“There are memories you write down to get them out, to force them as far away from you as you can.” page 9
Hold Tight, Don’t Let Go: A Novel of Haiti by Laura Rose Wagner.
Amulet Books Imprint, Abrams, New York, 2015.
YA realistic fiction novel, 263 pages including extras.
Lexile: not yet leveled.
AR Level: 5.0 (worth 8.0 points) .
15-year-old Magdalie’s been raised by her aunt in Port-au-Prince and is like a sister to her cousin Nadine. When a massive earthquake hits the country, they’re devastated, grief-struck, and struggling to survive. But then Nadine is offered an opportunity, and Magdalie cannot join her. Will their sisterhood survive? Will they?
If you’re reading this review far enough into the future then this book will no longer be realistic fiction. Just as novels about 9/11 are now historical fiction, this book about the January 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti, a recent historical event, will one day be historical fiction!
The book opens with a scene of the actual earthquake, so it certainly starts off gripping. After reading the blurb, I thought this book would be told in two voices, but it focuses solely on Magdalie, the sister left behind in Haiti. This is an interesting twist on the usual immigration narrative. Typically we follow the immigrant and don’t get as much information on those who are left behind. In this book, the immigrant sister slowly and painfully fades away, while the focus is on the dire circumstances and overpowering need for survival in the country of origin.
“She was named Omakayas, or Little Frog, because her first step was a hop.” page 5
The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich.
Disney Hyperion, New York, 1999, my edition 2002.
Historical fiction, 244 pages including glossary.
National Book Award Finalist
Lexile: 970L .
AR Level: 6.1 (worth 7.0 points) .
NOTES: This is a work of fiction although I am not reviewing it on Fiction Friday.
While the main character is seven, I would recommend this book for older children.
This is one year in the life of seven-year-old Omakayas (Oh-MAH-kay-ahs), an Ojibwa (Anishinabe) girl, in 1847.
Wow. From the suspenseful prologue to the last word, I was fully immersed in this book. The best historical fiction I’ve read in a long time, I might even like it better than Abby Takes a Stand. To think I didn’t really want to read it that much!
I’d seen this book recommended so many times, but was avoiding it because I was required to read one of Erdrich’s books in college and did not like it. That book was The Antelope Wife. I found it unreadable – one of very few required novels I didn’t read cover to cover. My professor was trying to be modern and avant-garde but the book was incomprehensible and had no plot, just intricate emotionally-laden descriptions that initially intrigued and later bored me. I’m so glad to see that Erdrich has rewritten that book and the new edition is supposed to be much more readable, because in this book, I absolutely loved her take on historical fiction.
Book with excellent concepts for closing the early achievement gap is sadly tainted with audism.
Thirty Million Words: Building a Child’s Brain – Tune In, Talk More, Take Turns by Dana Suskind, Beth Suskind, and Leslie Lewinter-Suskind.
Dutton Imprint, Penguin Random House, New York, 2015.
Adult informative non-fiction, 308 pages including index.
America experiences a significant achievement gap based on socio-economic status. Which also, based on the systemic racism endemic to America, disproportionately affects people of color. Dana Suskind has an idea about what might be causing this, and the surprisingly simple way we can close the gap and empower parents.
I was not planning to review this book here, as it’s a bit beyond the normal scope of my blog – it doesn’t focus on minorities, and the author is a white woman.
However, when reading the first chapter, I found the audism present annoying. Then, after getting into the book, I found some worthwhile information was presented, which is why this was recommended to me in the first place. Finally, checking up on the author, I learned that she was in an interracial marriage (before her husband’s tragic death) which I assume would have given her a different perspective.
“I never forgot my Indian mother and family – and I never will – but being separated from them didn’t create a block that somehow prevented me from pursuing a full and happy life. I’d learned quickly, as a matter of survival, that I needed to take opportunities as they came – if they came – and to look forward to the future.” p. 154
Lion by Saroo Brierley with Larry Buttrose.
New American Library imprint, Penguin Random House, 2013.
Adult memoir, 273 pages + photo inserts.
NOTE: Previously published under the title A Long Way Home.
Born into an impoverished but loving family in rural India, Saroo accompanied his brother to a nearby train station and got lost, ending up asleep on a train which took him to Calcutta. Six emotional months later, he was adopted into an Australian family, the Brierleys. Along the way, he told many people his story. Some didn’t believe him, others tried to take advantage of him, but none were able to find his family based on his five-year old recollections.
As an adult with the help of Google Earth, he began an obsessive search to find his home town. Twenty-five years after he got lost, he came home again. But is any of his family still there?
“If I had to choose, I have no idea who I would pick between a biological brother I didn’t know and Felix, who I loved so much.” p. 171
Dara Palmer’s Major Drama by Emma Shevah.
UK: The Chicken House. US reprint: Scholastic, New York, 2015.
Middle grade realistic fiction, illuminated book, 282 pages (including extras).
AR Level: 4.8 (worth 7.0 points)
Dara Palmer’s life is sooo dramatic. She was clearly born to be a star, you can tell by how much TV she watches! It’s life or death that she gets the part of Maria in her school’s production of The Sound of Music, so when she doesn’t, some family members feel that it’s her dark skin keeping her from a part in the musical, not her overacting.
This was entirely an impulse buy. When I opened the book and discovered that it was illuminated (text is complemented/completed by pictures drawn around the margins and in the white space of the book), I was surprised. Another surprise followed as I found out the book was set in Great Britain. This edition is slightly Americanized (5th grade instead of 6th year), but the characters are still very British.
Dara Palmer is a pretty unlikeable character. She literally states this at the end of the first chapter:
“This all happened a while ago now. Let me just say, I was a different person back then. I don’t know if you’re going to like the old me much when you hear what I was like, but I’ve changed. Stuff happened along the way – all kinds of stuff, actually. Nuns and noodles were just the beginning.” ~page 2
Dara is self-absorbed, overly dramatic, and yet somehow magnetic. She comes off as very unsympathetic, until we get to know her a little more. If it wasn’t for the caveat in the first chapter, I might not have made it past the second. And that would have been a shame.
“Adam was the one who’d suggested Bannon’s Gymnastix for the field trip. It was just down the street from the day care, and he knew that his little sisters would enjoy it…” p. 44
Courage to Soar: A Body in Motion, A Life in Balance by Simone Biles, with Michelle Burford.
Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2016.
Young adult biography/autobiography, 250 pages.
Not yet leveled.
This is the story of Simone Biles, a gymnast who came to national and international attention as the first female gymnast ever to win three consecutive all-around titles, and then again as she took the Olympics by storm in Rio this year.
This book is co-authored by Michelle Burford, a founding editor of O magazine who has assisted several public figures with their biographies, including Gabby Douglas.