’d hate for them to miss it. Thanks!

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