The Land of Forgotten Girls by Erin Entrada Kelly (InfoSoup)
When Sol and her little sister Ming moved from the Philippines to the United States, they knew their lives were going to change. But they didn’t realize that they would be abandoned by their father and stuck living with Vea, their mean stepmother in a tiny apartment in Louisiana. Now five years later, Sol manages to escape her stepmother’s cruelty by escaping into stories, particularly when she is sent to the closet when she has done something wrong. She shares the stories with her little sister and Ming has now started to believe in their mythical Aunt Jove and expects her to arrive to rescue them. As Ming’s hope grows, Sol despairs of their lives ever improving at all, but friendship comes from unexpected places and may be the answer to their hopes and dreams.
Kelly, author of Blackbird Fly, has created another great novel for children. In this book, she beautifully captures the complexity of the lives of some children where their families have been turned upside down through death and abandonment and they are left with those who don’t love them at all. It is a book about hope as well, about the power of stories to create new realities and the radiance of hope even in the bleakest of times.
Particularly notable in this novel is Kelly’s willingness to tell a very sad story, one filled with loss and betrayal and still one that is very appropriate for children. Sol herself reflects on the sadness of her story and her new friend:
What gloomy tales we had, I thought. I wondered what we’d look like to someone passing by. Two twelve-year-old girls – one so white she looked like a ghost and the other so dark she looked like the fields – sitting on milk crates and telling sad, sad stories in the hot, hot sun.
These are stories of poverty, of spending time on the streets to get out of the misery of your home. The novel dazzles with its truth and honesty of children who shine despite the darkness in their lives.
A powerful novel of stories and hope and how they can be used to overcome the darkness that life contains. Appropriate for ages 10-12.
Reviewed from copy received from HarperCollins.
Apple and Rain by Sarah Crossan (InfoSoup)
Apple has lived with her Nana for eleven years, ever since her mother abandoned her at age 3. Nana is strict and won’t let Apple even walk back home from school. When Apple’s mother returns, she is sophisticated and charming and not strict at all. She wants Apple to live with her and it seems like a great idea, after all she will let Apple wear makeup, walk home from school, and even shares some sips of wine. Apple agrees to move in, leaving Nana living alone, and then she discovers that she has a younger sister, Rain. Rain carries a doll around with her and pretends that it is a real baby. As the sisters grow closer together, Apple’s mother starts to spend more time away, leaving Apple caring for Rain and missing school. When tragedy almost strikes, it will take a serious choice by Apple to figure out what sort of family she really wants to be a part of.
Nominated for the British Carnegie Medal, this novel’s writing is clear and lovely. Throughout this novel, Crossan deals with serious situations and large emotions. She uses metaphors to show the depth of emotion and also ties Apple’s emotions into the poems she writes. The images she uses are strong and compelling, allowing the reader to truly understand what Apple is feeling even when her emotions are at their most turbulent.
Crossan also excels at creating relationships between characters and this book is all about relationships on a variety of levels. We have friendships both budding and decaying, maternal relationships that are troubled, and sibling relationships that are problematic yet positive. In each of these, the people are human and real. They are invested in the relationship in their own unique way, often either unable to speak to its importance in their life or unable to see beyond themselves to its importance. Apple is a strong protagonist, longing for a relationship with a mother who even after she returns cannot be the mother than Apple needs. Apple is capable, caring and wonderfully like her Nana in many ways, a touch that I particularly appreciated.
This novel about families, abandonment, and freedom will resonate with middle school readers who may be feeling their own need to be a little less monitored too. Appropriate for ages 12-15.
Reviewed from ARC received from Bloomsbury.
May B. by Caroline Starr Rose
May has grown up living out on her family’s homestead on the Kansas prairie. When money gets tight, she is sent to become live-in help for other homesteaders, but just until Christmas. May finds herself in a small sod house fifteen miles away from her own. The young wife, who is almost May’s age, is unhappy on the prairie and runs away. The husband heads after her and neither return. May is left alone on the prairie where at first the days are lovely, sunny and warm and she enjoys the freedom. Then winter comes, and May is alone on the prairie with a dwindling food supply, just a little wood for heat, and only the prairie itself for company. This book written in verse is a look at the dangers, hardship and courage of homesteading.
Rose has written a book that pays homage to the Little House on the Prairie books and reads a lot like The Long Winter. At the same time, it also has a stark reality about it that makes it gripping. The format of a verse novel works particularly well here as most of the story is May’s reaction to her situation. What could have been lengthy treatises on loneliness instead are verses that speak to the harrowing nature of abandonment.
The book also deals with May’s dyslexia which makes her almost unable to read. She had one teacher, shown in flashbacks, who treated her with respect and worked with her. But after that, another teacher arrived who used shame to try to get May to learn to read. It is the story of an obviously bright and very resourceful girl with dyslexia. Her struggles to read strike a delicate balance in the book, showing an inner battle that plays against the external forces at work.
A taut, frightening novel of solitary confinement set in wide-open spaces, this book would work well with reluctant readers or as a classroom read. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy received from Schwartz & Wade Books.