Posts from the ‘YA Historical Fiction’ Category

Eleanor & Park

Eleanor & ParkTitle: Eleanor & Park
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Narrators: Rebecca Lowman and Sunil Malhotra
ISBN: 9780385368261 (book on cd), 9781250012579 (hardcover)
Pages: 328 pages
Discs/CDs: 9 hours, 7 CDs
Publisher/Date: St. Martin’s Griffin, c2013. (audio from Listening Library)

“You can’t sit there. That’s Mikayla’s seat.” [...]
“I have to sit somewhere,” The girl said to Tina in a firm, calm voice.
“Not my problem,” Tina snapped. The bus lurched, and the girl rocked back to keep from falling. Park tried to turn the volume up on his Walkman, but it was already all the way up. He looked back at the girl; it looked like she was starting to cry.
Before he’d even decided to do it, Park scooted toward the window.
“Sit down,” he said. It cam out angrily. The girl turned to him, like she couldn’t tell whether he was another jerk or what. “Jesus-fuck,” Park said softly, nodding to the space next to him, “just sit down.”
The girl sat down. She didn’t say anything–thank God, she didn’t thank him–and she left six inches of space on the seat between them.
Park turned toward the Plexiglas window and waited for a world of suck to hit the fan. (8-9)

This is how Eleanor and Park meet. Eleanor, described by Park as “big and awkward. With crazy hair, bright red on top of curly. And she was dressed like. . . like she wanted people to look at her.” (8) Eleanor, when comparing Park to the other, meaner classmates on the bus, “couldn’t tell if the Asian kid who finally let her sit down was one of them, or whether he was just really stupid. (But not stupid-stupid- he was in two of Eleanor’s honors classes.)” (11) But then Park notices Eleanor is reading his comics over his shoulder, so he lends her some more. And he realizes that they like some of the same bands and music, so he lends her some cassette tapes. And then batteries. It’s when Park invites Eleanor home with him that they both realize two things: they are becoming more than just two teens who share the same bus seat, and their lives couldn’t be more different. It is those differences that ultimately put their relationship to the test, and Eleanor asks Park to give her something he truly doesn’t want to give up on.

What is it about books lately that are making me see the world so differently? Obviously books are supposed to make you view the world through a window or a light that isn’t your own. But I have never heard Eleanor’s analysis of Romeo and Juliet before, and I loved how contrary she was to the teacher. It’s also a little eye-opening and a little unnerving to have a historical fiction title that takes place during a time (1986) I was alive! Finally, after reading about the censorship scandal last September, I guess I should give fair warning that there are a multitude of swear words and some sexual content, although they don’t make it to home plate.

The relationship between Park and Eleanor I initially thought of as cliché, with two people who originally hate each other slowly falling in love. Really though, they didn’t hate each other in the beginning, they just had to get to know each other better and overcome this huge space between them. The bus seat and their body language while riding to and from school becomes symbolic of their feelings, as they start out avoiding each other, but then slowly migrate closer and closer, first ducking down so no one can see and then not caring what anyone on the bus thinks of them. Park starts off being this stereotypical Asian boy, smart, small, and silent, but then there’s that scene between him and Steve (if you have read the book, you KNOW which one I’m talking about), and it just smashes your entire opinion of Park. It also smashes your entire impression of Eleanor, as her response is just… wow.
Eleanor is getting teased by the kids on the bus. Park gets upset, and Eleanor tells him:

“It’s not worth it.”
“You are,” he said fiercely, looking at her. “You’re worth it.”
“This isn’t for me,” she said. She wanted to pull at him, but she didn’t feel like he was hers to hold back. “I don’t want this.”
“I’m tired of them embarrassing you.” [...]
“Embarrassing me?” she said. “Or embarrassing you?” (130)

You realize how mature she is and it’s sad that her abusive home life is what caused that maturity. Your heart hurts for Park that he gives so much and asks so little, but Eleanor isn’t really in a position to offer any more than she does, and she is forced to keep her guard up around everyone.

Speaking of families, Park’s is the polar opposite of Eleanor’s family. While yes we have the stereotypical absent and/or abusive parents in Eleanor’s case, we also have Park’s involved, loving, and caring parents. Park’s parents can empathize with the spot he finds himself, and while they are not perfect, they play off each other beautifully. They are willing to change when circumstances change, and they are overall some cool parents to have who support and mentor Park with his tough decisions.

Another opinion altering moment comes at the end. That is NOT how I expected this book to end. Not in a million years. But it works, and it makes sense. The book’s ending is so gut-wrenching yet hopeful, all at once, that you may just find yourself smiling even as a tear or two runs down your cheek. Whether you listen to the excellent audio or curl up next to the fire for a cover-to-cover binge reading, be prepared to have your heart stretched.

Waiting on Wednesday/Book to Pine For #7

The Story Siren calls it Books to Pine for. There’s a whole bunch of other people who call it Waiting on Wednesday and post their links at Breaking the Spine. In any case, these are the books I would love to read, and am looking forward to have in hand.

Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys February 13, 2013
I absolutely was amazed after reading Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys and quickly realized that she has another one coming out next year. Yes, next year, but I’m sure it will be well worth the wait.

It’s 1950, and as the French Quarter of New Orleans simmers with secrets, seventeen-year-old Josie Moraine is silently stirring a pot of her own. Known among locals as the daughter of a brothel prostitute, Josie wants more out of life than the Big Easy has to offer. She devises a plan get out, but a mysterious death in the Quarter leaves Josie tangled in an investigation that will challenge her allegiance to her mother, her conscience, and Willie Woodley, the brusque madam on Conti Street.

Josie is caught between the dream of an elite college and a clandestine underworld. New Orleans lures her in her quest for truth, dangling temptation at every turn, and escalating to the ultimate test.

With characters as captivating as those in her internationally bestselling novel Between Shades of Gray, Ruta Sepetys skillfully creates a rich story of secrets, lies, and the haunting reminder that decisions can shape our destiny.

What are you waiting on this Wednesday?

Between Shades of Gray

Title: Between Shades of Gray
Author: Ruta Sepetys
Narrator: Emily Klein
ISBN: 9780142428979
Pages: 344 pages
Discs/CDs: 7 CDs, 8 hours
Publisher/Date: Penguin Audio, c2011.

“Davai!” An NKVD officer grabbed Jonas by the shoulders and began to drag him away.
“NO!” screamed Mother.
They were taking Jonas. My beautiful, sweet brother who shooed bugs out of the house instead of stepping on them, who gave his little ruler to splint a crotchety old man’s leg.
“Mama! Lina!” he cried, flailing his arms.
“Stop!” I screamed, tearing after them. Mother grabbed the officer and began speaking in Russian–pure, fluent Russian. He stopped and listened. [...]
Mother pulled a bundle of rubles from her pocket and exposed it slightly to the officer. He reached for it and then said something to Mother, motioning with his head. Her hand flew up and ripped the amber pendant right from her neck and pressed it into the NKVD’s hand. He didn’t seem to be satisfied. Mother continued to speak in Russian and pulled a pocket watch from her coat. I knew that watch. It was her father’s and had his name engraved in the soft gold on the back. The officer snatched the watch, let go of Jonas, and started yelling at the people next to us.
Have you ever wondered what a human life is worth? That morning, my brother’s was worth a pocket watch. (26-27)

Fifteen-year-old Lina, her younger brother Jonas, and her mother are violently taken from their home in the middle of the night by the Soviet police. Being deported to who knows where, it’s a constant struggle to survive as they travel by train car to first one labor camp and then another. Forced to do back-breaking work in deplorable conditions with little food or medical care, Lina spends her days alternatingly fearing the worst and hoping for the best. But when you’re faced with insurmountable odds, is there really any difference between hoping for life or begging for death?

It really amazes me the coincidences that happen when no one is aware of them. The fact that this book and Breaking Stalin’s Nose could both be about Stalin’s rule during World War II, events that most Americans including myself have very little knowledge of AND be published within six months of each other is amazing enough in my mind. To have them both be recognized by the various awards committees is even more remarkable, with Breaking Stalin’s Nose receiving a Newbery Honor and Between Shades of Gray receiving a host of recognition, including nominations for the Cybils Award for Young Adult Fiction, the William C. Morris YA Debut Award and the ALA Teens’ Top Ten list. I feel like I should go hunting for more books about Stalin’s regime! The beauty of this coincidence that with these two books you have perspectives from both sides of how life was like from authors who both have personal connections to that time in history. The fear that Sasha suffers from in Breaking Stalin’s Nose is almost incomparable to what Lina and her family go through in Between Shades of Gray, although it did slightly prepare me for what I would find in Between Shades of Gray.

Ruta Sepetys stresses at the end of her book that to this day, seventy years later, still no one talks about the horrors that happened at the beginning of the war. Librarians, teachers, military professionals, lawyers, and doctors along with their families were just some of the professions that were rounded up, shoved onto trains, and forced to hard labor in the camps for years. As a librarian, knowing about this left me thinking if I would have survived the journey, and the answer would have most likely been no. They took the educated, the informed, and the influential, and reduced them to scavengers, sickly citizens, forcing them to sign documents that marked them as criminals and labeling the train car they rode on as carrying prostitutes and thieves to further demean their existence.

There were so many scenes in this book of the torture that these people endured that stand out to me so vividly even after finishing the last page and closing the cover. I can’t lock those descriptions away and put them on the shelf as easily as I can close the book and put it away. From being threatened with being buried alive to suffering from lice, scurvy, and other diseases to picking up and eating the trash that is pelted at you just so you have something to eat that night, to watching a new mother be shot for mourning the death of her new-born, which suffered the irrevocable fate of having been born to someone on the “list”. The United States, as far as I’m aware of, doesn’t share the histories of atrocities that other countries do, as even slaves back in the 1700s were taken care of to some extent because they had value. These people were seen as worthless by the NKVD and made to feel worthless by any means necessary.

Sepeyts spares nothing and no one when portraying the hardships, but the book is also filled with instances of caring and the small actions that helped Lina, her brother, and everyone around her maintain a shred of hope and decency. When asked to undress for the first time in the open air for showers, the women avert their eyes and turn around so as to give the boys some modicum of privacy. Jonas gives his school ruler as an ineffective splint for a crotchety and pessimistic man who broke his leg in a failed suicide attempt. The prisoners share what little knowledge, food, and warmth they have with each other because they recognize that sometimes the littlest things could mean the difference between hope and despair, between another day above ground or the first of many below.

Emily Klein narrates the book, and the part she excels is Lina’s varied feelings and the clipped and impatient tones of the NKVD officers, many times shouting just one hated word: “Davai!” While her differentiation between characters is only really noticeable with Lina, Jonas, and one or two others, the emotion is raw and palatable and certainly is a welcome addition to the experience. However, you should also take a look at the map included in the printed text, which gives a visual of how far Lina, her family, and the rest of the captives had to travel over the course of more than a year.

Ruta Sepetys summarizes the conflict succinctly in the video on the book’s website. She also recently wrote a piece for NPR, explaining how her book is frequently confused with that “other shades of gray book” but that’s she’s embracing the opportunity to educate people who wouldn’t normally have been interested and claims the “mix-up is a victory.” It’s a powerful novel, both informative and inspirational in the same way that Anne Frank’s diary was for the Jewish Holocaust, and I highly recommend not only for book groups and school reading, but for individual reading as well.

The Kite Rider

Title: The Kite Rider
Author: Geraldine McCaughrean
Narrator: Full Cast; David Baker, Cynthia Bishop (narrator), Daniel Bostick, Bob Brophy, Bruce Coville, Ted Davenport, Galen Druke, Ann Marie Grathwol, Todd Hobin, Mimi K. Mead, Bill Molesky, Gerard Moses, Lauren Synger, Thea Van Der Ven
ISBN: 9781932076387 (book on CD), 0780066238753 (hardcover)
Pages: 272 pages
Discs/CDs: 6 CDs, 6.75 hours
Publisher/Date: HarperCollins Children’s Books, c2001.

The hurdle-a big square hatch cover woven out of palm leaves-was being carried along the deck by seven or eight sailors. The rope was already attached to it by a harness of four cords shackled to each of the four corners. Also bound to this giant kite was a man.
A cloth had been wrapped around his head, but now, as he twisted this way and that, struggling to break free, the cloth slipped down and Haoyou caught a clear glimpse of his face.
“Father!” [...]
Haoyou flung himself at the man-a brute as thick-set and sturdy as a post, with a round, neckless head. “You sent him up there! You killed him!” Haoyou shouted, pummeling the flat, unyielding stomach, bruising his fists on Di Chou’s leather belt.
Di Chou took hold of Haoyou by the ear, and the shining flesh of his cheeks twitched with menace as he smiled down at the boy.(7-12)

Obedient, twelve-year-old Haoyou’s life is turned upside down when his father is killed. His father’s killer offers to marry Haoyou’s beautiful mother, but between Haoyou and Mipeng, the family’s medium, they set into motion events that prevent that from happening. As a result, Haoyou finds himself recruited to perform in the traveling circus of the Great Miao as a kite rider, soaring high over the grief that his father’s death has caused. But can Haoyou rise above his own guilt, his uncle’s greed and the teachings of his youth that weigh him down?

Readers will soar with Haoyou when listening to the full cast production of The Kite Rider. Not to be confused by The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini or Linda Sue Park’s The Kite Fighters, the story starts with a punch and keeps the excitement high as Haoyou encounters greedy uncles, abusive suitors, and the “honorable” Kublai Khan. Some of the situations seem meant for a slightly older audience, which is probably why I’m finding copies of this book in children’s and young adult collections.

The audio is well voiced, although whoever voices Haoyou is sometimes just a tad over enthusiastic with his lines. His excitable voice works for most of the time though, as he’s either yelling, crying, or exclaiming over some event, probably as a result of his naivety. Narrator Cynthia Bishop does a good job at bridging the gaps between the different characters, and the landscape is described in breath-taking detail and poetic language.

[...] rising out of the roofless building, the fragments of countless kites rode on the incandescent updraft, trailing tails of fire, lurching and plunging, climbing and ditching: a flying menagerie of flame, a fleeting festival of catastrophe. (46)

Mipeng showcases some feminist traits that are well beyond the thirteenth-century Chinese culture that the book is set in. While she provides a more modern perspective and contrasts the rest of the characters’ attitudes with her opinions, it’s a little jarring to hear and see her disregard for everyone else’s teachings and beliefs, which was what she too was taught.

Overall the story has a lot of suspense as, just like the tail of a kite, McCaughrean leaves plot points dangling until the very end, waiting to be caught up again and tied up into a neat little bow. While the package might look a little too neat, I think readers will be well pleased with the results and remember the story for quite some time.

Heart of a Samurai

Title: Heart of a Samurai
Author: Margi Preus
ISBN: 9780810989818
Pages: 301 pages
Publisher/Date: Amulet Books, an imprint of Abrams, c2010.

“We can never go back to Japan, you know,” Goemon said, staring across the sea.
“Why not?”
“The law says, ‘Any person who leaves the country and later returns will be put to death.’”
They brooded on this in silence.
Finally, Manjiro said, “But why?
“Because, if we were to encounter any of the foreign devils, we would be poisoned by them.”
“Poisoned!” Manjiro said.
“Maybe not our bodies, but they will poison our minds with their way of thinking. That’s why no fishermen are allowed to go very far from the coast — they say ‘contamination lies beyond the reach of the tides.’ The barbarians would fill our heads with wrong thoughts!” (14)

Fourteen-year-old Manjiro is on his first fishing trip with four others when a storm damages their boat and blows them off course, stranding them on an uninhabited island. They have no way of getting home, and even if they did, Japan has closed their borders to everyone, including Japanese who have left the country, for fear their citizens will be influenced by the outsiders’ way of thinking. When an American whaling ship passes by, they have no other option than to climb aboard. But will Manjiro ever be able to return to his home, his family, and his impossible dream of becoming a samurai?

I received an Advanced Copy of this book at ALA last year, and never got around to reading it. After reading the published version, I’m kicking myself just a little bit. The cover bills it as “a novel inspired by a true adventure on the high seas,” and Preus does a spot-on job at backing up that claim. There are drawings done by Manjiro scattered throughout the text and his real words also supplement the story. At the end of the book is extensive back matter (close to 25 pages) that includes an epilogue, a historical note, glossaries of Japanese words, terms, and places, whaling terms, sailor lingo, and other miscellaneous terms, and a list of suggested reading on assorted topics for both adults and younger readers.

While the story is spread over the course of ten years, Preus leap-frogs from one event to another, keeping the action and adventure moving. She also approaches the racism that Manjiro experienced with care, compassion, and understanding, as Manjiro is quite possibly the first Japanese to reach American soil and the other residents don’t know what to make of him. He’s certainly not black or white and, in an age where the two groups were separated, his uniqueness is emphasized by the fact that Manjiro’s caretakers had to change churches twice in order to find one that would accept him.

Manjiro’s inquisitive nature is also emphasized in his constant questions that he asks everyone. From his fellow sailors to his rescuers and the people he encounters in America, Manjiro seems especially suited to bridge the gap between Japan and America. His open personality makes it difficult for anyone to escape his charm. I was instantly drawn into the story, and other readers will do likewise once they discover this Newbery Honor book. This is a book that I talked about with all 5th and 6th grade students when discussing Summer Reading Club, and several seemed interested.

Revolution

Title: Revolution
Author: Jennifer Donnelly
ISBN: 9780385737630
Pages: 482 pages
Publisher/Date: Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, c2010.

I laugh out loud. “No, I’m not.”
“No arguments, Andi. You’re coming to Paris and you’re taking your laptop with you. We’ll be there for three weeks. Plenty of time for you to work up an outline for your thesis.”
“Aren’t you forgetting something? What about Mom? What do we do about her? Just leave her here by herself?”
“I’m checking your mother into a hospital,” he says.
I stare at him, too shocked to speak. (48)

Andi Alpers has been going crazy trying to deal with the death of her brother, her absentee father, and her emotionally distant mother, not to mention her quickly declining dismal performance at her private prep school. When Andi’s father receives word that she might end up getting expelled, he swoops in, ships her mother off to a mental institute, and basically forces Andi on a plane to go with him to Paris. Andi is able to negotiate with her father a compromise; finish an outline and introduction to her thesis, and she can go home early. Andi’s resolve to leave gets tested when she not only meets a guitarist who shares her passion, but also discovers a centuries old diary of Alexandrine Paradis, a girl her age who worked in the palace during the French Revolution. These two girls might have more in common then Andi realizes when their lives intersect in a startling manner.

Full disclosure: There is a small element of time travel, which I don’t feel too bad revealing and I hope no one else counts it against me, but this is how it was explained to me. The time travel element is by no means the core of the novel, but I thought the minor details that were scattered throughout the novel came together cleanly by the end. Those minor details are scattered about the gorgeous cover, including the key on the spin, which plays an important role in the book. That’s a great touch that I’m sure has caught the attention of more than one reader. I wouldn’t classify the story as science fiction even with the time travel element, but then again I wouldn’t classify it as historical fiction either, even though some might consider it due to the diary. This is a solid modern-day tale that has a timeless quality because of its connections to the past.

The characterization is extremely well-developed. Readers are drawn into both Andi and Alex’s personality, understanding their motivations and convictions. Andi’s passion for music is evident from the beginning, and the fact that her thesis involves proving how a late seventeenth century composer influenced modern-day music is not something that I would have picked. But the musical history, influences, and pieces are explained in a manner that makes sense.

The parallels that could be drawn between Alex and Andi are multi-faceted, and the romances that develop for both characters are refreshingly subtle. I think it’s fairly obvious to readers that Alex has more than a passing fascination with the prince, just as Andi has more than a passing fascination towards Virgil, a boy she meets in Paris. Virgil is perfect for Andi at this time, because he’s willing to take things at her pace, but he also recognizes her pain and is not so willing to let her self-destructive tendencies take over. He is the one good thing in her life that serves as her anchor. Their love of music draws them together, just as the revolution draws Alex to the prince, and both relationships taken together shows love in its many forms.

I have to comment that I’m thrilled that Alex’s diary entries read like a diary, without an excessive amount of direct quotes. The present tense and jumping around the timeline makes it a little difficult to follow at times, but we don’t relate stories linearly in real life, so I’m willing to assume it was an attempt in authenticity. Readers view not only Alex’s “present”, but she also flashbacks to previous events, all while being presented as old diary entries. Plus, the presentation allows us to get Andi’s reactions to what she’s reading instantaneously, instead of waiting for the next chapter.

The details pull readers in and really set the scene for the action. It’s quite obvious that Donnelly has done her research here, describing everything from the sights and sounds of Paris to the smells of the catacombs. The fact that the centerpiece of Andi’s father’s research actually exists is fascinating. I’m not a history person, and I found myself understanding the complications and causes of the French Revolution. I felt like I was actually there, following in both Alex’s and Andi’s footsteps. Although the size of the book presents a daunting facade (weighing in at over 400 pages) readers who stick with it will be well rewarded.

Deadly

Title: Deadly
Author: Julie Chibbaro
Bound Galley ISBN: 9781442414877
Pages: 295 pages
Publisher/Date: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, c2011.
Reviewed from ARC furnished by Traveling ARC Tours
Release Date: Feb. 22, 2011

Since I realize ARCs (Advanced Reader Copy) are not the finalized book and can go through the editing process still, I figured I’d quote from GoodReads.com rather than the ARC itself. The cover image was also taken from GoodReads.com.

A mysterious outbreak of typhoid fever is sweeping turn-of-the-century New York. Every week more people fall ill, and despite thorough investigation, there’s no cause in sight. It’s not until the city’s most unlikely scientist — sixteen-year-old Prudence Galewski — takes a job as an assistant in a laboratory that the evidence begins to fall into place. It seems one person has worked in every home the fever has ravaged: Mary Mallon, an Irish immigrant dubbed “Typhoid Mary” by the press. Includes a historical note by the author.

I’m not sure how accurate this description is of the book, because first off a dozen isolated and infected houses does not — in my opinion — equal an outbreak sweeping the city. Secondly, the evidence would have eventually fallen into place with or without Prudence’s assistance. In any case I thought that for a book that covered an investigation of a medical disease, author Julie Chibbaro did a reasonable job in maintaining suspense and intrigue for audience’s attention spans. Her author’s note in the back explains that she moved up the timeline in order to better convey the entire investigation, and that many of the characters were actual people whose names and actions she took from accounts of the outbreak. In that aspect I can appreciate her striving for accuracy.

I can also appreciate the portrayal of the attitudes of that time period, varying from the prejudice against the “dirty Irish” to the suspicion of how a healthy person could unintentionally infect others. The author really delved into how sceptical people might be to believe in things that have recently come to light in the community. We learn about cells in schools, but we don’t think like Prudence does about just how things are held together and we don’t just “float away” if we’re made of these microscopic loose entities.

Prudence’s relationships with her supervisor Mr. Soper and a scientist named Jonathan had me slightly confused, and never really felt fully developed. Her feelings and her actions never mesh, leaving readers questioning whether she really does have this romantic fascination with him. Maybe that was the author’s intention, but I felt like something was missing. However, I did appreciate that, since her close friend has moved away and was growing distant, she had someone to turn to in the form of the female doctor, who served as inspiration for Prudence to further her own education and scientific inquiry.

Overall, an interesting presentation of “Typhoid Mary” that really lends readers to sympathize with Molly, who never really asked for this notoriety and attention to begin with. Readers are encouraged to think through the department’s actions, and draw their own conclusions of what could have and what should have been done.

Mercury

Title: Mercury
Author: Hope Larson
ISBN: 9781416935889
Pages: 234 pages
Publisher/Date: Atheneum Books for Young Readers (an imprint of Simon and Schuster Children’s Publishing Division), c2010.

Two stories, two parallel lives, play out in this graphic novel by Eisner Award winning author Hope Larson.
The year is 1859 and Josey house is playing host to a traveler who turns out to be a prospector. Mr. Currey is anxious to strike a deal with Josey’s father, confident that there is gold on the farm, and they set off down the mine shaft together. Josey’s mother is not as taken by the traveler as her husband and daughter, and her foreboding feeling might just prove right in the end.

The year is 2009 and Tara’s house has burnt to the ground, forcing her to move in with her aunt, uncle, and cousins while her mom works far away. Getting reacquainted with her classmates she left two years ago, Tara learns that she might have to leave again as her mom searches for more permanent work. Cash-strapped Tara turns to her last option… searching for buried gold. Will a mysterious family heirloom assist her in finding what she needs most?

While the beginning is a little choppy with no clear introduction of the characters, readers quickly catch-up and become engaged by this tale involving buried treasure and a little magical realism. Although it takes place in Nova Scotia, Canada and contains references for that area, little asterisks and footnotes help American readers follow the dialogue, and the setting could just as easily be northern United States.

The back and forth perspectives between Tara and Josey lend intrigue, because you see how the actions in 1859 affect the events 150 years later. It also allows the action to progress at a clip, and Larson cuts out the potentially slow parts. Jumping off points between the two stories are chosen well, and I could picture this being made into a movie. For instance, on page 164 the sun sets on Tara’s story, and the following page has the sun rising in Josey’s tale. Expressions are well designed and easy to read, eliminating the need for extraneous dialogue. Sound effects are added in a style similar to comic books, with “Slap”, “Groan” and “Clap” appearing in a larger than life manner.

All in all, a fast, enjoyable read. I would be interested in reading a sequel, where the “heirloom” is explored a little more, as something tells me that there is more than meets the eye.

Resistance

Title: Resistance: Book 1
Author: Carla Jablonski
Artist: Leland Purvis
Colorist: Hilary Sycamore
ISBN: 9781596432918
Pages: 121 pages
Publisher/Date: First Second, c2010.

Paul Tessier lives with his two sisters, Marie and Slyvie, and his mother in the free area of France during World War II. The rest of France is occupied by German soldiers, who are steadily entering the free area, rounding up Jews, and hunting out members of the Resistance. When Paul’s friend Henri gets accidentally left behind when his parents get taken, Paul hides him in their wine cellar. But the secret is hard to keep as the number of people who know Henri’s hiding place grows. Can Henri get out of France before the German’s find him?

By the subtitle and the open-ending, it seems that this is the first in a possible series. I have to admit though, the cover art is more intriguing than the story it contains. The cover features Paul aiming a slingshot (set apart from the rest of the cover with bright red elastic) at the back of a soldier’s head, which doesn’t happen in the book. The plot is less striking, imitating multiple other stories where Non-Jewish children help a Jewish child by hiding him away and sneaking him off to a safer area. I’ll admit there are details that intrigue, such as the trick with chocolate towards the very end. There are also scenes that steal your sympathy, most notably page 24 where Marie climbs into her older brother’s bed and he covers her with the comforter. But extreme close-ups of people’s faces make them look like exaggerated and distorted drama masks. The narrative is interspersed by Paul’s drawings, and while some of them make sense, others are just jarring to readers. There is a subplot involving Paul’s missing father that does not get explained at all, so you’re really not invested in his well-being. In my opinion, the most jarring scene on page 96 also gets glazed over, and loses the impact it could have had. The author’s notes at the beginning and the end of the book are informative, and provide the necessary background to understand and reflect on the story. If it’s your first exposure to Holocaust fiction, it works, but there are other options that would leave more of an impact.

Sources of Light

Title: Sources of Light
Author: Margaret McMullan
ISBN: 9780547076591
Pages: 233 pages
Publisher/Date: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, c2010.

One of the black women seated at the counter was a tall, pretty college-aged woman who carried a purse and two books. She could have been one of my mother’s students, except that she was black. She stared down at the space on the counter in front of her, saying nothing. [...]
Those white men and boys were attacking her and she’d done nothing, but just by being there, by sitting there where she was not supposed to be sitting, she was doing something. They were screaming and getting so angry, their faces turned red. They made so much noise and their voices were so loud, you had to go quiet. I kept my eye behind the camera and snapped picture after picture. Then I quit taking pictures of what was happening. I took pictures of the crowd of angry white men yelling at the people at the lunch counter sitting there doing nothing. There were others in the crowd watching what was happening. They could have been looking at a circus performance or a child’s running race. They were smiling and cheering. They shared cigarettes. They were having a good time.
The policemen stood by and watched. (89-91)

Sam is a freshmen, starting Jackson High School after her mother moves there for a job teaching art following her father’s death in Vietnam. After living in Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, moving to Jackson Mississippi in 1962 is a big change. Sam’s mother’s new “friend” Perry gives her a camera as a gift to make sense of all the new stuff she’s seeing. New stuff like the lunch counter sit-ins, the protests against African-Americans registering to vote, and the rampant prejudice. Conflicted about her feelings, Sam tries to fit in, especially with the popular classmate and her older brother. But Sam’s not really sure she wants to change who she is in order to make friends with people she really doesn’t agree with.

I found myself comparing this book to The Help by Kathryn Stockett. It doesn’t help the comparison that I read both stories close to each other. I think the most effective aspect of McMullan’s writing is that she doesn’t mince words. Just reading the passage I included reminds me of how invested readers are in the events that Sam is witnessing. Other books and authors I’ve read have described the sit-ins in a second or even third hand way, with people reading a newspaper article or by off-handed remarks. But McMullan places Sam in the thick of things; she sees first-hand the abuse these people undergo, the hate that was thrust onto African-Americans, and you can’t help but feel empathy instead of apathy.

It’s not just the sit-ins that readers are privy to through Sam’s eyes. Her feelings towards her neighbors change after her mother does something that rile up the neighborhood. Sam’s teacher seems to be the passive aggressive racist, continually encouraging in the classroom the stereotypes that blanket the town. An act of unspeakable violence ends the novel, which affects Sam and her family. Through it all, Sam and her mother appear stalwart.

I think that’s my one quibble regarding Sam’s character; Sam seems wise beyond her sheltered fourteen years. I hesitate to say sheltered, because admittedly she has lost her father as a result of the war, but prior to Mississippi Sam had lived in Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, and Pennsylvania. While I’ll admit I’m not a fan of history lessons, I don’t think any of those homes could have prepared Sam for the hate that Mississippi showed her. She has a presence and a solid stance about life that belies her age, and even though she questions some aspects of Southern living, she is steady and grounded to the point where she sounds older than what she is.

All in all, I liked the story for its introspection and realistic portrayal of racist events, even if the voice didn’t ring entirely true to me.

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