Girls should never be born in the year of the Fire Horse; they are especially dangerous, bringing tragedy to their families.
Jade Moon dreams of leavin...moreGirls should never be born in the year of the Fire Horse; they are especially dangerous, bringing tragedy to their families.
Jade Moon dreams of leaving home, of escaping the tiny Chinese village where she lives alone with her father, her grandfather, and their faithful servant, surrounded by gossiping "Aunties" who are all too familiar with her many faults: clumsiness, stubbornness, and - perhaps worst of all - a longing for independence. All she can see is a future married off to a local brickmaker, but that changes with the arrival of a stranger. Sterling Promise arrives from Hong Kong with news that an uncle Jade Moon never knew she had passed away recently, leaving behind papers that could allow Sterling Promise and Jade Moon's father into the wide open promised land of America. If she could just get to that new country, Jade Moon thinks, what possibilities could await her?
The United States of 1923, though, is wary of admitting more Chinese immigrants, and Jade Moon's long sea journey is followed by detainment on Angel Island. Getting to San Francisco will take cunning and bravery, and surviving there will be even harder.
Fire Horse Girl is a complicated piece of historical fiction. Honeyman explores the life of a girl in early 20th-century China, the San Francisco of the 1920s, and the Chinese immigrant experience on Angel Island, a bit of American history little known outside the West coast. The stories aren't so much woven together as tacked onto one another, which may be why the pace drags in places. Jade Moon is a likeable character because of - rather than despite - her prickliness, as the independent nature that seems to offend her contemporaries has strong appeal for twenty-first century readers. Story-telling is a theme that recurs throughout her narration, and she is determined to tell her own story.
A lengthy author's note tells how Honeyman came to the tale and provides further information on the historical events, people, and places that inspired her, as well as a paragraph on Chinese astrology. "The next Fire Horse girls," she notes, "will be born in 2026."
Recommend to: teens who like strong heroines and a mixture of action and history with a dash of romance.
The hammering on the door shot him into wakefulness like a handgun going off in his face.
That first line sent me to the Internet to learn whether han...moreThe hammering on the door shot him into wakefulness like a handgun going off in his face.
That first line sent me to the Internet to learn whether handguns were common in mid-fifteenth century Rome before I could really concentrate on the rest of the book. Sadly, the rest of the book wasn't all that engaging, anyway. The perspective shifts between the two main characters from chapter to chapter, but I don't think that accounts for the unevenness of the third-person narration. The plot drags, and I was left with serious doubts about the possibility of (at least) one particular twist. (less)
This is one of those books that I really wanted to like more than I did. It had all the right elements to be a book I would love, but I just didn't qu...moreThis is one of those books that I really wanted to like more than I did. It had all the right elements to be a book I would love, but I just didn't quite connect with it. Bummer.(less)
The Barovier family furnace / has molded glass on Murano for nearly two hundred years, since 1291 / when the Venetian government required that all furn...moreThe Barovier family furnace / has molded glass on Murano for nearly two hundred years, since 1291 / when the Venetian government required that all furnaces move / to my island home.
Synopsis: When Maria was just an infant, her father declared that she would one day marry a nobleman, even though such a fate should rightfully belong to her elegant older sister, Giovanna. Maria would much rather learn to blow glass in the family fornicas, but that work is for men only, even after her father’s death and the onset of financial trouble for the family. Trapped by tradition at 15, can Maria simply ignore her feelings forever, especially the feelings she has for the orphaned young glassblower who has joined the family business?
Review: Fifteenth-century Murano provides the historical backdrop for this story of two sisters caught between what they wish they could do and what they feel they must do. Hemphill’s prose poems are full of fine details, but they never capture the intensity of emotion Maria ought to feel. Rather than bringing the reader closer to Maria – as in Caroline Starr Rose’s May B. – the terse narrative leaves the reader distant from the action. The form works in May B. precisely because May is alone for most of the novel; the poems read as her thoughts rather than as formal writing, particularly because the reader knows May isn’t actually writing anything down. Maria, on the other hand, is surrounded by people, and her interactions with them lose immediacy as conversations are rendered in short bursts rather than as meaningful discussion.
Despite this weakness, the unusual setting, the timeless themes of sibling rivalry and familial duty, and the star-crossed romance (with its slightly-too-convenient conclusion) are sure to appeal to more than a few tweens and teens looking for something light and lovely.
On shelves March 27, 2012.
Final Word: A light and lovely novel-in-verse for t(w)een fans of historical romance.
Source: E-ARC via NetGalley, provided by the publisher by request(less)
This was the third time I started this book, and I only finished it this time because it just won the Newbery Award. That should tell you a lot about...moreThis was the third time I started this book, and I only finished it this time because it just won the Newbery Award. That should tell you a lot about my feelings about the book.
I kept hearing about how funny the book was, but I just don't see it. Every book to its reader... I guess I'm not the reader for this book.(less)
The whole city had come out to watch Titanic and the strong, heavy smell of coal filled the air. After a few breaths, gritty black dust coated his ton...moreThe whole city had come out to watch Titanic and the strong, heavy smell of coal filled the air. After a few breaths, gritty black dust coated his tongue. The taste of progress, as Mr. Joyce called it.
Synopsis: April, 1912: The RMS Titanic sets sail for her maiden voyage with more than 2000 people aboard. Among the passengers on the "Queen of the Sea": a wealthy book collector with a rare and valuable volume, a cunning thief desperate for money, and a young steward looking for a chance to be a part of something great.
After his father died, Patrick Waters left school and went to work in a Belfast pub. His widowed mother is determined to make him a practical working man like his older brother, not a dreamer like his late father. At age twelve, Patrick hopes to associate himself with greatness. His brother is about to embark on his ninth trip across the Atlantic, this time shoveling coal into the boilers of Titanic. When an unexpected opportunity on the ship arises, he wastes no time getting himself aboard. To his surprise, instead of shoveling coal, he is assigned to wait on Harry Elkins Widener, a book-lover whose latest acquisition might be worth much more than either of them can imagine. There is someone on board who thinks he does know, though, and he will stop at nothing to get the book for himself. There is danger at every turn as the ship itself heads for disaster.
Review: With the centennial of the shipwreck approaching in April of 2012, new Titanic books are hitting the shelves. It is one of those topics (like Amelia Earhart's disappearance or dinosaurs) that kids ask about again and again, endlessly fascinated. In this fictional take for middle grade readers, Mone skillfully blends real-life historical figures with his own characters. An Author's Note at the end explains that Harry Widener really was a book collector who perished on board the ship, while young Patrick and the other main characters are the inventions of the author.
From the taste of coal dust to the color of a partially-cleaned spittoon, the narrative is packed with rich sensory details, bringing the sights and sounds and smells of the scenes to life. Mone uses playful language in his descriptions; in the first chapter, he says of the thief Berryman that "the local baker refused to loan him so much as a roll." Quick-paced action keeps the pages turning as events come to their inevitable conclusion.
In addition to the drama of the collision, Mone intrigues readers with a mystery that is just a little bit reminiscent of Dan Brown. The perspective shifts between sweet Patrick, who can't help but follow his own sharp eyes and ears, and the thieves after something they think will bring them untold riches, if only they can decipher a coded message within. The reader, of course, knows more than any single character, and hints are offered about the secret message before its meaning is finally revealed. On shelves March 13, 2012 (just in time for the anniversary).
Final Word: An original mystery offers a fresh take on a popular historical event for middle grade readers.
If I could get away with it, that's how I'd begin every essay I write.
Those are the four best words to use when you start tell...more"Once upon a time..."
If I could get away with it, that's how I'd begin every essay I write.
Those are the four best words to use when you start telling about yourself because anything that begins that way always, always finishes with another four words, "... they lived happily everafter."
Synopsis: Deza's family firmly believes that they "are a family on a journey to a place called wonderful", but times are hard. The year is 1936, and in Gary, Indiana, there are few jobs to be had, and even fewer for black men. After her father sets out for his mother's home in Michigan to look for work, things go from bad to worse. Deza, her brother, Jimmie, and their mother head toward Flint after him, but they end up in a Hooverville outside the city. Jimmie's talent for singing offers him a way out, while Mother and Deza find a new home and keep hoping to bring the family back together.
Review: I came to this book without having read Bud, Not Buddy (I know, I know. Bad Librarian!), where Deza Malone first appears. In a note to the reader at the beginning of the book, Curtis explains that one of his prompts to write the story was the question he was asked at a visit to a Detroit mother daughter book club: "... what we'd really like to know is what business that little girl in the Hooverville had kissing a stranger like Bud Caldwell the way she did." In The Mighty Miss Malone, Deza tells her version of that night, along with events before and after. Despite the reservations about writing from a girl's perspective that he mentions, Curtis does an admirable job bringing Deza to life. Deza is, of course, a born storyteller, and her personality shines through in her strong voice. Her story takes sharp twists and turns; just as I would settle in comfortably, a chapter would end with a sentence like, "I walked upstairs and got in bed to finish my last good night of sleep for a long, long time." Still, her irrepressible spirit kept me going, believing, just as she does, that things will work out all right.
Deza refuses to give in to self-pity. Her life is what it is, and Curtis uses this to masterfully set the scene. Important details about the hardships faced by the Malones and the families around them are given freely and naturally, without the sort of extra explanation for modern readers that sometimes crops up to thoroughly destroy the mood in historical fiction. This title is getting some Newbery buzz already, and for good reason.
On shelves January 10, 2012.
Final Word: Spirited storyteller Deza tells her own tale of hope and hardship in this companion to Newbery winner, Bud, Not Buddy.
The afternoon my parents died I was out shoplifting with Irene Klauson.
Synopsis: In the summer of 1989, twelve-year-old Cameron Post kissed her best f...moreThe afternoon my parents died I was out shoplifting with Irene Klauson.
Synopsis: In the summer of 1989, twelve-year-old Cameron Post kissed her best friend, Irene. The next day, her parents died in a car accident. For Cameron, the two events would be forever linked, not that she could explain that to her born-again Aunt Ruth, who moves into Cameron's house in Miles City, Montana to become her guardian. Cam knows enough not to talk about her attraction to other girls, let alone how she spends her time with them in the secrecy of haylofts and under the dock at the lake. But during the summer after her first year of high school, just when it seems that the girl she has fallen for might become more than a friend, her aunt finds out. Cam is packed off to God's Promise, a "Christian School & Center for Healing" for an indeterminate stay. While the staff there tries to help her "break free from the bonds of sexual sin and confusion", Cam realizes she risks losing herself before even finding out who that really is.
Review: This is a beautifully written book. Danforth has the sort of polished style I expect from graduates of MFA Fiction programs (and she does hold an MFA in Fiction from the University of Montana, along with a PhD in Creative Writing from the University of Nebraska - Lincoln). This is both a blessing and a curse, because it produces a feeling of distance between the reader and the narrator, despite the first-person voice, and between the narrator and the events. Maybe because Cam is clearly telling her story from some point in the future, it lacks immediacy.
Then, there is the setting. The rich description and attention to detail bring Miles City into clear focus, engaging all the senses. The location isn't the only aspect of the setting, though. Equally important is the time period. The book is set two decades ago, when a teenager like Cam had to depend on letters through the postal service, access to the family phone, and the availability of movies for rent to pop into her VCR. Her world is limited by the boundaries of her small town and the people who live in it. The realistic portrayal of both the place and the time add to the feeling of distance from the events. It is all too easy to read this book and think, "Oh, but that was 20 years ago. That wouldn't happen now." But it could and it does, as Danforth reports in an author's note at the front of the book. (At least, at the front of the Advance Reader Copy; I don't know if it will appear in the final version.)
Cameron comes to terms with the wrong done to her by recognizing that these are deeply held convictions of people who truly believe they are working in her best interest, a realization that would seem to come with the perspective of time passed, and she refuses to outright condemn the sort of program that God's Promise represents. Instead, she allows the reader to live through her experience, letting him form an opinion based on life on the inside of the program, the side its supporters rarely (if ever) really see.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post is an expertly crafted work, a fine example of Literary Fiction that happens to feature a lesbian teenager as its protagonist. And that is a wonderful thing, a fantastic thing. I would love to see more literary fiction with queer characters. After all, must a protagonist be a straight white male for the work to be one that "explores universal themes of truths and/or humanity in general" or, perhaps more significantly, "broadens the reader's impressions of the human experience"?
I would also love to see more lesbian YA romance.
When it comes to this book, my negative feelings aren't really about the book at all. They are about the marketing of this book as a teen title, when, really, it feels like an adult novel featuring a teen protagonist. The book itself is lovely. I worry, though, that it will have trouble finding readers who will enjoy the style enough to finish the story and reach the absolutely perfect ending.
Final Word: An expertly crafted literary coming-of-age tale set in Big Sky country.
Source: ARC provided by the publisher at ALA Midwinter 2012.(less)
When Mama told Beverly that Master Jefferson was his father, she called it a secret everybody knew.
Synopsis: William Beverly Hemings is seven years ol...moreWhen Mama told Beverly that Master Jefferson was his father, she called it a secret everybody knew.
Synopsis: William Beverly Hemings is seven years old when his mother tells him an important secret. Though he is black and a slave now, when he turns 21, he will be free... and white. He, his two younger brothers, and their sister are treated differently from the other slaves at Monticello, but they must never speak of why. As Beverly, then his little brother Madison, and finally their friend Peter Fossett grow up, they each must find their own answers to one big question: Can a man be great and still participate in evil?
Review: The idea that the men who wrote that "all men are created equal" and staked their lives on the formation of a land of freedom owned slaves is a tough one for grown-ups to reconcile, let alone kids. Bradley gives a nuanced look at the lives of two slave families (the Hemingses and the Fossetts) at Monticello as their children puzzle out what it means for one of the fathers of a free country to also be the father of slaves. Its length and its thought-provoking content make it a book for older kids; my library has it cataloged as YA, though I wouldn't hesitate to give it to an interested fifth-grader. Bradley gets a tiny bit didactic sometimes, but never so strongly that it really distracts from the story. An afterword shares the known facts about the lives of the Hemings family and offers suggestions for further reading.
Final Word: Solid historical fiction offering a clear window into a murky time.(less)
In church of a Sunday when the parson preaches about the sins and failings of women, I would swear he gazes straight at me with a stern, disapproving...moreIn church of a Sunday when the parson preaches about the sins and failings of women, I would swear he gazes straight at me with a stern, disapproving look.
Patience Martin knows she is hardly the model of good behavior. But what incentive does she have? After her mother's death three years ago, her father bound her as a servant to the wealthy Mrs. Worth. Then her father died in the same shipwreck that left Mrs. Worth a widow in the middle of a difficult pregnancy. She has four long years to serve a woman who never has a kind word to say to her. Of course, things are about to get much, much worse. Mrs. Worth is found dead, and her brother-in-law plans to sell Patience off with no concern for her well-being. Patience takes her chance to run away, but soon learns that she is suspected of stealing Mrs. Worth's money, and there is a reward on her head. With the help of a smart young printer's apprentice, she just might save herself and bring the murderer to justice.
As in Wicked Will, MacDonald sets the scene with period details. Patience is a winning heroine - quick-witted and determined, clearly a girl ahead of her time. The young Ben Franklin is charming, depicted with just enough human faults to remind the reader that even such an American legend was once a teenage boy. Filled with humor and nods to historical events, this is a classic locked-room mystery for the younger set.(less)
Ben wished the world was organized by the Dewey decimal system. That way you'd be able to find whatever you were looking for, like the meaning of your...moreBen wished the world was organized by the Dewey decimal system. That way you'd be able to find whatever you were looking for, like the meaning of your dream, or your dad.
With The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Selznick smashed open the category of "picture book", using his fabulous pencil illustrations to tell the story of early cinema in an organic way. In this book, his innovative style is perfect for simultaneously telling two stories.
In 1977 Gunflint Lake, Minnesota, Ben Wilson is feeling lost six months after the death of his mother. He has never met his father, but a chance discovery makes Ben think he might be able to find him.
In 1927 Hoboken, New Jersey, Rose Kincaid is trapped in a lonely world. Her father keeps her cooped up at home, convinced the world is too dangerous for a Deaf girl to venture out alone. Determined Rose does just that, running away with no plans to return.
After an opening illustrated dream sequence, Ben's story is told in conventional prose, alternating stretches with almost-wordless scenes from Rose's life. The two tales, originally separated by 50 years and over a thousand miles, intertwine and become a single narrative by the end of the book.
Selznick appends a note on his inspiration and historical liberties taken, plus a bibliography for more information. He has clearly done his research on the various topics woven into Ben's and Rose's stories: the history of museums, the cities of Gunflint Lake and Hoboken, and Deaf Culture, as well as details specific to life in 1927.
It is a spectacular book, truly unlike anything else out there, with the possible exception of Hugo Cabret. Which is a bit of a shame, really, as it would be a mistake to come to Wonderstruck thinking, "Oh, yeah, I've seen this sort of thing before." This is even better. Let yourself be amazed.