Tag: historical fiction

Thornhill by Pam Smy

Thornhill by Pam Smy

Thornhill by Pam Smy (9781626726543, Amazon)

Released August 29, 2017.

A grand Gothic graphic novel, this book is surprising and delightfully dark. The story is told in two parallel stories, one in images and one in text. Both stories take place in the same neighborhood and revolve around Thornhill, a home for orphans. Mary’s story is told in text and is set in 1982 where she is one of the last children to leave Thornhill. As the other girls leave, Mary is left with a girl who has been bullying her for some time and the story builds to a terrible climax. The illustrated story is that of Ella in 2016 who has just moved to town and doesn’t have any friends yet. She can see Thornhill, now disused and old, from her house. When she glimpses a girl there, she decides to figure out the story of Thornhill and the girl.

This is the sort of story, you curl up with and read as fast as possible. Happily, Smy’s writing and illustrations make it almost impossible to leave this book behind for even a moment. The illustrations linger with the reader, haunting in their black and white details. The text invite readers into the past, showing them what being an orphan in was like before rules were put in place to protect children. There is a brilliance to not setting the history piece in the 1800’s, but allowing shocking situations of a more modern time to surface.

The art pieces in the book allow the reader to piece together that the girl being described in the text is not the one in the images quickly. The images are done only in black and white, filled often with deep shadows and lit by bright light at other times. They are dynamic and interesting, telling their own wordless story of Ella and her own losses.

Get this into the hands of children who enjoy ghost stories, because this one will haunt readers. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC received from Roaring Brook Press.

 

 

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee (9780062382801, Amazon)

Excuse me as I completely gush about this book and insist that if you haven’t read it, you rush out and get a copy. Monty, his best friend Percy and his sister Felicity are sent to Europe on a Grand Tour. The Tour is part of Monty’s repairing of his reputation after a series of naughty escapades that got him expelled from school. His father completely disapproves of Monty’s lifestyle, particularly his love of other men. But the Tour doesn’t go as planned. Monty finds himself caught in a woman’s rooms wearing very little and is forced to dash from the palace nearly naked. And that’s just the first escapade. Soon Monty, Percy and Felicity are being chased across Europe with no money and no one to save them. It’s up to Monty, the sister he has despised for years and the boy he loves to figure out how to save themselves as the danger gets deadly.

I enjoyed this book at first but did not fall head over heels for it until the party was traveling with no money. The gilded beauty of the official Tour was fine but it was the real trouble that brought the book fully alive. Happily, that takes place early in the novel and then I could not stop reading. Lee takes on so many societal ills in this book that it is dizzying. While the book is set in the past, those ills are still at play today. Subjects like racism, sexism and LGBT rights are still key. This could have just been a lighthearted romp across Europe, but those themes anchor the book, give it weight and real meaning.

The characters are exceptionally drawn. Readers get to know them steadily through the book and they grow and change, revealing themselves to be multilayered and complex. The three main characters in particular are exceptionally drawn. Monty is a glorious rake, dashing and dimpled and yet far deeper than he gives himself credit for. Percy is the perfect foil for Monty, steady and full of grace. Felicity is feminism personified, calm under pressure but not too calm when kissed.

This is an exceptional teen novel and definitely one of the best of the year. Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from library copy.

Renato and the Lion by Barbara DiLorenzo

Renato and the Lion by Barbara DiLorenzo

Renato and the Lion by Barbara DiLorenzo (9780451476418, Amazon)

Renato loves living in Florence, Italy. He particularly loves all of the art throughout the city, both in the museums and on the streets. His favorite statue is the stone lion in the piazza. As war approaches Florence, everything changes. Brick shelters are built around the statues to protect them. Renato wants to protect the lion and has a dream that the lion and his father helps him. Their family flees to the United States and Renato doesn’t return for many years. Has his lion been safe through war and time?

In her author’s note, DiLorenzo talks about how she has melded history and fiction together in this dreamy picture book. World War II did threaten Florence and they did protect the statues in this way. The lion statue exists, but Renato himself is fictional and the timeframe has been altered to work in the book. DiLorenzo’s prose is very readable and the story is immensely strong and well structured.

The art adds to the dreamy effect with the softness of the watercolors. The dream sequences are particularly nice, as they show even more of Florence than the story could have otherwise. Readers will love the lion as Renato does thanks to the wise and gentle look on its face.

The power of art and dreams come together in this wonderful historical picture book. Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from ARC received from Viking Books for Young Readers.

Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn Anderson

Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn Anderson

Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn Anderson (9780062393548, Amazon)

Released June 13, 2017.

This is a novel told in three different time periods, each featuring a woman finding love and yearning for change. There is Adri from the year 2065, who has been selected to live on Mars. She is aloof and prickly and spends her last weeks on Earth with her sole surviving relative, an older woman she has never met. Adri discovers the letters of the other women and is soon drawn into their lives and the mysteries of what happened to them. Catherine lives in 1934 in the midst of the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. In the midst of dust storms, she manages to fall in love and then has to decide whether to stay with her mother on their deteriorating farm or leave and take chances in a large city. Lenore lives in England in 1919, recovering from the loss of her brother in World War I. She meets a scarred young man who is living in an abandoned house on her family’s estate and isn’t sure what parts of his story are true.

The stories of these three characters are vivid and remarkable. Adri’s story is told in prose while the others are done in letters. The book folds out into a series of letters, origami-like and wondrous. Anderson cleverly creates a point in the book where one isn’t sure if the ending of the women’s stories will be fully revealed or not. It creates a breathtaking moment of mystery and inconclusiveness that adds to the already appealing story. Throughout, Anderson demonstrates her skilled writing and gorgeous prose that is full of emotion and possibilities.

The three female characters whose stories are told in the novel are vastly different from one another and yet the stories nest together into one complete whole. While they are distinct and unique women, the stories all speak to their tenacity, deep caring and independence. Even as they make critical decisions in the midst of impossible situations, there is a sense of community and connection that weaves throughout the novel, showing that we are all stronger together.

Engrossing, intelligent and incredibly rich, this novel for teens is truly exceptional. Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and HarperCollins.

Town Is by the Sea by Joanne Schwartz

Town Is by the Sea by Joanne Schwartz

Town Is by the Sea by Joanne Schwartz, illustrated by Sydney Smith (9781554988716, Amazon)

In a coal town in Cape Breton, Canada, a boy wakes up to a summer day. He wakes to the sound of the sea, spends some time with his friends. Still, his mind continues to think of his father mining for coat deep under the sea in the darkness. He runs errands for his mother and visits his grandfather’s grave which looks out over the sea. His grandfather too was a coal miner and the boy knows that it is his future as well.

Schwartz has created a book set in the 1950s in a coal town where families worked in the mines for generations. Even as the book shows a richness of a well-spent childhood, it is overshadowed by the presence of the coal mine in the boy’s life and how it impacted his family and his father in particular. She wisely works to contrast life above the ground with that below, showing a childhood of fresh breezes and sunlight that will turn into a life spent primarily in darkness.

Smith’s illustrations clearly depict the claustrophobia of the mines, filling the page with smothering darkness and only a couple of men in a tunnel. This contrasts with his illustrations of days spent near the sea, sometimes the sun nearly blinding as it shines off the water. There is a sense of the inevitable in the book, of life paths already formed.

A glimpse of Canadian history, this picture book will appeal to older readers. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk

Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk

Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk (9781101994856, Amazon)

The author of Wolf Hollow returns with her second novel for young people.  This is a novel of the Elizabeth Islands in Massachusetts where Crow has lived all of her life. She lives on a solitary island with Osh, the man who found her afloat in a little boat when she was a newborn baby.  The others on the islands won’t associate with Crow, since they all assume that she came from a nearby island that was a leper hospital. Miss Maggie is the exception, she cares fiercely for Crow and makes sure that she learns what she needs to despite not being able to attend school. As Crow starts to piece together her own history, she exposes those she loves to new dangers that are far worse than the storms of nature they weather together.

Wolk once again has created a novel that brings a place to life. Here she has chosen the Elizabeth Islands and the islands themselves feature prominently in the story both in terms of their isolation but also in their beauty. The islands serve as shelter, home, a source of fuel and food, and a community as well. The island with the hospital for lepers insures that Crow is even more isolated than the rest of the community due to the questions of her past. It’s a brilliant setting, one of the best that I have ever read where each page is a reflection of the sea and the islands.

Crow is a dazzlingly great heroine. She is strong and independent, determined to figure things out even as those around her give up. She pieces together clues from the mystery of her past, a mystery that permeates the entire novel even after it is solved. Crow is anxious to learn of her history and throughout the novel explores questions of identity and family of love and betrayal. It’s a novel that swirls and eddies, displaying beauty and dangers in turn.

This is a beautifully written and deep novel for middle grade readers who will long to visit Crow’s island themselves. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC received from Dutton Books for Young Readers.

 

Crossing Ebenezer Creek by Tonya Bolden

Crossing Ebenezer Creek by Tonya Bolden

Crossing Ebenezer Creek by Tonya Bolden (9781599903194, Amazon)

This novel looks at a piece of history that many people don’t know about. Mariah and her brother Zeke have been freed from slavery in Georgia as part of Sherman’s march. As she starts to realize that she may not have to return to the brutality she has lived in all of her life, Mariah begins to see new options for both her future and that of her brother. She is given a ride in a wagon by a young man Caleb who was raised in freedom. The two slowly begin to form a relationship with one another, born on their shared hope for the future and it being spent together. Still, there are soldiers and generals on the march who do not appreciate that the freed people are taking supplies from the military scavenging. Dangers continue to surround all of them as they make their steady way towards freedom.

Bolden writes in a poetic prose in this novel. She shares both the hope of freedom and the evils of slavery in the book. The horrors of slavery are offered with a frankness that allows them to fully be realized, each person having experienced their own personal hell. She makes sure to keep the tension high with the Rebels raiding the camps, pressures from within the northern forces, and the dangers of the march itself.

The relationship of Mariah and Caleb matches the pace of the march, steady and filled with bumps and revelations as well. It is a lovely lengthy courtship, given the space to blossom in a natural way that feels like the reader is falling in love along with them. The long journey gives them that time, even as the foreshadowing and dangers allow the reader to know they are not safe at all.

An important book on a little-known episode during the Civil War, this book is intensely personal and a dangerous mix of romance and horror. Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from ARC received from Bloomsbury.