Tag Archives: historical fiction

Among the Red Stars by Gwen C. Katz

Among the Red Stars by Gwen C. Katz. October 3, 2017. HarperTeen, 376 p. ISBN: 9780062642745.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

World War Two has shattered Valka’s homeland of Russia, and Valka is determined to help the effort. She knows her skills as a pilot rival the best of the men, so when an all-female aviation group forms, Valka is the first to sign up.

Flying has always meant freedom and exhilaration for Valka, but dropping bombs on German soldiers from a fragile canvas biplane is no joyride. The war is taking its toll on everyone, including the boy Valka grew up with, who is fighting for his life on the front lines.

As the war intensifies and those around her fall, Valka must decide how much she is willing to risk to defend the skies she once called home.

Inspired by the true story of the airwomen the Nazis called Night Witches, Gwen C. Katz weaves a tale of strength and sacrifice, learning to fight for yourself, and the perils of a world at war.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Guns, Mild language, War, Violence, Smoking, Harsh realities of war

 

Reviews

Booklist (October 15, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 4))
Grades 8-11. Based on true events and figures from WWII, Katz’s novel offers a fictional tale of a Russian airwoman called Valka and her childhood friend Pasha and how their lives are disrupted by the war. Kind, peace-loving Pasha is sent to a war-hungry veteran commander as a radio operator, while Valka eventually becomes one of the famous Night Witches, supremely successful regiments of all-women pilots, stealthily flying over enemy lines each night to drop bombs in strategic places. Pasha and Valka’s steady stream of letters—which become increasingly desperate as they’re both moved closer and closer to the front lines and, miraculously, each other—is what ultimately gets them through the war. Katz’s debut doesn’t skimp on the terrible realities of war, as described in Valka’s first-person narrative and the intermittent letters between the two characters, and she nicely weaves historical events through the fictional narrative. This beautiful, emotional entry into a key moment in Russian history will appeal to lovers of adventure novels, as well as historical fiction fans.

Horn Book Magazine (September/October, 2017)
Katz’s highly readable novel offers an entry into the story of the Soviet Union’s famed WWII squadrons of airwomen, the “Night Witches.” An accomplished pilot of a quirky, unreliable small plane, Valka leaps at the chance to sign up for the Motherland’s first all-women fighter and bomber regiments. Soon she’s operating as a bomber pilot, assigned to one of the slow, low-flying planes used for night attacks, with her beloved cousin Iskra as her navigator. Nazi fire, terrible weather, darkness, the loss of comrades, even commands to bomb their own countrymen all come into play, exercising Valka’s aeronautical and emotional resources with dramatic effect. Most notably, though, Valka worries about her sweetheart Pasha in the infantry; when the chance comes to save him, she commits treason to do so. Katz is skillfully informative, interweaving historical figures and facts without losing emotional propulsion and suspense; at the same time, she opts to stretch credulity with an expansive correspondence between Valka and Pasha, the chattiness of which would have seriously endangered their comrades, and whose liberality with locations shows a naive–or incredible–disregard of the censors. But that very correspondence is part of what makes this story accessible to American YA readers–as does, no doubt, its suspenseful, Hollywood ending. deirdre f. baker

About the Author

Gwen C. Katz is a writer, artist, game designer, and retired mad scientist easily identified by her crew cut and ability to cause trouble. Originally from Seattle, she now lives in Pasadena, California, with her husband and a revolving door of transient mammals.

Her website is www.gwenckatz.com

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The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn. June 6, 2017. William Morrow Paperbacks, 503 p. ISBN: 9780062654199.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD; Lexile: 820.

In an enthralling new historical novel from national bestselling author Kate Quinn, two women—a female spy recruited to the real-life Alice Network in France during World War I and an unconventional American socialite searching for her cousin in 1947—are brought together in a mesmerizing story of courage and redemption.

1947. In the chaotic aftermath of World War II, American college girl Charlie St. Clair is pregnant, unmarried, and on the verge of being thrown out of her very proper family. She’s also nursing a desperate hope that her beloved cousin Rose, who disappeared in Nazi-occupied France during the war, might still be alive. So when Charlie’s parents banish her to Europe to have her “little problem” taken care of, Charlie breaks free and heads to London, determined to find out what happened to the cousin she loves like a sister.

1915. A year into the Great War, Eve Gardiner burns to join the fight against the Germans and unexpectedly gets her chance when she’s recruited to work as a spy. Sent into enemy-occupied France, she’s trained by the mesmerizing Lili, the “Queen of Spies”, who manages a vast network of secret agents right under the enemy’s nose.

Thirty years later, haunted by the betrayal that ultimately tore apart the Alice Network, Eve spends her days drunk and secluded in her crumbling London house. Until a young American barges in uttering a name Eve hasn’t heard in decades, and launches them both on a mission to find the truth…no matter where it leads.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Guns, Strong language, Discrimination, Violence, Strong sexual themes, Underage drinking, Suicidal thoughts

 

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Reviews

Library Journal (June 1, 2017)
In May 1947, Charlotte “Charlie” St. Clair and her mother have crossed the Atlantic so the unwed Charlie can discreetly end her pregnancy in a Swiss clinic. A chance to search for her beloved cousin Rose, who disappeared during World War II, gives Charlie the courage to break free and head to London. Rose may have been involved in the French Resistance, and her last known connection was a woman named Eve, who carries her own war secrets. Even with the background detail given at the novel’s outset, there is so much more to learn as these characters are thoughtfully developed through interior decision making and the actions they take. Allowing Charlie to describe present events, while Eve shares her experience as an English spy for the real-life Alice Network during World War I, creates a fascinating tension that intensifies as the finale approaches. VERDICT A compelling blend of historical fiction, mystery, and women’s fiction, Quinn’s (“Empress of Rome” series) complex story and engaging characters have something to offer just about everyone. [See “Summer Escapes,” LJ 5/15/17.]-Stacey Hayman, Rocky River P.L., OH

About the Author

Kate Quinn is a native of southern California. She attended Boston University, where she earned a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Classical Voice. A lifelong history buff, she has written four novels in the Empress of Rome Saga, and two books in the Italian Renaissance, before turning to the 20th century with “The Alice Network.” All have been translated into multiple languages.

Kate and her husband now live in San Diego with two black dogs named Caesar and Calpurnia, and her interests include opera, action movies, cooking, and the Boston Red Sox. Her website is www.katequinnauthor.com

Teacher Resources

The Alice Network Discussion Questions

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The Lost Girl of Astor Street by Stephanie Morrill

The Lost Girl of Astor Street by Stephanie Morrill. Februaryr 7, 2017. Blink, 352 p. ISBN: 9780310758389.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

Lydia has vanished.

Lydia, who’s never broken any rules, except falling in love with the wrong boy. Lydia, who’s been Piper’s best friend since they were children. Lydia, who never even said good-bye.

Convinced the police are looking in all the wrong places, eighteen-year-old Piper Sail begins her own investigation in an attempt to solve the mystery of Lydia’s disappearance. With the reluctant help of a handsome young detective, Piper goes searching for answers in the dark underbelly of 1924 Chicago, determined to find Lydia at any cost.

When Piper discovers those answers might stem from the corruption strangling the city—and quite possibly lead back to the doors of her affluent neighborhood—she must decide how deep she’s willing to dig, how much she should reveal, and if she’s willing to risk her life of privilege for the sake of the truth.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Guns, Violence, Criminal culture

 

Reviews

Booklist (November 15, 2016 (Vol. 113, No. 6))
Grades 9-12. Piper Sail, 18, lives in the choicest area of 1924 Chicago, but that doesn’t stop her best friend from disappearing. That event causes headstrong Piper to throw off her socialite trappings and get down and dirty, combing the seedier parts of the city as she tries to discover what happened to Lydia. Because this is almost as much a romance as it is a mystery, Piper has several able fellows hovering about: a police detective, a baseball player, and a journalist. There’s a good, solid mystery here, but the many subplots (Piper’s family situation; her acquisition of a dog; the inner workings of the Chicago underworld) sometimes intrude, and the Roaring Twenties setting seems more affect than effect. But Piper is a strong, sharp heroine, and her abilities—from stretching the truth to often foolhardy bravery—prevent her from being a paper doll. Fans will note that the final pages indicate Piper will have a future seeking out Chicago’s “underbelly.” So more chances to solve another mystery: who’s the right guy for her?

Kirkus Reviews (December 1, 2016)
A debutante eschews convention to investigate the suspicious disappearance of her best friend.With her bobbed hair and plucky attitude, Piper Sail pushes boundaries, but she isn’t quite a flapper. Living in 1920s Chicago with her brother and father—a powerful and wealthy attorney—the white teen has enjoyed a life of privilege alongside her best friend, Lydia LeVine, also white and the daughter of an affluent doctor. Lydia suffers from devastating seizures, which her father dismisses until they occur publicly. When Lydia suddenly disappears, Piper, unable to quietly sit by with her hands folded, launches her own investigation. Soon the spirited ingénue finds herself entrenched in a dark web of secrets, speak-easies, and Mafiosi, and everyone—from Lydia’s family to their hired help (including a black housekeeper with distressingly stereotyped speech patterns) to Lydia’s employer—seems like a prime suspect. Aided by a handsome young detective, Piper plunges herself further into the case, going undercover in an effort to bring Lydia justice, which leads Piper to face some hard truths about her society life. After a somewhat slow and stiff start, readers will be rewarded for their patience as tensions grow and red herrings abound. Morrill has a keen eye for historical details and setting, making Jazz Age Chicago Piper’s invisible yet omnipresent sidekick. Here’s hoping this won’t be the last case for this strong and admirable female sleuth to solve. A mostly well-crafted historical whodunit. (Historical mystery. 12-16)

About the Author

Stephanie Morrill is the author of several young adult novels, including the 1920’s mystery, The Lost Girl of Astor Street). Despite loving cloche hats and drop-waist dresses, Stephanie would have been a terrible flapper because she can’t do the Charleston and looks awful with bobbed hair.

She and her near-constant ponytail live in Kansas City with her husband and three kids. Her website is StephanieMorrill.com

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Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn Anderson

Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn Anderson. June 13, 2017. HarperTeen, 272 p. ISBN: 9780062393548.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

Divided by time. Ignited by a spark.

Kansas, 2065. Adri has secured a slot as a Colonist—one of the lucky few handpicked to live on Mars. But weeks before launch, she discovers the journal of a girl who lived in her house over a hundred years ago, and is immediately drawn into the mystery surrounding her fate. While Adri knows she must focus on the mission ahead, she becomes captivated by a life that’s been lost in time…and how it might be inextricably tied to her own.

Oklahoma, 1934. Amidst the fear and uncertainty of the Dust Bowl, Catherine fantasizes about her family’s farmhand, and longs for the immortality promised by a professor at a traveling show called the Electric. But as her family’s situation becomes more dire—and the suffocating dust threatens her sister’s life—Catherine must find the courage to sacrifice everything she loves in order to save the one person she loves most.

England, 1919. In the recovery following the First World War, Lenore struggles with her grief for her brother, a fallen British soldier, and plans to sail to America in pursuit of a childhood friend. But even if she makes it that far, will her friend be the person she remembers, and the one who can bring her back to herself?

While their stories spans thousands of miles and multiple generations, Lenore, Catherine, and Adri’s fates are entwined.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language, Mild sexual themes, Underage drinking, Smoking

 

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Reviews

Booklist starred (April 1, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 15))
Grades 9-12. All her life, 17-year-old Adri’s been preparing to be a Mars colonist, so when she must leave behind her home in Miami, thanks to rising ocean levels, she doesn’t mourn too much, since she’s been ready to leave the whole planet behind for years. Her sense of detachment wavers, though, when she’s placed with Lily, her elderly, last living relative, in the months leading up to her one-way trip to Mars. In Lily’s ancient Kansas farmhouse, Adri finds shreds of clues about her past, including enigmatic letters and journals and, oddly, a Galápagos tortoise. Now cold, prickly Adri finds herself fixated on where she came from—particularly the stories of two women, Catherine, who lived in Lily’s house during the Dust Bowl, and Lenore, who lived in England during WWI—just as she’s about to leave it all behind for good. As Anderson beautifully weaves together Adri’s, Catherine’s, and Lenore’s stories, each of the three women come vividly to life through distinct voices and behaviors. Their stories have parallels—environmental devastation, leaving home behind, and finding a new one—but they’re all deployed with determined subtlety, and the resolutions, while never tidy, are tantalizingly satisfying. With quietly evocative writing, compellingly drawn characters, and captivating secrets to unearth, this thought-provoking, lyrical novel explores the importance of pinning down the past before launching into the mystery of the future.

Kirkus Reviews starred (April 1, 2017)
In the year 2065, 16-year-old Adri Ortiz is one of the hardworking, talented few chosen to colonize Mars. Adri’s an orphan with ties to no one, but the Latina teen understands the importance of interpersonal cooperation, so she doesn’t complain when the head of the Mars program sends her to live with a long-forgotten cousin near the space center in Wichita for the months leading up to the launch. Lily, the cousin, is 107, passing into dementia, and more eager to know Adri than Adri is to know her. But Adri is intrigued by a postcard she finds in the farmhouse, written in 1920 and mentioning the Galápagos tortoise who still lives on the farm (and is herself named Galápagos). The story shifts to diary-keeper Catherine, a hardscrabble white teen living on the same farm in 1934, at the height of the Dust Bowl. Catherine’s little sister Beezie is dying from dust pneumonia, and their mother, a widow, seems locked into helplessness. Again the story shifts—now it’s England, 1919, and white Leonore is mourning both her brother’s loss in the Great War and the friend who left for America years before, to whom she writes. Galápagos ties the stories together as all three young women fight for self-determination, love, their futures, and the realization that you can never move forward freely until you have something important to leave behind. Deft, succinct, and ringing with emotion without ever dipping into sentimentality, Anderson’s novel is both intriguing and deeply satisfying. (Science/historical fiction. 12-adult)

About the Author

Jodi Lynn Anderson is the New York Times bestselling author of PeachesTiger Lily, and the popular May Bird trilogy. She lives in Asheville, N.C., with her husband, her son, and an endless parade of stray pets.

Her website is www.jodilynnanderson.net

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Auma’s Long Run by Eucabeth Odhiambo

Auma’s Long Run by Ecuabeth Odhiambo. September 1, 2017. Carolrhoda Books, 304 p. ISBN: 9781512427844.  Int Lvl: 3-6; Rdg Lvl: 4.8; Lexile: 740.

Auma loves to run. In her small Kenyan village, she’s a track star with big dreams. A track scholarship could allow her to attend high school and maybe even become a doctor. But a strange new sickness called AIDS is ravaging the village, and when her father becomes ill, Auma’s family needs her help at home. Soon more people are getting sick even dying and no one knows why. Now Auma faces a difficult choice. Should she stay to support her struggling family or leave to pursue her own future? Auma knows her family is depending on her, but leaving might be the only way to find the answers to questions about this new disease.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild sexual themes, Corporal punishment, Negative attitudes toward people with HIV/AIDS, Frank discussion of STIs, Attempted sexual assault

 

Reviews

Booklist (August 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 22))
Grades 6-8. In her impressive debut, Odhiambo throws readers into a bustling nineties Kenyan village with this in-depth look at family grief. Auma is 13 and in year seven at her primary school. She loves running, has dreams of leaving Koromo to go to high school on a track scholarship, and wants to be a doctor. But when her baba (father), looking thinner, returns early from his job in Nairobi, and more people in her village start dying, Auma starts questioning everything she knows. Then her father dies, and Auma must decide whether to continue her schooling or work to feed her family. By the end of the novel, Auma is 15, but she’s grappling with decisions that would overwhelm most adults. In this gut-wrenching look at the AIDS epidemic in Kenya in the nineties, Odhiambo flawlessly weaves Kenyan tradition and culture with appropriate preteen problems (discussing crushes, competing in track meets). A detailed fictionalized portrayal of the effects of a very real disease, this novel would be an excellent asset to classrooms everywhere.

Kirkus Reviews starred (July 15, 2017)
In Odhiambo’s debut novel, a young girl faces a difficult decision when AIDS hits her Kenyan village. Born “facedown,” 13-year-old Auma knows she’s destined for great things. As one of the fastest runners in school, track is her ticket to getting a scholarship to continue her education. But in her village of Koromo, people are dying at an alarming rate from a disease called AIDS, and few people really know why. Auma’s dream is to become a doctor and help those afflicted. When first her father becomes ill and then her mother soon after, Auma is left shouldering the responsibility of caring for her family. Grades and running begin to take a back seat to feeding her family, and Auma must find the strength to follow her dreams, no matter how impossible they seem. In Auma, Odhiambo draws from her own experiences of growing up in Kenya during the beginning of the AIDS crisis to present a strong, intelligent protagonist who questions and refuses to give in to what is normally accepted. Auma treats readers to beautiful descriptions of the world around her but also gives them a candid look at the fear and superstition surrounding AIDS in its early days in Kenya as well as the grief of loss. All of the characters are black. Honestly told, Auma’s tale humanizes and contextualizes the AIDS experience in Kenya without sensationalizing it. (Historical fiction. 10-14)

About the Author

Eucabeth Odhiambo is a professor of teacher education at Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania.  As a classroom teacher she has taught all grades between kindergarten and middle school.

Auma’s Long Run is her first novel.

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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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Hell & High Water on Amazon

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