Review: Flygirl

“Sure, they’d only been around a few years, they were dangerous, and quite frankly, only a handful of colored people knew how to fly.” page 29

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Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith.
Scholastic, New York, 2008.
YA historical fiction, 275 pages.
Lexile:  HL680L  ( What does HL mean in Lexile? )
AR Level:  4.3 (worth 11.0 points)  .

Ida Mae Jones just wants to fly.  But her mother’s dead set against her even going North to get her pilot’s license.  So using her light skin color to join the WASP shouldn’t even be an option, but Ida will do anything to get in the air and help her military brother.

Flygirl

Those of you who have been reading for a while will recall that I’m pretty tough on historical fiction.  I want it to be inclusive of diverse characters and perspectives, but also realistic.  (A character might be targeted with hateful language, but the author should also make clear that those words are wrong.)  Depending on the grade level, I’d also like it to be appropriate for the age recommended, not too graphic nor too idealistic for young readers.  And, of course, it should be well written and have an interesting plot and intriguing characters.

I’m happy to share that Flygirl succeeds on every count.

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Review: Sugar

“It’s pretty. ‘Til you get close. Then sugar gets nastier than any gator. Sugar bites a hundred times, breaking skin and making you bleed.” page 6

Sugar by Jewell Parker Rhodes, illustrations by Neil Brigham.
Originally published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, Hachette, New York, 2013.
My edition is Scholastic, New York, 2015.
Middle grade historical fiction, 272 pages + author’s note.
Lexile:  430L  .
AR Level:  2.9 (worth 4.0 points)  .
NOTE: This is the second book published (chronologically the first) in the Louisiana Girls Trilogy.

The ten-year-old narrator of this novel is named after the type of plantation she works on: Sugar.  Slavery ending doesn’t seem to have changed much, other than all of her friends moving away.  Orphaned Sugar doesn’t have the resources or family to leave.  But she does have spirit and dreams – dreams of playing all day, going to school, and even of making new friends.  When the plantation owner decides to bring Chinese workers in,  are they competition or potential allies?

Sugar by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Since I’ve been complaining about historical fiction featuring black characters, I decided to try to find some good examples, so we took a trip to the used bookstore.  This historical novel takes place over the course of a year, measured by the different seasons of the sugarcane cycle.  It starts with winter in 1870 and moves through planting and then harvest in 1871.  The epilogue takes place in spring of that year. Continue reading “Review: Sugar”

Review: Push

“I wanna say I am somebody. I wanna say it on subway, TV, movie, LOUD.” page 31

Push by Sapphire.
Vintage books, Random House, New York, my edition 1997, orig. pub. 1996.
Adult fiction incorporating poetry, 140 pages plus the Life Story Class Book (not paginated).
Lexile: not leveled.
AR Reader: 4.0 (worth 5.0 points)
NOTE: This book is not intended for children, whatever the reading level may be.

16-year-old Precious is pregnant with another one of her father’s babies and has been kicked out of school.  Her mother feels there’s no point and what’s the use, since she can’t read anyway?  But Precious, fierce, determined, angry, and sad, misses school and is going to try again.  Maybe her baby can have a better life than her.

Push by Sapphire

I came across this book in the most roundabout way.  I’d heard of it before and the movie Precious which is based on it.  But it wasn’t on my TBR, just one of those books you hear about and nod, “yes, I’ll read that some day.”  Then I was at the summer clearance at Barnes and Noble, and they had a copy of the 2011 sequel, The Kid in hardcover for a dollar.  That’s been sitting on my shelves for a year now, and I finally picked up a copy of Push.

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Review: Children of the Fire

“The southwest wind in Hallelujah’s face blew pieces of flaming cloth and chunks of blazing hay high above her head.” page 33

Children of the Fire by Harriette Gillem Robinet.
Aladdin Paperbacks, Simon and Schuster, 2001.  Originally published 1999.
MG historical fiction, 134 pages including author’s note.
Lexile:  590L .
AR Level:  4.0 (worth 4.0 points) .

In 1871 Chicago, Hallelujah wants nothing more than to watch one of the fires burning around the city, but has no idea how one of those fires will change her life.

Children of the Fire cover

I hadn’t been reading much historical fiction so I impulsively bought this.  We’ve visited Chicago, so I thought it might make a good family read-aloud.

The cover was so irritating.  Why did they include the rich white girl?  Once I started reading, I also noticed that Hallelujah’s hair was wrong on the cover.  In the book it specifically states that her sister redid it into loose braids, not twists (and the cover looks more like ponytail poofs to me)  A large theme of the book is that Hallelujah is able to blend in with different groups because she wears a simple dress, but custom-made shoes, is the daughter of a slave, yet can read and write.  Different people see her in different ways.

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Review: Hold Tight, Don’t Let Go

“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?

Hold Tight, Don't Let Go

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.

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Review: The Birchbark House

“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.

The Birchbark House Cover

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 Silko’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.

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Review: The Refugees

“It was a trivial secret, but one I would remember as vividly as my feeling that while some people are haunted by the dead, others are haunted by the living.” page 71

The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen.
Grove Press, Grove Atlantic, New York, 2017.
Adult short story collection, 207 pages.
Not leveled.
NOTE: This is a work of fiction although I’m not reviewing it on Fiction Friday.

This collection of eight short stories is tied together not so much by the characters as by a common theme – they all deal with Vietnamese immigrants, albeit in very different and sometimes surprising ways.

The Refugees cover resized

I first heard of this book when reading an interview with the author prior to the release.  Instantly knew I wanted to read it and put in a library request.  Received it at the end of April and was about to send it back unread because I didn’t think I’d have time to read it, but then Shenwei posted about the Asian Lit Bingo Challenge … so I read one story at a time during lunch breaks.  Because of the tight time frame for this challenge and needing to return the book, I only read it once.

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