The Braid

The Braid by Helen Frost.

There is some poetry that reads complete with rhyme and a galloping rhythm, and then there is poetry like this book where the word play and skill is so skillfully done that it is almost invisible to the reader.  

This is the story of the intertwined lives of two sisters who are caught in the exodus from Scotland in the 1850s and escape into two very different lives that, like the poems that make up the story, are separate but braided together.  Jeannie leaves Scotland for Canada with her mother, father, younger sisters and baby brother.  Sarah stays with her grandmother, moving to an island in the Outer Hebrides.  The two girls slowly grow up apart from one another and often unable to communicate in any way, though they remain connected by a braid of both their hair that each girl carries. 

The stories of the girls are in turn tragic, amazing and typical of so many people forced to leave their homelands.  The skillfulness of Frost’s poetry makes their situation all the more moving.  Once readers finish the book and reach the explanation of the poetic forms, they will find themselves turning back through the poems and marveling at what happened right in front of them but they were unaware of.  It is amazing skill to write this well, but to do it with a limitation of form that doesn’t ever seem to limit the writing is simply remarkable.