I recently finished reading Goblin Secrets by William Alexander, winner of the 2012 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. While I had a few problems with the book, mainly questions I had about his world-building, there is no doubt that he is a master at creating beautiful images and bringing out gut-wrenching emotions. I’ve quoted some passages from the book that made me envious.
Rownie woke up. He felt the cushioned chair underneath him, expecting to find the straw floor of Graba’s shack. He didn’t, and he didn’t know why—not until he gathered up all the pieces of yesterday and put them back together in his head. Then he remembered how alone he was.
Sunlight peered down through the tarnished glass of the arched ceiling, outside the railcar. It was morning. Pigeons roosted on the tops of the hanging clocks. They seemed to be ignoring him. He didn’t think they were Graba’s birds. He didn’t think so.
I love that extra beat of “He didn’t think so.” You can feel him trying to convince himself it’s safe to step outside. (Graba used the pigeons as her spies, which is why he was worried.)
I think what really impressed me was how well he got into Rownie’s head. He brought out all the emotions—fears, insecurities, frustrations—that Rownie experienced while trying to find out what happened to his older brother.
As the youngest he was used to piecing together his understanding from snatches of overheard conversations, and the rest he set carefully aside on the shelf in the back of his mind.
Unlike the Guard, Rownie understood these winding streets. The soles of his feet spoke their language. He could move quickly in Southside.
And finally, I just loved the descriptive images.
Large clocks hung from the ceiling by great lengths of chain, like the pocket watches of giants.
Dusty, cloudy sunlight came through the glass panes of the ceiling. It slid down over the brass finish of the abandoned railcars, and fell on the curved rust of wrought-iron benches.
I wish I could twist words into such poignant images and feelings. I can only keep trying.