Sixteen-year-old Noah Daniels is a patriot with a problem. Lame since childhood, Noah wants nothing more than to take arms up against the British as hSixteen-year-old Noah Daniels is a patriot with a problem. Lame since childhood, Noah wants nothing more than to take arms up against the British as his father did. But his childhood injury holds him back--both mentally and physically--until the day in which all of his abilities are tested and proved.
SCAR: A Revolutionary Tale (Calkins Creek, 2016), J. Albert Mann's first young adult historical novel, is short but powerful. Spanning the course of just three days, Mann artfully alternates between Noah's present predicament--he is wounded and is caring for a young wounded Indian--and the events leading up to it.
The reader is immediately drawn into the story in the first lines: Their screams blind me. I run. Fast. So fast that I run right through my limp. There is nothing I can do for them now--not for Dr. Tusten, nor for Mr. Jones or Jon Haskell, not for any of them. Even as I dodge a blur of trees and rocks and branches, the scene under the ledge replays in my mind, Dr. Tusten shouting at me to run, that hatchet... My lame foot catches a rock and I meet the ground. Hard. The musket ball in my stomach shoots searing pain straight up into my teeth. This can't be happening. I dig my forehead into the hemlock needles and suck in the familiar smell of soil--I wish I could go back three days in my life, just three days... (p.7). Even though the reader doesn't know the protagonist's name, there are enough clues in these opening paragraphs to set up the story and provoke questions: "Why is this boy running? What happened three days ago?" And even more importantly, "What's going to happen next?"
Through the use of alternating chapters (present story and events that happened three days prior) the reader slowly understands the backstory: Noah's father's patriotic fervor before he died; his mother's reluctance to let Noah become a part of the Continental Army; Noah's self-assessment as a "crippled farm boy;" Noah's longing to have his own farm; his infatuation with the new girl in the settlement, Eliza Little; and his fear and hatred of the Iroquois Indians who recently joined forces with the British.
After he is wounded, Noah stumbles upon a young injured warrior: The brightness of the stars has always seemed cold to me. I frown and look back at the boy who has become my patient. The white light of the moon catches on the shiny scar running down his cheek....Scar. I will think of him as Scar. My father named everyone. (p. 21) Faced with the choice of helping him or abandoning him, Noah uses his newly-acquired "medical" training to try and help him. Without thinking, I pick up his hand in mind and look up at the sky between the branches of the hemlock trees. Why is it that when we want answers we know we can't have, we turn our faces to the sky? Maybe it's all those stars. Maybe just comparing our concerns to their twinkling masses shrinks our problems. Scar squeezes my hand. I'm afraid to look at him. I know that he knows he's dying. He squeezes my hand again. I look down. His eyes are like the stars, full of twinkle. (p.45) Earlier in the story, Noah faced another choice: Was he going to join the men going to battle, or would he use his lame foot as an excuse not to go? Despite knowing that his mother would want him to stay, he remembers her admonition: "Don't let others shoulder a responsibility that is yours." (p. 82)
Later when Dr. Tusten, who has observed his lame foot, questions his decision to join the militia, Noah responds: If I were to ask these men sweating in the hot sun right now, each of them would own a good reason to stay behind, just as you believe I do." I wave over at Mr. Jacobson. "That men has six children to feed. And the Reverend has a portion of his flock to put to rest after yesterday. And Jon Haskell's wife is sick with fever." There is no shortage of pain and suffering in the lives of poor farmers, and I could have gone on, but instead I turn back to him. "And you, sir, you're standing before me, even though I'm sure that you must have a wife and children to think about. I will follow this militia, Dr. Tusten, whether you agree with my decision or not." (p. 93) The book ends on an ambiguous note. In an email exchange Jennifer Mann said, "Every reader brings their own ideas to that end." You'll have to read SCAR, which launches tomorrow, to find out for yourself. An Epilogue and "About the Characters" provide more information about the battle and the combatants on both sides. From the Author Since I'm always interested in how authors get their ideas (particularly when it comes to historical fiction!) I asked Jennifer how she became interested in the Battle of Minisink Ford. She responded:
On a weekend hike behind a friend’s home in the Upper Delaware River Valley of New York, I came upon an old wooden marker stating some small fact about a battle I’d never heard of. The second marker I came upon kind of changed my life. It was a simple wooden plaque drilled into the side of a rock ledge. It read: Hospital Rock. Here on July 22, 1779, Lt. Col. Benjamin Tusten, a physician, and seventeen wounded militiamen under his care were trapped and killed by Joseph Brant's raiders.
A simple walk in the woods had brought me to a place where eighteen men had died. I started running up and down the trails looking for more markers. The markers told the story of The Battle of Minisink Ford, an obscure Revolutionary War battle. I didn’t know it then (or maybe I did), but I was to walk that trail literally and figuratively for many years to come as I undertook the challenge of writing my first novel of historical fiction. Standing there in the woods that day, I felt a deep need to discover who those eighteen men were and why they had died on a summer day in the shadow of a lonely rock ledge. In the end, I did find out “who” they were, but not “why” they died. That question never gets answered.
To be entered in the drawing for this ARC, leave me a comment by Friday, April 8. If I don't have your contact information, PLEASE include that also. This book would be a great classroom resource for grades 4-7 or as an addition to a home or school library. - See more at: http://carolbaldwinblog.blogspot.com/......more
Writers-in-training have certain writing principles drilled into their brains. Hook your reader from the start Show don't tell Choose specific details t Writers-in-training have certain writing principles drilled into their brains. Hook your reader from the start Show don't tell Choose specific details to show characters and settings Employ verbs as your muscle words Use imagery and beautiful language to convey your story Whenever I teach writing, I advocate learning how to write by reading good literature. Let's examine some excerpts from EMPTY PLACES to see what we can learn.
"If you'da rode into Harlan County, Kentucky, that June in a shiny new 1932 Packard, you'da seen hickories, oaks, and maples leafed out with the promise of shady places to rest and listen to birdsong. If you'da got close enough to set in one of them shady spots, you'da heard the chug of engines pulling coal cars that squealed on aged tracks. You'da heard swear-words of miners and seen coal dust that clung to their faces, filled their pores, and caused their lungs to heave out deep, retching coughs. But even if you'da been close as a tick on a dog, you wouldn'ta heard the secrets each body kept, secrets not even told in whispers--secrets about my mama.
Secrets and gossip spread through coal camps like Smoke Ridge the way a fever does, keeping folks talking. Until new gossip seeps into their lives. Old gossip, like stale bread, is all but forgotten when there's fresh bread to chew on." (p. 7)
Are you hooked? I was! Did you get a taste for Harlan County, Kentucky during the 30's? You probably could practically hear the trains chugging through town, feel the cool shade, and sense the whispering gossip. Kathy gets an "A+" for sensory details that pull the reader into the time and place. How many powerhouse verbs do you count in these four paragraphs? As for figurative language, the comparison of gossip to how fever is spread and to stale bread are both masterful. As the story plays out, both fever and stale bread are components in this authentic Appalachian story.
THE STORY Pretty quickly the reader meets spunky, 13-year-old Adabel Cutler who is trying her darndest to keep her family from falling apart. Adabel's father is a coal miner who drinks too much and fights with her big brother, Pick. Her older sister, Raynelle, wants to marry the grocer's son to help keep food on their table. Her little sister Blissie has a "sweetness that makes folks smile and forgit she's a Cutler." (p. 10). But Adabel's biggest problem is that her mother disappeared seven years ago and Adabel is tormented by the fact that she can't remember her. "Mama was an empty place in my mind." (p. 17)
Like a detective, Adabel's relentless pursuit of the truth propels her through the story and into conversations with her family and neighbors. This dialogue transpires after Pick tells her about how their father sent the children away after their mama disappeared: "Don't ya remember? When Mama first left, Daddy shunted us young'uns off. Me to Shovel's. Raynelle and Blissie to Granny Cutler's. And you...I cain't recall who he give you to. Was it Jane Louise's mama?" "I don't recall none of that. I only remember living in the old house with y'all. Till we moved her last year. It's always been us. You, me, Raynelle, Blissie, and Daddy." "Ya's lucky not to remember ever'thing. Some things is best forgot." "Ya's wrong, Pick." A mind full of empty places was worse'n the awfulest memories a body could have. (p. 67)
Each conversation leads to the next. Adabel asks Jane Louise's mother: "But ya recollect Mama leaving?" "I just recollect how broke-hearted your daddy was. He loved your mama deep." It was hard to think of Daddy loving anyone deep. (p. 77) With each new conversation, Adabel begins to put together a picture of her past that is different than what she had previously believed.
Not having memories of her mother haunts Adabel. When she finds out the reason for her poor memory she thinks, "Knowing didn't fix the empty places in my head, but having a reason for 'em being there made me feel a heap better about it." (p. 188)
Adabel's new found knowledge gives her courage and strength. I'm not going to spoil the ending for you--I hope you decide to read EMPTY PLACES yourself--but let's just say Adabel's detective work brings healing to her family and leaves the reader feeling hopeful for her future.
EMPTY PLACES will be a great classroom resource for middle school students studying the Depression, coal mining, and the Appalachian area.
Sasha is a young girl who loves basketball and baking delicious treats with her Nana. When Nana is diagnosed with diabetes, Sasha is disappointed andSasha is a young girl who loves basketball and baking delicious treats with her Nana. When Nana is diagnosed with diabetes, Sasha is disappointed and worried. But with clever thinking, Sasha discovers other fun activities that not only can they enjoy doing together, but can help her Nana lead a more healthy life. This would be a great book to read with a child who has a relative with diabetes. Hopeful and educational at the same time....more
Here are three observations about WE BOUGHT A WWII BOMBER by North Carolina author, Sandra Warren:
1. Sandra did a great deal of research. The amount oHere are three observations about WE BOUGHT A WWII BOMBER by North Carolina author, Sandra Warren:
1. Sandra did a great deal of research. The amount of details in this book for adults and teens is reflected in the extensive bibliography.
2. Today's teenagers are different than the patriotic, self-sacrificing teenagers who lived seventy years ago. Those students learned how to live with shortages of food, how to collect materials that could be re-purposed for the war effort, and willingly participated in scrap metal drives and rationing. Would we see that type of commitment and patriotism today?
3. I knew that Kate and Lillie, the protagonists in my book, Half-Truths, would have been in elementary school during World War II. Reading this book made the time period come alive for me and helped me think more deeply about how those shortages affected them.
WE BOUGHT A WWII BOMBER is the story of a dedicated group of junior and senior high students who raised more than $375,000 by selling War Bonds and War Stamps to purchase a B-17 bomber. The story begun in 1942 by a quiet student, Arthur Blackport, when he suggested that his fellow students at South High School in Grand Rapids, Michigan work together to purchase a Flying Fortress.
Not only did the students raise enough money to purchase the bomber, but they also successfully raised money to buy an advanced trainer plane,as well as two disaster vehicles (which were a combination canteen, ambulance, and hospital car), and sixty-three fully equipped landing barges.
After the bomber was officially christened and flown off, the students wondered what happened to it. "How many battles had it won? How many German or Japanese planes had it destroyed?" (p. 49)
For seventy years no one knew what happened to the plane. The students heard rumors, but no facts. But in 2012, at her Class of 1962 fiftieth South High reunion, a remark which Sandra Warren made about "Searching for the Spirit" prompted a fellow classmate, Joe Rogers, to start digging for the truth.
Joe uncovered the fate of "The Spirit of South High" which enabled Sandra to write this story.
Sandra's attention to detail made this period come alive for me and I hope the book will inspire you. I am happy to give away my autographed copy of WE BOUGHT A WWII BOMBER. Please leave me a comment by 6 PM on Thursday, January 21 and your email address if you are new to this blog. PLUS--if you are in or near Central Florida, Sandra is speaking at the World War II study club on January 29 at the Colony Recreation Center in The Villages from 1-3 PM. Come on by and meet the author! ...more
From the number of novels-in-verse that I review, you may guess this is a genre close to my heart. Ever since I was in high school and poured my heartFrom the number of novels-in-verse that I review, you may guess this is a genre close to my heart. Ever since I was in high school and poured my heart out in free verse, I've admired this genre. But there is more than a world apart from my attempts and beautifully written novels such as THE GOOD BRAIDER, BLUE BIRDS, CRAZY, THE KISS OF BROKEN GLASS. I am consistently impressed with these authors' ability to tell well-plotted stories using succinct, figurative language.
Let's add ORCHARDS by Holly Thompson to this list.
(Please note that the line spacing in the following excerpts are not an exact replica of the book's poems. I had difficulty formatting these poems for this blog.)
Half-Japanese, half-Jewish American, Kana Goldberg is sent to her mother's ancestral home in Japan for the summer. A bullied eighth grade classmate (Ruth) committed suicide at the end of the school year and although Kenna wasn't the bully, she didn't stop it from happening. Working in her mother's ancestral mikan orange grove, she deals with her anger, guilt and grief and comes home a stronger young woman.
because of you, Ruth I'm exiled to my maternal grandmother, Baachan, to the ancestors at the altar and to Uncle, Aunt and cousins I haven't seen in three years-- not since our last trip back for Jiichan's funeral when Baachan told my sister Emi she was just right but told me I was fat should eat
less fill myself eighty percent no more each meal but then I was small then I didn't have hips then was before this bottom inherited from my father's Russian Jewish mother (p.9)
Initially, Kana experiences problems fitting in.
I try to learn fast make up for my non-Japanese half but Uncle makes remarks like after I set the breakfast table-- how are we supposed to eat... with our hands?
I rush to set out chopsticks... seconds too late they seem to think I can just switch one half of me on and leave the other half of me off but I'm like warm water pouring from a faucet the hot and cold both flowing as one (p. 24-5)
In Japanese school, Kana tries to reach out to a girl she perceives is an outsider, because that's what her school counselor had said she and her friends should have done for Ruth. but instead of opening up to me instead of warming to me instead of reaching out
in return she pivots and walks away. after that not everyone is so eager to get to know this New Yorker not everyone so hot to try their English
I don't care
groups don't matter so much to me now maybe because I know most atoms aren't as stable as they seem (p. 53-54) She has a negative opinion of her deceased grandfather, but when she realizes he was operating out of his own hurt over her mother's leaving Japan, she recognizes there are two sides to every story. I think there must be at least two sides to your story, too, Ruth, and maybe knowing more of Lisa's side how she lived with her godparents not her parents who were I don't know where might help explain why she was so mean to you
and why we all followed her lead (p.96)
When school ends Kana works long days in the family orchard. There she thinks about Ruth: everyone knows Lisa didn't mean it everyone knows when a person says certain things they don't mean the words they say really in the note you left for your parents and brother you said life was too hard they could never know what it was like for you at school where you were ostracized left out despised and where just that day in front of all us girls after Jake handed you a piece of paper Lisa had given you a look and said
I hope you die
I saw you glare at Lisa hard, I thought mean, I thought bitch we all said
hurt, I now realize as you crumpled that note into a tiny ball that was still in your jeans pocket when you were found in Osgood's orchard (p.110-111)
Kana's grief doesn't stop there; her world continues to painfully unravel. But by the time she returns to New York she has found a new home with her mother's family and a new way to go on living.
**** I'm giving away my autographed copy! Enter by 3/21/16 to win.
One of the highest compliments you can give an author is to finish their book and want to read it all over again. In the case of The Hired Girl, by awOne of the highest compliments you can give an author is to finish their book and want to read it all over again. In the case of The Hired Girl, by award-winning author Laura Amy Schlitz, that's exactly what I did; happily spending hours on a recent car trip reliving the world of Janet Lovelace, hired girl.
Pour yourself your favorite beverage and take a few minutes for this review. I'll try hard not to include too many spoilers.
Fourteen-year-old Janet, who changes her name from Joan Skraggs when she arrives in Baltimore in July, 1911, is a character female readers of all ages will enjoy. Raised on a Pennsylvania farm, there is little she cannot do-- pluck chickens, beat rugs, or put up food for the winter. But her insatiable desire to become educated, "noble and courageous" irritates her father. When he burns her books because he believes reading takes up too much of her time, Janet receives the catalyst she needs to leave home.
Janet's beloved school teacher's end-of-the-year gift is a journal. This diary becomes Schlitz's vehicle to tell Janet's story. Although some readers might find this contrived, I loved it. I was totally immersed in her deep POV. Janet's longing for her dead mother; frustration over her father and brothers' rejection; desire to be a "proper young lady" who frequents the opera, museums, and fashionable department stores; her head-over-heels infatuation for a most unsuitable love interest; her melodramatic observations about herself and other characters; plus her plucky and hopeful attitude, create a totally authentic and often humorous young woman.
She comes to Baltimore to find employment as a hired girl. She arrives too late to find a room in a boarding home and resigns herself to having to spend the night on a park bench. Fortunately for her, she meets a young gentleman, Solomon Rosenbach, who brings her back to his home with the hopes that his mother will allow her to stay. One of my favorite lines is when Janet waits outside their home and she hears Mrs. Rosenbach say to her son, "Oh Solly, it used to be cats and dogs." That gentle, motherly reproof tells the reader a lot about Solomon and his mother; and is in fact, something which haunts Janet later.
The Rosenbach's elderly housekeeper, Malka, is most loved by the family but can no longer do heavy housework. Although Janet is Catholic and Solly's parents are concerned she might "have anti-semitism" (despite the fact that Janet has no idea what the word means but is willing to learn it if that would make her a more desirable worker) she is hired to help Malka. Mrs. Rosenbach warns her that she'll need to be tactful so Malka (who Janet initially thinks of as a "black fly of a woman") doesn't feel old and unwanted; Janet admits that tactfulness might not be one of her strengths.
Alas, this is true. Janet's lack of tact (sprinkled with a healthy dose of hired girl eavesdropping) gets her into trouble.
She finds an ardent supporter in Mr. Rosenbach to whom she pleads, "I want to better myself." He admires her drive and supports her by giving her access to his library. "Edifying" books "take her into another world" where she imagines seeing the cities, monuments, and architecture pictured in The Picturesque World.
Janet battles with the fact that she is seen only as the hired girl and her own desire to be more than that. Recounting a scene where she attempts to intercept Solly so she can thank him for rescuing her she says, "I tried to express my gratitude in elegant phrases so he would see that even though I am a hired girl, I am not just a hired girl." She adds, "I could tell he wanted me to stop talking." Later in the book she observes, "I don't think of myself as a hired girl. After all, I'm not going to be a servant all my life. I plan to be a teacher someday."
I loved Janet's evaluation of her world: "The best thing about my servitude is that people are pleased with me...So different than life on the farm where no one was pleased and things never stayed clean."
And I appreciated her observations of the people around her. This is her description of Mimi, the Rosenbach's youngest daughter: How can that child look pretty when she is not? It's partly the way she moves, I guess. She's so light on her feet. She's like a bit of bright paper being blown over the grass. I wish I were like that. As a young Catholic who has never met a Jew ("except for Rebecca in Ivanhoe," as she tells the Rosenbachs), she is introduced to the world of a different religion. Since I am a Jewish Christian, I thought readers would get an interesting window into a religious Jewish household--complete with a young Catholic's perspective on the High Holidays, keeping kosher, and yiddish idioms (shiksa, anyone?). Although I am not Catholic, it appears that Schlitz did her homework in portraying that part of Janet's background and practices accurately.
I could go on and tell you about how Janet's love for romance leads to her "eternal embarrassment" and "mortification" or how the reader glimpses the fulfillment of Janet's desire to become an educated woman. But, I don't want to spoil the book for you. Let me just say that despite Malka's grim and at times sullen exterior, she is the secondary character whose love for Janet brings me to tears, even now as I write this review.
Homeschool educators and teachers would find this an interesting book for studying the time period, comparative religions, as well as for analyzing the author's world view.
This audio book is performed by talented Rachel Botchan who does an outstanding job with all the different characters. Even though I was tempted to keep this book and listen to it again, I'm going to give it away courtesy of Recorded Books (valued at $88.00) to one fortunate blog reader. I will pick a winner on Friday, April 1. I will enter your name for each time you share this on social media, and an additional time if you become a new follower. MAKE SURE you leave me your email address if you are new to my blog and tell me what you have done. - See more at: http://carolbaldwinblog.blogspot.com/......more
Although my WIP, Half-Truths, has elements of mystery, I've never attempted writing a suspense thriller. And while it's challenging writing a novel frAlthough my WIP, Half-Truths, has elements of mystery, I've never attempted writing a suspense thriller. And while it's challenging writing a novel from two-points-of-view, the intricacies of the Hanged Man's Noose's plot and the way in which Sheluk wove together a complicated backstory, clues, and red herrings--makes me think that my work is a piece of cake. Or, perhaps, in the case of this Canadian whodunit, a "Treasontini"--blueberry vodka plus triple sec plus blueberry juice--as pictured on the cover.
The star of the show is Emily Garland, a journalist who comes to the small town of Lount's Landing to ostensibly start up a small niche magazine. In reality, her boss wants her to find out the scoop on mega-real estate developer, Garrett Stonehaven. Emily is only too happy to bring him to his knees because she thinks he had something to do with her mother's recent mysterious death.
In the process of getting to know the local business proprietors, Emily learns about Garrett Stonehaven's plans to convert an old school to a big box store. His vision for the town's future doesn't sit well with Emily's new friend, Arabella Carpenter, owner of a new antique store who wants to restore the historic main street.
When three people turn up dead in a short period of time Emily's investigative reporting becomes more serious. Her discovery of Stonehaven's past which links him to many of the town residents eventually puts Emily in danger herself.
Sheluk does a good job of characterization both with physical descriptions that match the characters' personalities as well as through their dialogue. Early on Emily meets two of Lount's Landing's townspeople: The woman's hair was black as a raven's back and cropped close. With the exception of a pair of diamond stud earrings, she appeared to be decked out in yoga wear from head to toe. Emily referred to the PDF and pegged her as Chantal Van Schyndle, owner of the Serenity Spa and Yoga Studio. She assume Hockey Jersey was Carter Dixon, owner of Slap Shot, a sporting goods store that Johnny wrote was "barely hanging on." (p.20) Later, Stonehaven and Arabella face off at her store's opening: "The candlesticks are in the window of the Glass Dolphin for decoration, Mr. Stonehaven. They are not for sale." "Nonsense, Ms. Carpenter. Everything is for sale at the right price. Everything and anybody. Even you." (p. 47) Emily's desire to find out the truth about her mother's death motivates her to press on--even when her own life is threatened. And in the end, Sheluk neatly ties up the many threads which she wove through the novel.
My only critique of the story is that there are a lot of characters to keep track of. Occasionally I had to backtrack to remember who a secondary character was. But kudos to Judy Sheluk for her well-plotted debut mystery. ...more
This is a well-written book that manages to be funny and educational at the same time. Set in the Everglades, Hiaasen puts together a witchy Biology tThis is a well-written book that manages to be funny and educational at the same time. Set in the Everglades, Hiaasen puts together a witchy Biology teacher, a loser of a kid who turns out to be a fantastic animal tracker, several rich men (both eccentric-one nice, one greedy), boy and girl protagonists, and a panther kitten who has lost his mama. They're all wrapped up in a mystery that is only solved because of the characters' courage and instincts to know who to trust. Well done; both girl and boy middle graders will enjoy this book. I certainly did! ...more
Last April I reviewed Susan Moger's book, Teaching the Diary of Anne Frank. When she contacted me and asked if I would read and review her debut novelLast April I reviewed Susan Moger's book, Teaching the Diary of Anne Frank. When she contacted me and asked if I would read and review her debut novel, OF BETTER BLOOD (Albert Whitman and Co. 2016), I agreed. After reading it I can tell you one thing for sure: Susan used all of her research about Hitler and the events leading up to World War II in order to write this young adult historical novel.
Teenage polio survivor Rowan Collier is caught in the crossfire of a secret war against “the unfit.” It’s 1922, and eugenics—the movement dedicated to racial purity and good breeding—has taken hold in America. State laws allow institutions to sterilize minorities, the “feeble-minded,” and the poor, while local eugenics councils set up exhibits at county fairs with “fitter family” contests and propaganda. - Albert Whitman and Co.
Four times a day I drop the baby. It's not a real baby, but for a stunned heartbeat the audience believes it is. That's enough to get some of them on their feet, screaming, Stupid, clumsy, gimp. The words slide into my skin and stay there. When I ask Mr. Ogilvie, the director, if just once I can catch the baby before it hits the stage, he frowns and puts his hands on my shoulders. I squirm away, but he holds on. "I love your sensitivity, Ruthie," he says, showing corn-yellow teeth. "But sadly a cripple like you can't be a hero." (p. 1) Thus the reader is thrust into the life of Rowan Collier, an unwilling actress in a "fitter family" drama reenacted four times a day at the Springfield, Massachusetts county fair. In the beginning of the novel Moger uses alternating chapters to show Rowan's life before this humiliating summer. In these flashbacks the reader meets her father, an engineering consultant for the Navy, and an advocate for the Betterment fight. He and Rowan's older sister, Julia, are dedicated to the proposition that society is best advanced having the fittest people marry and produce large families. The unfit, those who are physically, emotionally, or intellectually substandard, should be eliminated from society.
In one of these flashbacks Rowan recalls how one of her doctors wanted her to be sterilized. Rowan refuses but is shaken afterwards: Father believed, as Dr. Pynchon did, that a weakness inherited from Mother caused me to get polio. But would he want me to be sterilized? (p. 51) Rowan's world--already dramatically changed due to polio--continues to fall apart when she is forced to do "educational work" for the New England Betterment Council at the Expo. There she develops a friendship with a fellow worker, orphaned Dorchy, whose parents worked county fairs. In these simple explanation to Rowan, Dorchy shares one of the underlying themes of the book: Rubes are ignoramuses; carnies know everything. Rubes come to the fair with their eyes starry and their pockets full; carnies take them for what they're worth..... Your Unfit Family Show does the same thing. You trick rubes into paying money under false pretenses. (p. 33) As Rowan hears the stories of her fellow "actors" and how they were tricked into being sterilized, Rowan starts questioning what she had believed to be true about her father. Dorchy is a major catalyst in Rowan's increasing self-awareness. When I left Bellevue and went to the Home, all thoughts of Dr. Friedlander and nursing school were driven out of my head by the effort of surviving. But here at the Expo, the memories are starting to come back. Dorchy is bringing me back to life. (p.64)
Following a dramatic escape from the Expo, Dorchy forces Rowan to question her assumption that her mother's bloodline was weaker since she died giving birth to Rowan: Dorchy jumps up. "Listen to yourself," she shouts, angrier than I have ever seen her. "How can you sit there and say that about your own mother? After weeks with the awful Ogilvies and the Council cows you still don't question that 'better blood' garbage? she punches her fist against her palm. "You still think people are fit or unfit because of their family bloodlines? You know as well as I do that Gar and Jimmy and Minne are as fit as you and your precious father. (p. 117) Despite Dorchy's misgivings, she considers working at the Camp for Unfortunates in Maine with Rowan. "I'll bet you anything the camp is a con," she says stubbornly. "Miss Latigue is the carney; you and me the unfortunates are the rubes. You'll see." (p. 136) Sadly, Dorchy's predictions prove to be true. I don't want to spoil the rest of the book, but the girls' lives become painfully difficult when they realize the camp is a facade for weeding out the "unfit."
Although the ending is triumphant as Rowan begins her journey towards nursing school, it is not without great personal loss. But she has matured from a dependent "cripple" to a young woman who has purpose, resolve, and determination. This is not an easy book to read. But as Susan Moger relates in her Notes, "Eugenics was a popular pseudo-science in the United States from the early 1900's to the late 1930s. The double aim of eugenics was (1) to keep Americans with a "strong" heredity (family backgound) having children and (2) to prevent those with a "weak heredity" from having children....The popular method of preventing reproduction among the unfit was to sterilize men and women." Necessary Lies, which I previously reviewed has a similar theme.
As you may know, American eugenics principles were adopted in other countries, most notably Germany before and during WWII. Adolf Hitler praised American eugenics in his book, Mein Kampf and thus laid groundwork for a master race.
Although the Unfit Family show and the New England Betterment Council are fiction, "Fitter Families" exhibits and contests were a popular feature at state fairs starting in 1920. This book would be an excellent supplement in high school classrooms studying WWII. ******** If you are interested in winning my ARC, please leave me a comment by 6 PM on February 18. If you are new to my blog, please leave me your contact information. If you join my blog or share this on social media, please let me know what you do and I'll add your name twice. Susan also offered to giveaway an autographed copy of the hardback edition, so this time around I'll have TWO winners to announce next week! PLUS-- Susan is willing to send a book overseas, making this my first giveaway open outside the U.S.! http://carolbaldwinblog.blogspot.com/......more
A short but immensely powerful book, Guardian portrays a lynching as seen from the viewpoint of several characters most intimately effected by the manA short but immensely powerful book, Guardian portrays a lynching as seen from the viewpoint of several characters most intimately effected by the man's murder. Here are seven of these characters:
Ansel Anderson- a 14-year-old white boy living in a small town in the south in 1946.
Bert Anderson- Ansel's father who operates Anderson General Store and helped Big Willie get his job.
Maureen Anderson- Ansel's mother.
Little Willie Benton- Ansel's black fishing buddy who works with Ansel at the General Store.
Big Willie Benton- WWII vet suffering from (undiagnosed PTSD), Little Willie's father. He does odd jobs at Mary Susan's father's church.
Mary Susan Dennis- the girl Ansel likes.
Zach Davis- Ansel's antagonist and town bully. Great-Grandson of the man who founded the town of Davis, son of the man who owns the largest plantation in the town as well as the store where Ansel's father works and the church where Mary Susan's father is the preacher.
Through these multitude of lenses, yet told from the narrator's present tense viewpoint, Mr. Lester has interwoven a story full of deep prejudice and misunderstanding. It is an unconventional style which works well for this topic. The reader intimately sees each character's motivations, fears, and beliefs and feels his or her emotions.
James Scott Bell writes: "A novel usually revolves around a few big scenes. These act like guideposts as the novelist moves from one to the other up through the climax." (p.127) The scene you are about to read happens three-quarters of the way into the book and is one of the big scenes in Guardian. Bert and Ansel have just left their store.
******** As father and son cross the street to the car, they see Big Willie hurrying out the front door of the church. He looks quickly to his right and left, and seeing Bert and Ansel, he runs to them.
"Mistah Bert, suh! I'm glad it's you. Yes, suh!" Willie is a tall and rather ungainly young man. His face looks as if it absorbed every death he witnessed, those he was agent of and those he was not. He is wearing a khaki military shirt with a private's stripe on the sleeve. But the shirt is dirty and torn, as if he has not taken it off since his discharge.
"Wasn't me, Mistah Bert. No, suh! I didn't have nothing to do with it, but I know I'm gon' get blamed for it. Something like this happen, nigger gets blamed every time. Yes, suh. Sho' do. But I ain't done it."
"What are you talking about, Willie?"
Willie points toward the church. "I seen him. I seen him just as sho' as I'm seeing you and Mistah Ansel. Yes, such. The young Mistah Zeph."
Bert hurries to the church and goes inside. In the dim light at the front, he sees and does not want to believe what he sees.
"Ansel! Go outside!"
Instead of doing what his father tells him, Ansel says, "Papa? What's he doing?"
Zeph Davis the Third turns at the sounds of the voices. In his right hand is a knife. It is slick with blood. On the floor in front of the alter lies a body, the skirt raised to reveal her nakedness.
Ansel does not wait for an answer from his father, who is still trying to understand what he is seeing. Ansel screams, "Mary Susan! Mary Susan!" and runs to the front of the church. He stops and stares at her nakedness. Then, realizing what he is doing, he pulls down the skirt to cover her.
In doing so, he sees a ripped blouse and severed bra. The exposed breasts are red and slick with blood.
He wants to stare, but feels that he shouldn't, that Mary Susan would not want him to.
He takes the blood-soaked blouse and pulls both sides over her bared breasts, careful not to touch them.
Zeph looks rapidly from Ansel to Bert, back and forth, back and forth, breathing heavily, not knowing what to do, what to say.
Then he sees Big Willie in the shadows at the back of the church.
"He did it!" Zeph hours, pointing at Big Willie. "He did it!"
"Mistah Bert? Suh, look at me. Ain't no blood nowhere on me. Look at him. He covered with blood, her blood."
"You know niggers, Bert!" Zeph breaks in. "They do all kinds of stuff with roots. That nigger probably got a mojo that can take blood off his hands."
"I seen him, Mistah Bert. I seen him. I was up in the balcony. I likes to sit up there when no one's around. It's real peaceful.
"That's where I was when the preacher's girl, Miz Mary, come in. I wanted to leave right then 'cause I knowed it wouldn't look good if I was alone in the same place with a white woman. But wasn't no way I could get out without her hearing. Seeing' me, she might get the wrong idea and start screaming. So I just stayed still.
"She went to the altar and knelt down to pray. I wondered what could be weighing so heaving on the heart of someone as young as she was. If she'd been a nigger gal, I could understand. Us niggers need all the prayer we can get. Yes, suh.
"Miz Mary hadn't been there long when I heard the door of the church open and he come in. I thought maybe the two of them had decided to meet up together at the church, but when she turned around to see who it was had come in and seen it was him she say, 'What do you want? You get on outta here and leave me alone. I'm praying.'
"He don't pay no mind to what she say. He go up to her and grab her try to kiss her. She push him away. She say, 'Get away from me or I'll kick you so hard you won't be able to move for a month.'
"That's when he whipped out his knife and before she could do anything, he was on her, stabbing her over and over. Then I seen him raise up her skirt, and I didn't want to see no more. Mistah Zeph was so caught up in what he was doing that he didn't see me, and I hurried out and that's when I seen you and your boy. That's the God's truth, Mistah Bert. You believe me, don't you? You'll tell the white folks it wasn't me. Won't you Mistah Berth?"
"Who you going to belive, Bert? A nigger or a white man?"
Zeph notices that Bert is hesitating, that Bert is thinking about what the right thing to do is, and Zeph drops the knife on the floor next to Mary Susan's body, runs up the aisle and out of the church.
"Rape! Rape! Pastor's daughter been raped by a nigger!" Zeph is running and yelling at the same time. Over and over he shouts and the only words that are clear are "rape" and "nigger." pp. 71-75.
Mr. Bell asks:
Was this an action scene? No question. This scene demonstrates high intensity with "tremendous conflict, important emotions, sharp dialogue, and inner turmoil." (Bell, p.128)
Identify the places where you learn about the character's objective in the scene and the conflict:
Big Willie's speech when he meets Ansel and Bert show how he wants his name cleared. That is repeated at the close of the scene bookending his desperation. Conflict roars to life through Zeph's false accusation. Entering the church, Ansel wants to see what has disturbed his father. His internal conflict in seeing Mary Susan is demonstrated in his actions. Zeph's anger at being rebuffed again (this is not the first time Mary Susan rejects him) leads to his objective: revenge. His conflict is visible in his brief hesitation after his sociopathic behavior. Bert wants not to see what is plain before his eyes. Afterwards, he also hesitates, showing his internal conflict. How does the scene end?
Zeph leaves the church and "Over and over he shouts and the only words that are clear are 'rape' and 'nigger.' The reader knows that this certainly means disaster for Big Willie and sets up the scenes which, like soldiers falling in battle, will surely follow.
Do you want to read on?
I'm going to leave this question up to you. Even though you have a strong sense of what's going to happen next, are you pulled into the next scene? Why or why not?
Jim Bell writes, "...you need to end scenes with a prompt, something to make readers turn the page...Don't ever let your scenes fizzle out, ending on a boring note." (p. 124).