Posted in Fiction, Historical Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Good for historical fiction readers: Great Escapes

Underground Railroad 1854: Perilous Journey: Inspiring Tales of Courage and Friendship (Great Escapes), by Gare Thompson, (Oct. 2017, Barron’s Educational Series), $7.99, ISBN: 9781438009735

Recommended for readers 8-12

George is a plantation slave who dreams of being free. He’s singled out for abuse by the cruel overseer and threatened with being put on the auction block, like his father was. He can’t bear the thought of being separated from his sister, Ruth, and his mother, so he formulates a plan for the family to escape and seek out Moses, a mysterious woman who helps slaves to freedom. Moses – Harriet Tubman puts them in case of a white teenager, Nathan, who will take them from the deep South to New York, where they hope to find passage to Canada, but it’s not going to be easy. George doesn’t trust Nathan – he doesn’t trust anyone – and the bounty hunters are everywhere, tracking down escaped slaves. The four will have to work together and rely on the kindness of Underground Railroad stations to succeed.

Great Escapes is a fairly new historical fiction series by Barron’s Educational Series. Readers who enjoy the thrill of Lauren Tarshis’ I Survived books will dig into these readalikes, which are a little longer in page length (over 200 pages) and allow for more plot and character development. Stories emphasize working together for change while acknowledging that it’s not always an easy thing to do. Historical figures Harriet Tubman, William Still, and Frederick Douglass make appearances, and interesting facts about the Underground Railroad pop up within the narrative. My favorite? The coded messages communicated through song: songs like “Wade in the Water” told freedom seekers to get off the trail and into the water, so their scent wouldn’t be picked up by dogs. Sections on key terms, phrases used, songs sung, Underground Railroad profiles, and further resources make this a great next step for readers who are ready to take on longer books.

Underground Railroad is the second book in the Great Escapes series, the first being Mount St. Helens 1980: Fiery Eruption! I’ve been plumping up my library’s series fiction collection, and since the kids devoured my I Survived books the second they arrived, I think this will be a smart add to the collection. Like I Survived, readers can pick either Great Escapes book up never having read the other(s); they’re all separate moments in history starring different characters.

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Posted in Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

What’s hiding under The Suffering Tree?

The Suffering Tree, by Elle Cosimano, (June 2017, Disney-Hyperion), $17.99, ISBN: 9781484726594

Recommended for ages 14+

After her father’s death and her family’s eviction, Tori Burns, her mother, and younger brother, Kyle, move from Washington DC to Chaptico, Maryland; a small town with a lot of history. She’s received an inheritance of a house and land from a man named the patriarch of the Slaughter family, one of the oldest families in the area – she’s never met him, never heard of him – and his family are none too happy with it. Tori is miserable in the new house and with the Slaughter family, who seize every opportunity to be spiteful to Tori and her mother. Tori learns more about the Slaughter family’s dark history – and the history of the mythical Chaptico witch – when Nathaniel Bishop claws his way out of a grave under the oak tree in her backyard. It’s no zombie movie: Bishop was an abused, indentured servant for the Slaughter family in the 18th century, and he’s been brought back for a purpose that hasn’t yet revealed itself. Tori shelters him in the shed on her property as she struggles to make sense of the weird dreams she’s having. As she and Nathaniel unravel their histories, Tori uncovers the Slaughters’ secrets, finding herself a part of the mystery.

The Suffering Tree is a paranormal mystery that hinges on self-harm. There’s blood magic throughout the book, and the entire plot is set into motion once Tori – who self-harms – spills her own blood on the property. With references to rape, abuse, racism, and slavery, this is a novel that tackles some very big issues. Tori emerges as a strong character who struggles with cutting as a way to deal with the pain of her father’s loss and more recent stresses as the novel unfolds. Her mother isn’t a strong character at all, preferring to handle her daughter’s psychological issues by asking her if she’s okay and suggesting therapy throughout the book.

Teens are going to love this one. There’s suspense and the pace is intense. Booktalk with historical YA mysteries, like the Jackaby series from William Ritter; Stefan Petrucha’s Ripper, and Stephanie Morrill’s The Lost Girl of Astor Street.

Posted in Fantasy, Graphic Novels, Science Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Alien invasion and rebellion: Shattered Warrior

Shattered Warrior, by Sharon Shinn/Illustrated by Molly Knox Ostertag, (May 2017, :01FirstSecond), $17.99, ISBN: 9781626720893

Recommended for ages 14+

It’s been eight years since Colleen Cavanaugh’s world was invaded, her people enslaved. The Derichets, a warlike alien race, have human slaving in mines and factories, mining and refining minerals to power their weapons and their technology. Colleen, who lost most of her family in the invasion, discovers that her young niece, Lucy, is alive, and bribes the Derichets to get her back. Along with Jann, a member of a gang called the Chromatti, Colleen, Lucy, and Jann try to stay off everyone’s radar and live quietly, a small family of their own. But Colleen is also helping a rebel group that’s causing big problems for the Derichets. When a chance for a big strike against the aliens presents itself, Jann and Colleen have to take it – even if there are dire consequences.

Sharon Shinn is a bestselling sci-fi author; Shattered Warrior is her first graphic novel, illustrated by Molly Knox Ostertag, best known for her Strong Female Protagonist webcomic. Shattered Warrior is the first volume in this story of love amidst rebellion; Shinn and Ostertag certainly have come together to give us a strong female protagonist in Colleen. She’s strong, having endured the invasion of her world and enslavement of her race; the deaths of her family; and now, the discovery of her niece. She keeps her household going in the face of an utterly bleak future, but refuses to open herself to love because she can’t deal with the pain of losing. As the novel progresses, she ultimately realizes that love provides the power to keep going, and falls in love with Jann. The novel ends on a cliffhanger, ensuring that we’ll all be waiting for the next installment.

We don’t know much about the Derichets. We know they’re a warrior race that relies on Colleen’s world’s natural resources and that they appear to be brutal in their methods. We know that some of them have an eye for human women. The Chromatti are barely a step up from a street gang, attacking humans and Derichets alike. The Shattered Warrior characters live in a savage world where survival is the primary directive; everything else comes second, but the main characters still find a way to find small joys where they present themselves. It’s an interesting character study and a story that readers will enjoy. Booktalk this one with War of the Worlds for a new book/classic read pairing.

 

 

Posted in Fantasy, Science Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Gifted versus Non-Gifted in a Class War: Gilded Cage

gilded-cageGilded Cage (Dark Gifts, Book One), by Vic James, (Feb. 2017, Random House/Del Rey), $26, ISBN: 9780425284155

Recommended for ages 13+

In an alternate United Kingdom, aristocrats are born with special magical gifts… powers that give them control over the “commoners”, who must serve them as slaves for 10 years. The commoners are free to decide when they will serve, but they will serve. The running comment is, “serve young and never get over it, serve older and never survive it”. Abi, an 18 year-old with a promising future as a doctor, decides to take her family’s future into her hands and procures a deal that will allow them all to serve at Kyneston Estate, home of one of the most powerful families, the Jardines. But on the day they are picked up for transport, her younger brother, Luke, is sent to a Millmoor, horrible slavetown to labor under inhumane conditions. While Abi learns that the Jardines have some pretty big secrets of their own, Luke finds strength in numbers and bands with a group in the slavetown to resist. With an abolition referendum on the line, things are tense in the government and at the camp, and one of the Jardine heirs is keeping his loyalties close to the vest.

Gilded Cage is the first in the Dark Gifts series, and has some promising intrigue and world-building. The story is told in character POV chapters – about six or seven – and spends a great deal of time on laying out what I hope are future plot details. The Jardine family are fascinating – we get a nice background on this leading family, including some internal conflict and outside rivalries. Silyen Jardine is easily the most interesting character, playing his own game, but doesn’t get enough print time – yet. I hope to spend more time with him in future books. Abi’s younger brother, Luke, takes much of the center stage in this first book; he is on a hero’s journey that teaches him about himself and the world around him.

I had a few problems with the book, most notably, the very slow build-up. Being able to choose your 10 years of slavery being another – what’s to stop you from just not serving? Why serve when you’re young? Why not live a full life and go in when you’re on your deathbed? The women in the novel seem to be either hand-wringing damsels in distress or cruel harpies (with one or two exceptions), and the men are calling many of the shots here. Still, I’m interested to find out what Vic James has in store for us in her next installment.

Gilded Cage received a starred review from Publishers Weekly and was designated Debut of the Month by Library Journal.

Posted in History, Middle Grade, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Tween Reads

Black History Month: Shackles from the Deep, by Michael Cottman

shackles-from-the-deepShackles from the Deep: Tracing the Path of a Sunken Slave Ship, a Bitter Past, and a Rich Legacy, by Michael Cottman, (Jan. 2017, National Geographic Society), $17.99, ISBN: 9781426326639

Recommended for ages 10-13

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Michael Cottman investigates the wreck of a 17-century slave ship, the Henrietta Marie, and goes on a journey that will take him from the Caribbean islands, where the Henrietta Marie docked to unload hundreds of kidnapped Africans to be sold into slavery, to Africa, to see Goree Island – location of the Maison des Esclaves; House of the Slaves, and the Door of No Return; the last glimpse enslaved Africans would have of their homeland – with his own eyes.

Cottman’s journey is as personal as it is professional. He struggles with anger at the slavers themselves, and with the manufacturers of the shackles, discovered by African-American diver Captain Demostenes “Moe” Molinar, in 1972. Cottman discovers that many of the men behind the Henrietta Marie were members of their parishes, even philanthropists in their own communities, and yet turned a blind eye to the suffering of countless men, women, and children caught up in the slave trade. He wonders if the spouses and children of these men knew that their comfortable lifestyle came at the expense of human misery, and he agonizes as he tries to understand, and forgive.

Adapted for younger readers from Michael Cottman’s 1999 book, The Wreck of the Henrietta Marie, Shackles from the Deep introduces readers to the aftereffects of slavery, centuries later. Entire families have been lost to history; people feel unrooted, to some degree, to this day. Imagine wondering your ancestors endured the brutal conditions of slavery, and never being able to find out the answer? By personalizing his story, Michael Cottman makes this already important book vital reading for middle school students and above.

We are still dealing with the fallout from centuries of slavery. It is personal, and by adding his story to the story of the Henrietta Marie, Michael Cottman invites readers to look at events that may seem so long past through different eyes. What we also get, unexpectedly, is a call to action for young divers of color to continue exploring the waters of our planet to learn more about our collective past, and our future.

An important book for libraries and nonfiction collections, Shackles from the Deep has received a starred review from Booklist. There are four pages of full-color photos; an index, and further resources on deep-water exploration, shipwrecks, and slave ships.

The West Virginia Division of Culture and History has a comprehensive booklet on the Henrietta Marie, from their 2000 expedition at the West Virginia State Museum. It would be an excellent companion to any social studies unit on slavery and an accompaniment to Shackles From the Deep.

Posted in History, Non-Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads, Women's History

Women in the Old West: Frontier Grit

frontier-gritFrontier Grit, by Marianne Monson, (Sept. 2016, Shadow Mountain), $19.99, ISBN: 9781629722276

Recommended for ages 12+

Monson profiles 12 pioneer women who lived life on the frontier as America expanded into the West. From a freed slave who watched her husband and children sold in front of her to a woman who rescued Chinese girls from human trafficking, every woman profiled in this book withstood hardships, overcame obstacles, and thumbed their noses at nay-sayers to change the world. There are entrepreneurs, doctors, politicans, and activists, all here to inform and inspire a new generation.

Frontier Grit gives us a new batch of women in history that many of us would otherwise never have heard of; while the research is well done and comprehensive, the writing is simplified, more for a middle school audience than the 18+ age group suggested by the publisher. An author summary at end of each profile relates what each woman personally means to the author, detracting from the scholarship of the overall book and relegating it to the territory of history report. Each woman’s impact could more effectively be communicated by making it less personal, more definitive; the lasting impact of each woman on all women.

Each profile includes photos (or drawings, where applicable), notes and sources. A reasonable purchase if you need additional women’s biographies, particularly as they relate to the American frontier or women’s suffrage.

Posted in Fiction, Historical Fiction, Realistic Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

My Name is Not Friday is a younger generation’s Twelve Years a Slave

fridayMy Name is Not Friday, by Jon Walter (Jan. 2016, David Fickling Books), $18.99, ISBN: 9780545855228

Recommended for ages 12-18

Living in an orphanage in the South at the end of the Civil War, Samuel is always trying to keep his younger brother, Joshua, out of trouble. The latest prank to be laid at Joshua’s feet is a big one; Samuel takes the blame to keep his brother safe, and finds himself sold into slavery as a consequence. He’s stripped of his given name, renamed Friday, and threatened to keep his true origin – that he’s a freeborn black boy – a secret. Told in the first person through Samuel’s eyes, readers get an often brutal, heart-breaking account of slavery in the last days of the Civil War.

My Name is Not Friday is a powerful book, at times difficult to read. The characters aren’t always likable, and they’re not always loathsome – that’s part of the struggle. It’s easy to hate the mustache-twirling, top hat-wearing villain, but when it’s a child who struggles with wanting to do the right thing – even when he doesn’t really fully understand the right thing – it’s not as easy. Friday is a sympathetic character, and the frustration of his situation comes across so strongly, that I had to put the book down a few times.

An important addition to shelves, My Name is Not Friday has received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and School Library Journal. Suggested for middle school and high school readers for overall content. Put this on your shelves next to Solomon Northrup’s Twelve Years A Slave and Alex Haley’s Roots, which returns as a mini-series on History Channel at the end of May.

From SLJ: An author’s note references historical documents, including Harriet Jacobs’s classic Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.