Review: Secret Keeper

“Asha paused to flick the sweat from the crook of her elbow. Suddenly she caught sight of a face staring at her through the coconut leaves.” p. 31

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Secret Keeper by Mitali Perkins.
Delacorte Press, Random House Children’s Books, New York, 2009.
Historical fiction, 225 pages.
Lexile:  800L  .
AR Level:  5.3 (worth 7.0)  .

Asha’s father has gone to America to look for a new job, leaving his family in the care of his older brother’s family.  Already saddened by the move from Delhi to Calcutta, Asha, her beautiful older sister Reet, and their mother wait and try to fend off marriage proposals, rebukes from the other women, and a life of servitude and confinement.

Secret Keeper Mitali Perkins resized

Asha’s mother suffers from depression and fits that her daughters describe as visits from the Jailer, when her face and mind go blank.  She attempts methods of coping such as knitting or cooking, but as their life circumstances deteriorate, she’s unable to function, leaving Asha in charge of their physical safety and everyday needs.

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2017 Favorites – Fiction

Favorite fiction reads of 2017, from picture books to adult novels.

Yup, I’m not posting this until well into 2018.  In 2017 I reviewed 98 books (plus 10 board books) and so many of them were so good.  It took me a month just to narrow it down this far…  I just love all the books!

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Review: Fried Green Tomatoes

“By now the name of the cafe was written on the walls of hundreds of boxcars, from Seattle to Florida.” page 30

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg.
Random House, 1987.  My edition McGraw-Hill, New York, 1988.
Adult fiction, 403 pages including recipes.
Lexile:  940L  .
AR Level: 5.6 (worth 15.0 points)  .
NOTE: Although the reading level is low, this is an adult novel.

This is going to be a complicated review.  There are two main threads to the storyline, which covers events in the fictional town of Whistle Stop, Alabama (just outside of Birmingham) between the early 1920s and the late 1980s.

Fried Green Tomatoes

The story is told through four different elements.  Evelyn Couch is struggling with her weight, her marriage, menopause, and an inevitable feeling of doom.  She accompanies her husband on visits to his mother’s nursing home every Sunday, but can’t stand to sit and watch TV, so she finds herself in the visitor’s room with Ninny Threadgoode.  At first she just wishes the old lady would shut up so she can eat her candy bars in peace, but then she gets interested in the stories and they forge an unlikely friendship.  When the novel was first published, these scenes would have been roughly contemporary – it’s now historical fiction.

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Review: A Single Shard

“The rice was harvested, and the poor were allowed to glean the fields for fallen grain-heads. It was an arduous, backbreaking task: hours of work to gather mere handfuls of rice.” p. 53

A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park.
Dell Yearling, Random House Books, New York, 2001.
MG historical fiction, 152 pages plus extra back matter.
2002 Newbery Award Winner.
Lexile:  920L  .
AR Level:  6.6 (worth 6.0 points)  .

This novel follows a 12th century Korean orphan who is happy at first just to scrounge enough food to survive, but gradually becomes immersed in the world of the master potters of Ch’ulp’o, known for their breathtaking celadon ceramics.

A Single Shard

I was first given this book back when it was released and a friend told me I had to read it.  For whatever reason I resisted.  Perhaps because I didn’t care much for historical fiction at the time.  Another reason could have been the nearly all-male cast.  Tree-ear’s world is full of men and boys, with only one female character of any notice.  While it wouldn’t pass the Bechdel test, the characters do come from a wide economic spectrum.

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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

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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