In spring 2015 Lerner Publishing Group will release Kevin Brooks's The Bunker Diary, a YA novel that recently sparked controversy in the U.K. Earlier this summer the book won the Carnegie Medal, the British equivalent of the Newbery Medal, and, upon winning the prize, was called by the Telegraph a "uniquely sickening read." The newspaper added that the novel won the prize because of "shock value, rather than merit."
The Bunker Diary follows a teenage boy kidnapped off the streets of London by a man who adds him to a group of young people being held in an underground bunker. The prisoners are then told that if one of them murders another captive, the murderer will be set free.
PW talked with Lerner's editorial director, Andrew Karre, about publishing the U.S. edition of this lauded, but controversial, title.
How and where did you first hear about The Bunker Diary?
Bologna 2013, but I'd had my eye on Kevin Brooks for much longer. I made it very clear to the rights director at Puffin U.K. that if this was available I was potentially very interested before I even read the book. A few months later, things played out as I hoped and I was able to buy it.
What was it, as an editor and as a reader, that drew you to it?
I think it is a book that engages very directly with some of the foundational lies we tell children – lies that we typically discover as teenagers – and it does so in a way that is both completely gripping and deeply thoughtful. The book creates a marvelous tension between a desire to read quickly and find out what happens and to read slowly and discover what it all means.
Do you think the controversy surrounding the novel is warranted?
In a word, no. It is one thing to criticize a book by engaging with it on its own terms – the words on the page and quality and thoughtfulness of their arrangement by the author. It is another thing entirely to imagine hypothetical effects on imaginary audiences. To do the latter insults the book and the actual readers.
To call this book "nihilistic" is to admit to being an incompetent reader. It is a provocative book but it is never sensational.
Given that this novel might hit a bit close to home for some U.S. readers – I'm thinking about the three young women held captive in Cleveland for a decade – do you think that, in the States, it will meet a similar reception to what its had in the U.K.?
I don't feel strongly about its potential to be controversial. I bought it because I think it's good and it does things that I want our YA novels to do. That it won the Carnegie is delightful frosting; that it did so controversially is sprinkles, I suppose. I doubt people who actually read the book will find themselves thinking about the Cleveland case – or any other specific kidnapping incident – it's just not that kind of book. I hope serious readers will be thinking about the words on the page and the very specific problems and images they evoke. And if people who haven't read the book seriously – or at all – still wish to have a say, then they're as entitled to do so as I am to not give a shit.