Tag Archives: historical fiction

The Arsonist by Stephanie Oakes

The Arsonist by Stephanie Oaks. August 22, 2017. Dial Books, 493 p. ISBN: 9780803740716.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 770.

It starts with a fire. A diary. A murder.

Molly Mavity is not a normal teenage girl. For one thing, she doesn’t believe that her mother killed herself three years ago. And since her father is about to be executed for his crimes, Molly is convinced that her mother will return to her soon. Finally, the hole in her heart will stop hurting.

Pepper Al-Yusef is not your average teenage boy. A Kuwaiti immigrant with serious girl problems and the most embarrassing seizure dog in existence, he has to write a series of essays over the summer…or fail out of school.

And Ava Dreyman—the brave and beautiful East German resistance fighter whose murder at seventeen led to the destruction of the Berlin Wall—is unlike anyone you’ve met before.

When Molly and Pepper are tasked with finding Ava’s murderer, they realize there’s more to her life—and death—than meets the eye. Someone is lying to them. And someone out there is guiding them along, desperate for answers.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language, Mild sexual themes, Discussion of suicide

 

Reviews

Booklist (May 1, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 17))
Grades 9-12. When Ava Dreyman was killed in an East Berlin prison, all she left behind was a diary. Decades later, that diary might hold the truth about Molly Mavity’s mother’s disappearance, but she’ll need the help of Kuwaiti American Pepper Al Yusef to unlock its secrets, and they’ll have to travel all the way to Berlin and back to do it. Oakes’ sophomore novel unfolds in a series of soul-bearing letters (from Molly to Pepper) and lighthearted essays (Pepper’s last-chance assignment to graduate high school), all interspersed with passages from Ava’s compelling diary. Though the middle drags a bit, and the ultimate reveal might be predictable to some readers, Oakes has some brilliant moments—Ava’s mother, a resistance fighter who burns East German buildings, gives fiery speeches about anger, destruction, and power. Molly and Pepper’s lively friendship unfolds with spirited warmth, and intricate connections between their families tantalizingly come to the surface. Packed with dynamic characters, thoughtful writing, and a decades-spanning mystery, this will appeal to readers looking for something off the beaten path.

Kirkus Reviews (May 15, 2017)
Fire forges historical and contemporary connections among three troubled teens. The three teen narrators could easily star in their own books. Instead, their voices and lives intertwine in an implausible plot full of coincidences and conveniently chatty villains. Rebellious white redhead Molly Mavity writes sarcastic, tense-shifting letters to her friend Pepper, who lies in a coma. Molly, whose arsonist father will soon be executed, is convinced her mother is alive—despite her suicide. Ibrahim “Pepper” Al-Yusef, a Kuwaiti immigrant with epilepsy and a comic-relief seizure pug, wryly weaves his views on everything from friendship to racism into a series of essays assigned by a long-suffering teacher as a condition of graduation. Both gradually reveal how they followed a stranger’s clues to Berlin in search of Ava Dreyman, a teen from the former East Germany who became an Anne Frank–esque symbol for the fall of the Berlin Wall. Ava, whose diary of resisting the Stasi, escaping to America, and finding romance ends with her murder in 1989, connects Molly and Pepper in a far-flung way. Though Ava’s accounts of oppression are chilling, Pepper’s awkwardness is endearing, and Molly’s grief is brutal, the mastermind’s far-fetched scheme and Molly and Pepper’s improbable stunts in Berlin ultimately muffle the strong voices of all three characters. A convoluted mystery that flavors the darkness of Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity (2012) with the contrivances of Scooby Doo. (Mystery. 14-18)

About the Author

Stephanie Oakes lives in Spokane, Washington, and works as a library media teacher at a combined elementary and middle school. She has an MFA in poetry from Eastern Washington University. Her first book, The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly, was a Morris Award finalist and a Golden Kite Honor book.

Her website is www.stephanieoakesbooks.com

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The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee. June 27, 2017. Katherine Tegen Books, 513 p. ISBN: 9780062382801.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 900.

Henry “Monty” Montague was born and bred to be a gentleman, but he was never one to be tamed. The finest boarding schools in England and the constant disapproval of his father haven’t been able to curb any of his roguish passions—not for gambling halls, late nights spent with a bottle of spirits, or waking up in the arms of women or men.

But as Monty embarks on his Grand Tour of Europe, his quest for a life filled with pleasure and vice is in danger of coming to an end. Not only does his father expect him to take over the family’s estate upon his return, but Monty is also nursing an impossible crush on his best friend and traveling companion, Percy.

Still it isn’t in Monty’s nature to give up. Even with his younger sister, Felicity, in tow, he vows to make this yearlong escapade one last hedonistic hurrah and flirt with Percy from Paris to Rome. But when one of Monty’s reckless decisions turns their trip abroad into a harrowing manhunt that spans across Europe, it calls into question everything he knows, including his relationship with the boy he adores.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Guns, Strong language, Racial taunts, Discrimination, Strong sexual themes, Drugs, Underage drinking, Smoking, Criminal culture, Negative attitudes toward differing mental abilities

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist starred (April 15, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 16))
Grades 9-12. Henry Montague is the son of a lord, and as such, his behavior is entirely inappropriate. A lover of vice and hedonism, Monty prefers to spend his time drinking (acceptable) and trysting, both with girls and boys (decidedly not acceptable). Still, Monty is in high spirits as he prepares for his grand tour of the Continent. At his side is his best friend: polite, gentlemanly Percy is the orphaned product of an English lord and a woman from Barbados. Monty, of course, is hopelessly in love with him and plans to make the most of the tour, until his distinct flair for trouble gets in the way. Several miscommunications, one truly terrible party, and an act of petty thievery later, Monty and Percy find themselves on the run across Europe with Monty’s sister Felicity in tow. Tongue-in-cheek, wildly entertaining, and anachronistic in only the most delightful ways, this is a gleeful romp through history. Monty is a hero worthy of Oscar Wilde (“What’s the use of temptations if we don’t yield to them?”), his sister Felicity is a practical, science-inclined wonder, and his relationship with Percy sings. Modern-minded as this may be, Lee has clearly done invaluable research on society, politics, and the reality of same-sex relationships in the eighteenth century. Add in a handful of pirates and a touch of alchemy for an adventure that’s an undeniable joy.

Horn Book Magazine (May/June, 2017)
Eighteen-year-old Monty, spoiled heir to a wealthy estate in eighteenth-century Britain, embarks on a year-long “Tour” of Europe, after which he will settle unhappily into respectable life. One social offense and an antiquities theft later, Monty and his companions (prickly little sister Felicity and lifelong best friend Percy, with whom Monty is hopelessly in love) are on the run from a power-hungry duke. When Monty discovers that Percy–whose social status as the mixed-race nephew of a wealthy landowner is already precarious–suffers from epilepsy and will be permanently committed to a sanitarium upon their return, Monty is determined to retrieve the alchemical panacea that his stolen artifact supposedly unlocks. Mayhem, adventure, and a swoon-worthy emotional roller-coaster of a romance ensue. Lee’s attention to issues of privilege in this setting, and the intersections of race, sexuality, and gender as embodied by the three travelers (and the compelling secondary characters who populate their travels, including a formerly enslaved crew of so-called pirates who have been denied the papers they need to conduct legal seafaring business) add dimension to the journey. At the center of all this, Monty is pitch-perfect as a yearning, self-destructive, oblivious jerk of a hero who inspires equal parts sympathy, frustration, and adoration from readers–as well as from Percy himself. A genre tribute, satire, and exemplar in one: trope-filled in the most gleeful way. claire e. gross

About the Author

Mackenzi Lee holds a BA in history and an MFA in writing for children and young adults from Simmons College. She is the New York Times bestselling author of the historical fantasy novels This Monstrous Thing and The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue (HarperCollins), as well as the forthcoming The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy (coming in 2018 from HarperCollins) and Semper Augustus (coming in 2019 from Flatiron/Macmillan). She is also the author of Bygone Badass Broads (Abrams, 2018), a collection of short biographies of amazing women from history you probably don’t know about but definitely should, based on her popular twitter series of the same name.

She currently calls Boston home, where she manages an independent bookstore, drinks too much Diet Coke, and pets every dog she meets.

Her website is www.mackenzilee.com

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A Promising Life by Emily Arnold McCully

A Promising Life: Coming of Age in America by Emily Arnold McCully. July 25, 2017. Arthur A. Levine Books, 304 p. ISBN: 9780439314459.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 770.

For as long as he can remember, Jean Baptiste Charbonneau has been told that a promising future lies ahead of him. After all, his mother is the great Sacagawea, who accompanied Lewis and Clark on their expedition of discovery. And thanks to his mother, Baptiste’s life changes forever when Captain Clark offers him an education in the bustling new city of St. Louis.

There, his mother charges him to “learn everything” – reading, writing, languages, mathematics. His life becomes a whirl of new experiences: lessons, duels, dances, elections. He makes friends and undertakes unexpected journeys to far-off places.

But he also witnesses the injustices Clark, as a US agent for Indian Affairs, forces upon the Osage, the Arikara, the Mandan, and so many others. He sees the effect of what some call “progress” on the land and on the people who have lived there for generations. And he must choose what path he will take and what place he will have in a rapidly changing society.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language; Mild sexual themes

 

Reviews

Kirkus Reviews (May 1, 2017)
Jean Baptiste Charbonneau was born to a Frenchman, Toussaint, and a Shoshone woman, Sakakawea, who assisted Lewis and Clark on their legendary expedition. When Sakakawea’s husband’s post-expedition plans fall through, they decide to leave St. Louis behind, leaving their only son in the nominal care of Capt. Clark, who had offered to adopt the boy. Problem is, Capt. Clark is hundreds of miles away, and Jean is left to attend an all-boys school of “mixed bloods”—children of Native and white parentage. Jean adapts. When Capt. Clark finally makes it back to St. Louis, Jean learns that his place as Clark’s “son” has been taken by Clark’s natural-born newborn son. Though Clark continues to financially support Jean’s education, Jean is left to grow up on his own and becomes further immersed in “white” ways. This narrative distances readers from the harshness of life for Native American children who were forced to attend missionary schools. McCully creates a fictionalized character who interacts with apologetic yet complicit racists, including Clark himself, a slave owner who contributed to the western expansion that destroyed Native American nations. Sakakawea’s voice is muted as she permanently leaves her 7-year-old son behind, only wishing the young child well in his adaptation to the white world. The depth of Sakakawea’s experience is lost, her depiction merely that of a passive captive who lacks any real emotion. A slow read with an emphasis placed on the “benefits” of Jean’s Christianized education and a focus that glosses over the genocide that occurred among Native American people. (Historical fiction. 12-16)

Publishers Weekly (May 15, 2017)
As an infant, Jean Baptiste Charbonneau traveled with his mother, Sakakawea, and father, Toussaint, on Lewis and Clark’s expedition, after which Captain Clark offered to “raise this ‘beautiful and promising child’ as his own son.” McCully (Ida M. Tarbell) provides a fascinating fictionalized history of Baptiste’s life from 1810, when his parents delivered him to Clark’s care in St. Louis, through 1830, when he returned from European travels. His mother’s admonition-“You will have a different life…. White men are spreading their ways everywhere…. Learn!”-guides Baptiste to excel at school while observing America’s turbulent growth: treaties taking land from native tribes, the steamboat bringing “drastic change that favored a few and ruined others,” elections (in which he could not vote), Clark’s ownership and abuse of slaves, and the work of missionaries, blacksmiths, furriers, and adventurers. “I will always be pulled in two directions, an educated man of Shoshone and French blood, on the outside looking in,” Baptiste reflects. A tumultuous period in American history comes alive through the eyes of this compelling protagonist. Ages 12-up.

About the Author

Emily Arnold McCully was born left-handed in Galesburg, Illinois. She was a dare-devil tree-climber and ball-player who loved to write stories and illustrate them. Her family moved to New York City and then to a suburb, where she attended school. After college at Brown University, she earned a Master’s degree at Columbia University in art history. She worked as a freelance illustrator for magazines, advertisements and book publishers until a radio station commissioned a series of posters showing children playing. The first appeared in subway cars, where it was seen by a children’s book editor. It launched a long career, first as an illustrator, then as author/illustrator of picture books. McCully won a Caldecott Medal in 1993. She has two grown sons, one grandson and lives in New York City and Columbia County, N.Y., where she grows flowers and vegetables.

Her website is emilyarnoldmccully.com

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It All Comes Down to This by Karen English

It All Comes Down to This by Karen English. July 11, 2017. Clarion Books, 368 p. ISBN: 9780544839571.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 6.4; Lexile: 680.

It’s 1965, Los Angeles. All twelve-year-old Sophie wants to do is write her book, star in the community play, and hang out with her friend Jennifer. But she’s the new black kid in a nearly all-white neighborhood; her beloved sister, Lily, is going away to college soon; and her parents’ marriage is rocky. There’s also her family’s new, disapproving housekeeper to deal with. When riots erupt in nearby Watts and a friend is unfairly arrested, Sophie learns that life—and her own place in it—is even more complicated than she’d once thought.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language, Violence, Mild sexual themes, Drugs, Racism and racist language, Sexist language

 

Reviews

Booklist starred (April 15, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 16))
Grades 5-8. Bookish, quiet Sophie lives in a mostly white, middle-class neighborhood in L.A. with her class-conscious parents and older sister, Lily, who can pass for white. Life seems fairly easy, though she’s certainly no stranger to the cruelty of racism. But in the summer of 1965, as the Watts riots fill the news, several changes shake up Sophie’s world: she finds evidence of her father’s infidelity; her sister starts dating a darker-skinned man, whose experience of being black is much different from theirs; and she personally sees the unfairness of widespread racism when she auditions for a play at the community center. Amid classic middle-grade topics, English deftly weaves a vivid, nuanced story about the complexity of black identity and the broad implications of prejudice. The Watts riots appear mostly in the background, but English stirringly highlights how black anger isn’t localized solely among victims of police brutality. Rather, rage simmers everywhere. Even Sophie, whose most aggressive move is defiantly shouldering past a white girl in the library, thinks to herself, “Gosh, that was a wonderful feeling—being colored and liking to fight.” Through Sophie’s first-person narrative, readers will gain an insight into her struggle to puzzle out her identity, particularly when what she knows about herself is at odds with the expectations and assumptions of the various communities she inhabits. Thoughtful and well wrought, this novel is compassionate, pointed, and empowering.

Horn Book Magazine (July/August, 2017)
The daughter of an art gallery-owning mother and a lawyer father, twelve-year-old Sophie has advantages most children her age do not. However, the summer of 1965 in Los Angeles brings challenges no amount of money can fix. Sophie must navigate her older sister preparing to leave for college, her parents’ continual arguments, and the family’s overly critical housekeeper. Not to mention that Sophie’s is the only African American family in an otherwise all-white neighborhood. In response to her friends’ query about what it feels like to be “Negro,” Sophie answers, “You remembered what you were all the time. All the time.” From learning about Emmett Till to witnessing an innocent man’s arrest, Sophie is forced to face a reality different from that of those around her. As much as budding author Sophie tries to focus on writing her novel and auditioning for the starring role in the community play, these issues are a constant presence, coming to a crescendo with the Watts rebellion. How Sophie reacts to these challenges, and what she learns in the process, results in a true coming-of-age story. The perspective of an upper-middle-class African American family is an unusual and welcome one; and Sophie’s interactions with her white best friend make for a particularly honest dialogue. Fans of Rita Williams-Garcia will enjoy this moving, frank novel. eboni njoku

About the Author

Karen English is a Coretta Scott King Honor Award-winner and the author of the Nikki and Deja and The Carver Chronicles series. Her novels have been praised for their accessible writing, authentic characters, and satisfying storylines. She is a former elementary school teacher and lives in Los Angeles, California.

 

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Hell & High Water by Tanya Landman

Hell & High Water by Tanya Landman. June 13, 2017. Candlewick Press, 320 p. ISBN: 9780763688752.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 830.

“Any money for Mr. Punch?”

For fifteen years, Caleb and his father have roamed southern England with little to their names but the signet ring his father inherited and the theater and puppets with which they stage popular, raunchy Punch and Judy shows.

“She will help you. Tell her she must.”

One summer day in 1752, Pa is convicted of a theft he didn’t commit and sentenced to transportation to the colonies in America. From gaol, Caleb’s father sends him to the family he never knew he had: an aunt on the coast.

“Filthy thing! How can you bear to have him in the house?”

His welcome at her house is strange, and her neighbors and stepdaughter seem to see only Caleb’s dark skin.

“I found him. On the beach. He’s dead.”

When Caleb finds a body washed up on shore, he stumbles into something much bigger than a man’s death in the high water.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Racial taunts, Discrimination

 

Reviews

Booklist starred (May 1, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 17))
Grades 6-9. Landman’s Dickensian novel takes readers to eighteenth-century England, where a mixed-race teen and his father, Joseph, who is white, travel the countryside putting on Punch and Judy shows. Their itinerant life crashes around them when a thief drops a purloined silk purse at Joseph’s feet, framing the puppeteer for the crime. To Caleb’s horror, his father is dragged to prison and sentenced to be transported to America. Following Joseph’s whispered instructions, Caleb makes his way to his heretofore unknown aunt’s house, where he is welcomed by his aunt, though her stepdaughter, Lettie, is standoffish, and the town is downright hostile to a “darkie” like Caleb. Not long after his arrival, he discovers a disfigured body on the beach wearing Joseph’s beloved ring, but while Caleb runs for help, the identifying ring is stolen. Though no one believes Caleb’s claim that this man is his father, he knows something is deeply wrong. As he seeks the truth, he and Lettie grow closer, and they uncover rampant corruption and family secrets. This story is both a taut mystery and an excellent piece of historical fiction that brings issues of class, race, and justice into sharp focus. The compelling, complex characters come to life through Landman’s sophisticated writing, and the plot’s many twists strike like expertly timed smacks from Punch’s slapstick.

Kirkus Reviews starred (April 1, 2017)
Murder and mystery abound in this engrossing and atmospheric tale set in 18th-century England.Fifteen-year-old Caleb Chappell is a mixed-race boy whose life is shrouded in mystery. He knows nothing about his black mother, and his white father—a talented puppeteer—is the son of a disgraced earl but never discusses his past. When his father is falsely convicted of theft, Caleb is forced to seek protection from a hitherto-unknown paternal aunt who married a sailor and resides with her stepdaughter in a small port town. After settling into his new life, Caleb receives a shock when a body bearing his father’s signet ring washes up on the shore. Though he knows the corpse is his father, everyone in the town, from the parson to the local lord of the manor, is determined to convince Caleb otherwise. In her latest novel, Carnegie Medalist Landman (Buffalo Soldier, 2014) crafts a scintillating story of corruption headed by a winsome and tenacious protagonist. The author’s concise descriptions of the sea’s frightening vastness, the confining and insulated spirit of the small English town, and the provincial xenophobic attitudes of its denizens are almost cinematic in scope. Often mistaken for a slave, Caleb must endure whispers and pointed racism that are as historically accurate as they are disheartening. So riveting that the pages seem to turn of their own accord. (Fiction. 13-adult)

About the Author

Tanya Landman is the Carnegie Medal–winning author of a number of historical novels for young adults, including The Goldsmith’s Daughter and I Am Apache, in which she explores the lives of history’s dispossessed and disenfranchised. Tanya Landman lives in Devon, England.

Her website is www.tanyalandman.com

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The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein

The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein. May 2, 2017. Disney-Hyperion, 326 p. ISBN: 9781484717165.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 860.

Before Verity…there was Julie.

When fifteen-year-old Julia Beaufort-Stuart wakes up in the hospital, she knows the lazy summer break she’d imagined won’t be exactly like she anticipated. And once she returns to her grandfather’s estate, a bit banged up but alive, she begins to realize that her injury might not have been an accident. One of her family’s employees is missing, and he disappeared on the very same day she landed in the hospital.

Desperate to figure out what happened, she befriends Euan McEwen, the Scottish Traveller boy who found her when she was injured, and his standoffish sister, Ellen. As Julie grows closer to this family, she experiences some of the prejudices they’ve grown used to firsthand, a stark contrast to her own upbringing, and finds herself exploring thrilling new experiences that have nothing to do with a missing-person investigation.

Her memory of that day returns to her in pieces, and when a body is discovered, her new friends are caught in the crosshairs of long-held biases about Travellers. Julie must get to the bottom of the mystery in order to keep them from being framed for the crime.

Prequel to:  Code Name Verity

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language; Mild sexual themes

 

Reviews

Booklist starred (March 1, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 13))
Grades 9-12. Those who had their hearts broken by Julie in Code Name Verity (2012) will relish this prequel opportunity to meet the brash girl who grew into the brave spy. Julie, almost 16, is returning for the final cleanup of her family’s Scottish estate, about to be turned into a boy’s school to pay off its debt. Before her mother knows she’s returned, Julie is conked on the head and winds up in the hospital, missing a few days of memory. Out of this singular event come knotted ropes of story that overlap and intertwine. One strand is the introduction of siblings Euan and Ellen, locally despised Travellers who enlighten and complicate Julie’s life. Another is the disappearance of a cache of glowing river pearls originally found in the estate’s waters. Hanging over everything, like a moldering net, is the death of a scholar cataloging the estate’s holdings, a death Julie may have witnessed. Yet, for all the story’s mystery and history—some of it quite ancient—two other elements take hold: the intriguing characters, brimming with life, and the evocative language seeded with Scottish words and phrasings that forces the audience to read the book as carefully as it deserves. A finely crafted book that brings one girl’s coming-of-age story to life, especially poignant for those who already know her fate.

Kirkus Reviews starred (March 15, 2017)
Wein’s fans will revel in the return of Julie Beaufort-Stuart, the co-narrator of Code Name Verity (2012). Billed as a prequel to that Printz Honor book, this is no mere back story to Julie’s role in World War II but a stand-alone mystery. The 15-year-old white minor noble returns from boarding school in the summer of 1938 to the Scottish country estate of her late grandfather, the Earl of Strathfearn. Her luggage lost, Julie dons “a mothy tennis pullover which left my arms daringly bare and a kilt that must have been forgotten some time ago by one of my big brothers….I was David Balfour from Kidnapped again, the way I’d been the whole summer I was thirteen.” After a blow to the head leaves her unconscious, Julie becomes tangled up in a web of events that includes a missing antiquities scholar, a body found in a river, and the theft of the family’s heirloom river pearls, all seemingly connected to a band of Travellers with ancestral ties to Strathfearn reaching back as far as Julie’s. Well-developed characters highlight the class differences that Julie chafes against while struggling with her family’s place in a changing world. Her plainspoken, charming narrative voice establishes her own place with the same strength of character, on a smaller scale, that she showed in Code Name Verity. Another ripping yarn from a brilliant author. (Historical fiction. 13-adult)

About the Author

Elizabeth Wein was born in New York City, grew up abroad, and currently lives in Scotland with her husband and two children. She is an avid flyer of small planes, and holds a PhD in folklore from the University of Pennsylvania. Elizabeth is the author of Code Name Verity, winner of the Edgar Award in the Young Adult category and a Printz Medal Honor Book; Rose Under Fire, winner of the Schneider Family Book Award; and Black Dove, White Raven, winner of the Children’s Africana Book Award.

Her website is www.elizabethwein.com

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The Pearl Thief

An Uninterrupted View of the Sky by Melanie Crowder

An Uninterrupted View of the Sky by Melanie Crowder. June 13, 2017. Philomel Books, 304 p. ISBN: 9780399169007.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 770.

Modern history unearthed as a boy becomes an innocent victim of corruption in the underbelly of Bolivia’s crime world, where the power of family is both a prison and the only means of survival.

It’s 1999 in Bolivia and Francisco’s life consists of school, soccer, and trying to find space for himself in his family’s cramped yet boisterous home. But when his father is arrested on false charges and sent to prison by a corrupt system that targets the uneducated, the poor, and the indigenous majority, Francisco’s mother abandons hope and her family. Francisco and his sister are left with no choice: They must move into the prison with their father. There, they find a world unlike anything they’ve ever known, where everything—a door, a mattress, protection from other inmates—has its price.

Prison life is dirty, dire, and dehumanizing. With their lives upended, Francisco faces an impossible decision: Break up the family and take his sister to their grandparents in the Andean highlands, fleeing the city and the future that was just within his grasp, or remain together in the increasingly dangerous prison. Pulled between two equally undesirable options, Francisco must confront everything he once believed about the world around him and his place within it.

In this heart-wrenching novel inspired by real events, Melanie Crowder sheds light on a little-known era of modern South American history—where injustice still darkens the minds and hearts of people alike—and proves that hope can be found, even in the most desperate places.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Violence, Mild sexual themes, Drugs, Criminal culture, Harsh realities of prison life

 

Reviews

Booklist (April 15, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 16))
Grades 9-12. In Bolivia, Francisco is itching to finish high school, but all his plans come to an abrupt halt when his indigenous father is arrested on false charges, and he and his little sister are forced to live in the cramped, filthy prison with him. Though they can leave for school, every day is a struggle to scrounge up enough money for food, a mattress, and a cell, all while protecting themselves against dangerous criminals in the prison. Informed by Crowder’s experience in South America in the late 1990s, this trenchant novel explores the result of a corrupt Bolivian law enacted as part of the U.S. war on drugs, which disproportionately affected poor, uneducated, and indigenous populations. Francisco narrates the tale, and his anguish over the conditions in the prison and his panic over protecting both his father and sister come through in both his visceral language and the poems he writes for a school project. This hard-hitting, ultimately hopeful story will open readers’ eyes to a lesser-known historical moment and the far-reaching implications of U.S. policy.

Kirkus Reviews starred (May 15, 2017)
Francisco, a middle-class Bolivian high school senior, and his younger sister must move into a dangerous prison after their indigenous father is wrongfully arrested. Inspired by real events, according to an author’s note, Francisco’s tale is set in 1999 in Cochabamba, Bolivia. The 17-year-old son of a light-skinned, college-educated mestiza and an indigenous taxi-driver father, Francisco is smart but hot-tempered. He knows he’s privileged enough to go to high school and play pick-up soccer with friends instead of having to work, but he’s also painfully aware that’s he’s too short and dark (unlike his fair Mamá and 12-year-old sister, Pilar) to be taken seriously by Bolivia’s white elites, who don’t see beyond his dark skin and Aymara face. Francisco’s life takes an irreversible turn when Papá is falsely arrested under “the 1008,” a draconian drug law. An unimaginable betrayal leaves Francisco and Pilar no choice but to live in San Sebastián prison, which permits inmates’ spouses and underage children to reside inside. Readers will feel utterly invested in Francisco’s various challenges: protecting his sister from prying eyes; worrying about his gentle, poetic father in a tough, soul-sucking place; finishing high school; and figuring out whether to take Pilar to their peasant grandparents’ Andean village on the Altiplano (high plains). There’s also a sweet, slow-burning romance between Francisco and a quiet young woman with a hidden ferocity that terrifies, enthralls, and inspires him to write Neruda-esque poetry. A riveting, Dickensian tale set in 1990s Bolivia. (glossary, selected sources) (Historical fiction. 12-17)

About the Author

Melanie Crowder  is the author of National Jewish Book Award finalist and ILA Notable Book for a Global Society Audacity, as well as A Nearer Moon and Parched. She holds an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Melanie lives with her family on Colorado’s Front Range where she has worked as an educator for more than a decade.

Her website is www.melaniecrowder.net

Around the Web

An Uninterrupted View of the Sky on Amazon

An Uninterrupted View of the Sky on Goodreads

An Uninterrupted View of the Sky on JLG

An Uninterrupted View of the Sky Publisher Page

Crossing Ebenezer Creek by Tonya Bolden

Crossing Ebenezer Creek by Tonya Bolden. May 30, 2017. Bloomsbury USA Childrens, 241 p. ISBN: 9781599903194.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

She wanted to stay awake, wanted to see what freedom looked like, felt like at midnight, then at the cusp of dawn.

Freedom. Mariah has barely dared to dream of it her entire life. When General Sherman’s march through Georgia during the Civil War passes the plantation where she is enslaved, her life changes instantly. Joining the march for protection, Mariah heads into the unknown, wondering if she can ever feel safe, if she will ever be able to put the brutalities of slavery behind her.

On the march Mariah meets a young man named Caleb, and a new dream takes root—one of a future with a home of her own and a true love by her side. But hope often comes at a cost. As the treacherous march continues toward the churning waters of Ebenezer Creek, Mariah sees that the harsh realities of her and her peoples’ lives will always haunt them.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Racial taunts, Discrimination, War, Violence, Implied sexual assault, Mutilation

 

Reviews

Booklist starred (February 1, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 11))
Grades 8-11. Award-winning Bolden’s latest takes readers back to 1864, the waning days of the Civil War. In rural Georgia, recently emancipated Mariah hides in the root cellar when Sherman’s troops sweep into town. Joining the march, she meets Caleb, a young black man whose manner of dress and comfort with the white Union soldiers raises an eyebrow among Mariah and other formerly enslaved people. As they march toward Ebenezer Creek, Caleb develops feelings for Mariah, while she struggles to believe in her newfound freedom and plan for a future for herself and her younger brother, Zeke. Caleb and Mariah both harbor secrets and pasts that shape their worldviews, but they’re starting to warm to each other when the unthinkable happens. Chapters alternating between Mariah’s and Caleb’s points-of-view lay bare the differences between the experiences of a free black man and those of an enslaved woman. Caleb’s journal entries, for instance, signal a desire to publish or own a newspaper, while enraged Mariah laments, “colored lives don’t matter.” With keen insight, Bolden mines a lesser-known historical event and brings the human cost vividly to life. In particular, the moment when the freed men and women are abandoned by the creek as Confederate forces descend will surprise and horrify many readers. Bolden’s trenchant, powerful novel is a strong testament to the many lost lives that certainly did—and still do—matter.

Horn Book Magazine (March/April, 2017)
In late fall of 1864, Sherman’s March to the Sea is underway, and while the Union army wreaks havoc throughout the South and stamps out Confederate defenses to win the war, thousands of enslaved black people find themselves suddenly, disorientingly, freed by the army as well. Mariah, a young black woman in Georgia, can scarcely believe that her dream has come true when she is liberated along with her little brother Zeke and joins the march as it heads toward Savannah. She wants nothing more than an acre of her own ground, with the memories of death and cruelty behind her—nothing more, that is, until she meets the kind but inscrutable Caleb, who helps her and her friends adjust to life amidst the army. Caleb returns Mariah’s feelings and relishes planning a bright future with her and Zeke, but he is also wary, aware that tensions are rising as the march continues, as the previously enslaved confront despised black slave drivers, and as Union soldiers begin to see the black civilians as a burden. Mariah and Caleb’s relationship develops a little quickly for two such cautious and responsibility-laden young adults, but their shared trauma and fragile hopes are breathtaking in their authenticity as tragedy inevitably engulfs them. Alternating between Mariah and Caleb’s perspectives, Bolden fleshes out a small, harrowing historical betrayal, weaving an unforgettable story and capturing both the frailty and resilience of hope. An author’s note tells more about the December 1864 drownings and massacre at Ebenezer Creek; a list of sources is also appended. anastasia m. collins

About the Author

Tonya Bolden is a critically acclaimed award-winning author/co-author/editor of more than two dozen books for young people. They include Finding Family which received two starred reviews and was a Kirkus Reviews and Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year; Maritcha: A Nineteenth-Century American Girl, a Coretta Scott King honor book and James Madison Book Award winner; MLK: Journey of a King, winner of a National Council of Teachers of English Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children; Emancipation Proclamation: Lincoln and the Dawn of Liberty, an ALSC Notable Children’s Book, CBC/NCSS Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People, and winner of the NCSS Carter G. Woodson Middle Level Book Award. Tonya also received the Children’s Book Guild of Washington, DC’s Nonfiction Award. A Princeton University magna cum laude baccalaureate with a master’s degree from Columbia University, Tonya lives in New York City.

Her website is www.tonyaboldenbooks.com

Around the Web

Crossing Ebenezer Creek on Amazon

Crossing Ebenezer Creek on Goodreads

Crossing Ebenezer Creek on JLG

Crossing Ebenezer Creek Publisher Page

Beck by Mel Peet

Beck by Mal Peet. April 11, 2017. Candlewick Press, 272 p. ISBN: 9780763678425.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 790.

From Carnegie Medal-winning author Mal Peet comes a sweeping coming-of-age adventure, both harrowing and life-affirming.

Born of a brief encounter between a Liverpool prostitute and an African soldier in 1907, Beck finds himself orphaned as a young boy and sent overseas to the Catholic Brothers in Canada. At age fifteen he is sent to work on a farm, from which he eventually escapes. Finally in charge of his own destiny, Beck starts westward, crossing the border into America and back, all while the Great Depression rages on. What will it take for Beck to understand the agonies of his childhood and realize that love is possible?

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Discrimination, Violence, Strong sexual themes, Racial epithets, Sexual abuse by a religious figure, Rape, Physical abuse

 

Book Trailer

Video Review

Reviews

Booklist (March 1, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 13))
Grades 10-12. After a traumatic childhood spent in orphanages, Beck, born in Liverpool to a poor British mother and an African sailor, has learned to stay quiet, preferring a solitary life on the road, safe from the vulnerability of love. Peet’s posthumous novel, completed by Rosoff, follows Beck from his meager beginnings in early twentieth-century England to his harrowing first days in Canada to his peripatetic path leading him ultimately to Grace, a half Siksika woman reinvigorating her Native community in Alberta. While this often reads like a series of loosely linked vignettes rather than a complete, unified narrative, there are flashes of arresting lyricism: “Little flames, quick as lizards, ran up its black and riven trunk.” At the same time, that language can be unsparingly frank: Peet and Rosoff do not sanitize racial slurs, and the description of Beck’s sexual abuse at the hands of a gang of priests is graphic. However, older teens and adults who appreciate literary historical fiction might find plenty to appreciate in this story of a hard-won discovery of redemption and home.

Horn Book Magazine (May/June, 2017)
In the early twentieth century, Beck, son of a white sometimes-prostitute and a black sailor just passing through, is raised in a Liverpool orphanage and sent at age fourteen to Canada as free farm labor. First stop, though: the Christian Brothers’ institution, where initially he thrives; but when the priests make sexual advances and he resists, one of them rapes him. The rest of the novel follows Beck on a hardship-filled journey from the Ontario prairie (after he escapes his assigned farm couple’s racist abuse) down to Windsor (where he finds a home, temporarily, with kindhearted African Canadian bootleggers) and finally to Medicine Hat, Alberta. There he hires on as a farmhand for half-Siksika, half-Scottish Grace McCallister–a beautiful, strong, “troublesome woman from a long line of troublesome women”–whose story merges with Beck’s. The novel is excruciatingly painful to read at times, but that makes Beck’s eventual and hard-won chance at happiness all the sweeter. From the very first pages it’s clear we are in the hands of a master storyteller (or two; as explained in an appended note, Rosoff finished the novel after Peet’s death). The vibrancy, earthiness, and originality of the prose is startling; the spot-on dialogue adds to the immediacy; secondary characters are vividly portrayed. There are no wasted words, no too-lengthy descriptive passages; yet somehow we see, smell, experience everything. Aboard a ship for the first time, “Beck felt confused and astonished by the huge discrepancy between the solidity beneath his feet and the vast liquidity of everything else.” In the Ontario countryside, a cow “gazed at the passing buggy, lifted its tail, and hosed shit like a comment.” martha v. parravano

About the Author

Mal Peet grew up in North Norfolk, and studied English and American Studies at the University of Warwick. Later he moved to southwest England and worked at a variety of jobs before turning full-time to writing and illustrating in the early 1990s. With his wife, Elspeth Graham, he had written and illustrated many educational picture books for young children, and his cartoons have appeared in a number of magazines.  Mal Peet passed away in 2015.

Teaching Resources

Beck Discussion Guide

Around the Web

Beck on Amazon

Beck  on Goodreads

Beck  on JLG

Beck  Publisher Page

Orphan Train Girl by Christina Baker Kline

Orphan Trial Girl: Young Reader’s Edition by Christina Baker Kline. May 2, 2017. HarperCollins, 228 p. ISBN: 9780062445940.  Int Lvl: 3-6; Rdg Lvl: 5.6.

This young readers’ edition of Christina Baker Kline’s #1 New York Times bestselling novel Orphan Train follows a young foster girl who forms an unlikely bond with a ninety-one-year-old woman. Adapted and condensed for a young audience, Orphan Train Girl includes an author’s note and archival photos from the orphan train era.

Molly Ayer has been in foster care since she was eight years old. Most of the time, Molly knows it’s her attitude that’s the problem, but after being shipped from one family to another, she’s had her fair share of adults treating her like an inconvenience. So when Molly’s forced to help an elderly woman clean out her attic for community service, Molly is wary. Just another adult to treat her like a troublemaker.

But from the very moment they meet, Molly realizes that Vivian, a well-off ninety-one-year-old, isn’t like any of the adults she’s encountered before. Vivian asks Molly questions about her life and actually listens when Molly responds. Molly soon sees they have more in common than she thought. Vivian was once an orphan, too—an Irish immigrant to New York City who was put on a train to the Midwest with hundreds of other children—and she can understand, better than anyone else, the emotional binds that have been making Molly’s life so hard. Together, they not only clear boxes of past mementos from Vivian’s attic, but forge a path of friendship, forgiveness, and new beginnings for their future.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Racism and racist language, Child neglect and abuse

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist (April 15, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 16))
Grades 3-6. In this middle-grade adaptation of Kline’s best-selling adult novel, half Penobscot Molly, a modern foster child in rural Maine, finds a kindred spirit in the wealthy nonagenarian Vivian. Caught stealing The Secret Garden from the public library, Molly is forced to help Vivian clean out her attic. Though she’s wary of the elderly lady, she learns the two have something in common. Vivian herself is an orphan, having come to the U.S. from Ireland during the potato famine. When a fire destroys Vivian’s NYC tenement, killing the rest of her family, she’s sent off to Minnesota on an “orphan train.” Third-person passages alternating between Molly and 10-year-old Vivian, born Niamh and renamed by each of the families that takes her in, further flesh out common threads to their experiences. Though the book doesn’t quite pack the powerful emotional punch readers may expect, the muted emotions are situated in the context of the many hardships faced during the Great Depression. Back matter provides further historical context, useful for classroom instruction and enhancing the reading experience. Quietly moving.

Kirkus Reviews (March 15, 2017)
In a young readers’ version of Kline’s Orphan Train (2013), sixth-grader Molly, a foster child on the coast of Maine, helps an elderly woman, Vivian, sort through boxes of keepsakes in her attic.Molly, quietly introspective, is performing community service, assigned (surprisingly) for trying to steal a battered paperback from the public library. In Vivian, she discovers a kindred spirit. The elderly white woman is an orphan too and traveled west in 1929 on an orphan train. In the attic, Molly unwraps objects from Vivian’s childhood, each providing the vehicle for a transition to Vivian’s arduous experiences, first in New York, then on the orphan train, and finally in Minnesota, where she’s shunted from one desperate foster home to another. By comparison, Molly’s experiences under the care of her emotionally abusive foster mother, Dina, seem almost mild. The tale is painted with a broad brush, lacking the gentle nuance of the adult version. Molly, half Penobscot Indian and half white, prefers goth dress and is a vegetarian, but it’s never quite clear why angry, white, unnuanced Dina so dislikes her. Vivian’s more richly evoked story of immigration, poverty, and occasional kindness is more compelling but also simplistic, partly because her character is only about 10 or 11, even at the end of her story. Although interesting, this effort may leave readers wishing to explore unplumbed depths. (Fiction. 10-12)

About the Author

Christina Baker Kline is the author of New York Times instant bestseller A Piece of the World (2017), about the relationship between the artist Andrew Wyeth and the subject of his best-known painting, Christina’s World. Kline has written six other novels — Orphan Train, Orphan Train Girl, The Way Life Should Be, Sweet Water, Bird in Hand, and Desire Lines— and written or edited five works of nonfiction. Her 2013 novel Orphan Train spent more than two years on the New York Times bestseller list, including five weeks at # 1, and was published in 40 countries. More than 100 communities and colleges have chosen it as a “One Book, One Read” selection. Her adaptation of Orphan Train for young readers is Orphan Train Girl (2017). She lives near New York City and on the coast of Maine.

Her website is www.christinabakerkline.com.

Teacher Resources

Orphan Train Discussion Questions

Orphan Trail Reading Guide

Around the Web

Orphan Train Girl on Amazon

Orphan Train Girl on Goodreads

Orphan Train Girl on JLG

Orphan Train Girl Publisher Page