Review: The Underground Railroad

“His patients believed they were being treated for blood ailments. The tonics the hospital administered, however, were merely sugar water.” p. 124

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The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead.
Anchor Books, Penguin Random House, New York, 2016.
Adult fiction, 313 pages.
Lexile:  890L  .
AR Level: not yet leveled

Cora is a young woman on a Georgia plantation when a new arrival asks her to run away with him.  Only one slave has ever successfully escaped the Randall plantation, but Caesar believes that if they run together, they’ll make it to the elusive Underground Railroad.

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It took me a good while to get to this one.  I’d seen a lot of mixed reviews, and in general I’m not a fan of magical realism (which is what most people were calling this).  Finally I saw this at Target and decided to use it as one of my targetpicks selections.

Going into the read with low expectations definitely helped this novel blow me away.  It’s a very difficult book to classify.  Whitehead uses elements of many different genres, including historical fiction, adventure, science fiction, magical realism, and realistic fiction.

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Review: The 57 Bus

“For now, both teenagers are just taking the bus home from school. Surely it’s not too late to stop things from going wrong. There must be some way to wake Sasha. Divert Richard. Get the driver to stop the bus. There must be something you can do.” p. 5

The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime that Changed Their Lives by Dashka Slater.
Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers, New York, 2017.
YA nonfiction/true crime, 305 pages.
Lexile:  930L  .
AR Level:  6.5 (worth 8.0 points)  .

In November 2013, two teens were on the same bus for just eight minutes.  Agender senior Sasha fell asleep on the long ride home from fir small private school.  Sixteen-year-old Richard was joking with friends as he left his large public school.  Then Richard held a lighter to Sasha’s skirt, forever changing the course of both their lives.

The 57 Bus

This unique, well-written exploration of one particular incident evokes much more.  Richard’s struggling (but loving) young mother took in two nieces after her sister was murdered.  He grew up in a rough neighborhood, where 4 of his close friends and family members had been murdered before he was 16, and he was mugged at gunpoint only a week before the fire.  And Richard was African-American, possibly ADHD, and definitely traumatized.  He spent time in a group home because of fights before, but didn’t start them – he was a follower.

Sasha is white, middle class, an only child who had struggled with fitting in before – autistic and agender, with a major passion for public transport.  Fi is shy, so fir parents were surprised when fi started wearing skirts.  However, they took great joy in seeing the child a psychiatrist told them to lower their hopes for blossoming into a confident, thoughtful teen.

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Review: Visiting Day

“I go to sleep and don’t wake up again until the bus pulls up in front of the big old building where, as Grandma puts it, Daddy is doing a little time.” page 19

Visiting Day, by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by James E. Ransome.
Puffin Books, Penguin Group, New York, 2002.
Realistic fiction picture book, 32 pages.
Lexile:  AD1150L  .  ( What does AD mean in Lexile? )
AR Level:  3.6 (worth 0.5 points)  .

An unnamed little girl describes her favorite day of the month, when she and her grandmother visit her father in prison.

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Visiting Day by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by James Ransome.

If you had to visit a prison, it probably wouldn’t be your favorite day.  But what if your very favorite person was in prison?  What if your Daddy that you loved more than anyone in the world was a person you only got to see once a month?  For this little girl and her grandmother, Visiting Day is a celebration that causes them to wake up with a smile, and sadness only comes when they get off the bus home, alone without Daddy.

This book is full of vivid imagery that engages all the senses as grandma passes peppermints and kisses.  Teeth are brushed and hair done in preparation for the visit.  Woodson’s writing is, as always, lyrical and beautiful.  Although it’s not presented as poetry, this book would also make a wonderful poem.

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Review: Prisoners Without Trial

“The barbed-wire fences, the guards, and the surrounding wasteland were always there to remind the detainees that they were exiled, incarcerated Americans, who didn’t know whether they would ever be allowed to return to their former homes.” page 71

Prisoners Without Trial: Japanese Americans in World War II by Roger Daniels.  (Revised Edition)
Hill and Wang, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, New York, 2004.  (Orig. pub. 1993)
Nonfiction, 162 pages including index, appendices, and further reading.
Not leveled.

An overview of the unlawful imprisonment of Japanese Americans during WWII, including anti-Asian prejudice before the war, and eventual reparations 50 years after the camps.

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Prisoners Without Trial by Roger Daniels.

Every American should read this book.  Daniels distills decades of scholarly research on this and related topics into a succinct and incredibly readable overview.  Nonfiction normally takes me much longer than fiction, but I suspect that I could have read this in one day had other obligations not interfered.

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