Tag: historical fiction

Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough

Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough

Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough (9780735232112)

This strong and intense verse novel tells the story of Artemisia Gentileschi, a painter born in sixteenth-century Rome. This fictional account is based on her true story of working in her father’s art studio and becoming more skilled than him in her late teens. As her father brought in a teacher for her, Artemisia first enjoyed his company and then it became something else entirely. Raped by her teacher, Artemisia has to decide whether to stay silent or try to fight back in the limited ways that she could. With her dead mother’s stories of two strong women from history to inspire her, Artemisia did accuse her rapist and found justice hard to come by but worth fighting for.

Told in Artemisia’s own voice, this verse novel is entirely captivating. Firmly feminist in tone and content, the reader learns not only of Artemisia but also of Judith and Susanna, two historical figures who found their own way to justice. Perfectly timed with the #MeToo movement, this novel calls for women to understand their own strength and find their own voices.

Throughout the book, even with the anger and aggravating unfairness of the time, the book has beautifully soft moments filled with art and creativity. Yet it is firmly footed in reality and doesn’t sugarcoat or turn away from impossible choices, horrible violence, and the importance of strength even when you feel weakest.

A necessary and vital call to action, this book shows that women have stood up all the way through history and their voices will not be ignored. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Dutton.

Mary’s Monster by Lita Judge

Mary's Monster by Lita Judge

Mary’s Monster: Love, Madness, and How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein by Lita Judge (9781626725003)

The daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft, an early feminist author, Mary never knew her mother except through her writings. Sent away as a child to live in Scotland, Mary eventually returned to her family where her stepmother rejected her. Believing firmly in free love and the right for a woman to choose her own life, as a teenager Mary ran off with the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, who left his wife behind to be with her. But things are not that simple and their lives were filled with Percy’s madness and womanizing. Soon Mary is a pregnant teen, unmarried and disowned by her family. But she does not give in and begins to write her masterpiece of a novel, Frankenstein. She pours all of her grief of losing several children, her love for a man who is unable to commit to anyone, and the wound of the loss of her mother.

This verse novel is pure wonderment. Judge illuminates each page with her illustrations, capturing the emotional anguish that filled many of Mary’s days. A few of the pages are voiced by the monster himself, the typeset crooked and voice uniquely that of the creature. It is beautifully handled, the words crafted to evoke emotion and to show the desperate choices that Mary was forced to make.

In my undergraduate thesis, I read the works of the early feminists and Mary Wollstonecraft was one of those writers. It is fascinating to see how her ideals shine in Mary’s life and yet played out into tragedies at times. The fact that Judge read Mary’s diaries is evident on each page of this book, since Mary’s voice rings so clearly on them and her passion for change, love and creativity shines through the darkness of her life.

A masterful look at one of the greatest works of literature and the woman behind it. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

(Reviewed from copy provided by Roaring Brook Press.)

The Queen’s Rising by Rebecca Ross

The Queen's Rising by Rebecca Ross

The Queen’s Rising by Rebecca Ross (9780062471345)

Brienna has never known who her father is, only that he is from neighboring Maevana. When her grandfather takes her to Magnalia House and has her accepted as a student of passion, Brienna discovers a new home. Among the handful of other students, Brienna discovers sisters as well as her own interest in history. As Brienna gets ready to master her passion for knowledge and leave Magnalia House, her plans go awry and she doesn’t complete the graduation ceremony and find a patron. Instead, her flashbacks of memories from a mysterious ancestor tie her closely to those who would restore a queen to the throne of Maevana and dethrone the imposter king. As war brews, Brienna becomes the linchpin to a plan that takes her into the heart of her homeland of Maevana and the dangers of political intrigue generations in the making.

Ross has deftly woven a story set in medieval times with glimpses of magic. Her story is firmly feminist, calling for queens to sit on thrones, the power of magic in women’s hands, and the ability of women to create plans that are daring and effective. The world created here is tightly drawn, two neighboring nations with differences in cultures that come together in Brienna. Ross also incorporates the fall of a queen and the resulting ramifications of her loss. It’s beautifully drawn, some of it revealed only towards the end of the novel to complete the picture.

Brienna is an incredible protagonist. She is humble and yet clearly bright and gifted, just with different gifts than the school for passion may be looking for. Her ability to plot and plan, learn to use a sword, and adjust her reactions to political turns shows how clever she is. There is a lovely romantic tension in the book as well, kept quite proper and reserved and yet smoldering at the same time.

An intelligent and well crafted teen novel filled with political intrigue and a woman who will lead the way to change. Appropriate for ages 13-17.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Edelweiss and HarperTeen.

Betty Before X by Ilyasah Shabazz

Betty Before X by Ilyasah Shabazz

Betty Before X by Ilyasah Shabazz and Renee Watson (9780374306106)

In this second middle grade novel by Shabazz, she this time focuses on her mother, Betty Shabazz, who would one day marry Malcolm X. Set during Betty’s childhood in the 1940s, this book explores Betty’s complicated relationship with the mother she was taken from at a young age. Betty was raised as a small child by an aunt but when the aunt died, Betty is  moved from the south to Detroit, where she lives with her mother and her mother’s new family. The book focuses on faith and community activism as Betty learns how to make her way with a mother who doesn’t show love or affection to her at all. As Betty’s connection to the community grows stronger, she finds people who care for her. She eventually joins the Housewives League and fights to support black-owned businesses in Detroit. Even though the novel is about just a few years in her youth, readers will clearly see Betty’s growth from young girl to a civil rights leader.

Shabazz and Watson together have created a book that soars. They firmly anchor Betty’s life in the 1940’s, surrounding them with the music of the time, the societal expectations in that time period, and small touches that make sure readers understand the implications of the time period. They also depict the richness of the African-American community in Detroit, the women who led organizations and endeavors, the strength of friendships that are built together with church and community, and the hope that it created for change.

Throughout the book symbols of oppression continue to remind readers that the 1940s was not a simpler time. A very young Betty witnesses the bodies hanging in trees after a lynching in the south. In Detroit there are riots when an African-American boy is shot in the back by police. These events echo through to the present and the Black Lives Matter movement, showing that while progress has been made there is still much to do.

A strong book that looks with clarity at the making of a civil rights leader. Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from copy provided by Farrar Straus Giroux.

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang (9781626723634)

Released February 13, 2018.

While Prince Sebastian’s parents are busily searching for a bride from him, he is hiding a secret from everyone. He hires a dressmaker, Frances, to make his wardrobe for him, including dresses that are stunning creations. They allow him to become Lady Crystallia, who soon becomes a Paris fashion icon herself. As Frances gains fame as the Crystallia’s dressmaker, Sebastian’s secret becomes much harder to hide and soon the two have to choose between keeping the secret and allowing Frances to follow her dreams.

This graphic novel by Wang, who did In Real Life with Cory Doctorow, has created a graphic novel that embraces people exploring their gender identity while also incorporating a beautiful romantic nature to the entire book. Throughout there is a feeling of connection between Frances and Sebastian, one that goes beyond fashion. The fashion adds a layer of self expression for both of them, of triumph and discovery as well.

Wang’s art captures Paris at the dawn of the modern age. Filled with gowns, horse-drawn carriages and grandeur. It also has a humor in it, one that allows readers to chuckle at absurd situations and one that creates truly human characters for readers to connect with deeply.

Beautiful, layered and modern, this graphic novel embraces gender identity and gorgeous dresses. Appropriate for ages 12-15.

Reviewed from copy provided by First Second.

The Journey of Little Charlie by Christopher Paul Curtis

The Journey of Little Charlie by Christopher Paul Curtis

The Journey of Little Charlie by Christopher Paul Curtis (9780545156660)

When Charlie’s father is killed in a freak accident, he and his mother are left destitute and unable to repay his father’s debt to their landlord. The two of them try to flee, but they are caught by Cap’n Buck, the overseer on the local plantation and a man who terrorizes people just for fun. To pay off part of his father’s debt, Charlie joins Cap’n Buck has he journeys north from South Carolina to Detroit to catch some thieves. At twelve-years-old, Charlie is as large as a grown man and no stranger to hard work. But the trip ends in a situation that Charlie was not expecting, with escaped slaves who have built a life in the north. Charlie doesn’t have a lot of choices in life, but perhaps one last decision will make all the difference for him and others.

The Newbery Award winning Curtis writes with such skill that it is impossible not to fall deeply into his stories and become immersed in the world he builds. Here, the strong South Carolina dialect that Charlie and Cap’n Buck speak in helps to strengthen that world building, creating a strong tie to the region and historical setting with language alone. The historical setting is clearly drawn, including the city of Detroit as well as the communities in Canada. These elements are critical because of the slave laws between the United States and Canada that are such an important part of the story.

I fell hard for Little Charlie, a boy who has no education, lives in dire poverty, and whose family has steadily lost everything. There is something about him, about the way he sees the world. He has an optimism that carries him forward each day, not one that is blind or overly ambitious, but a cautious optimism that things can be different. It’s that nature that allows what he does in the book to make sense and not be out of character. Curtis has drawn a character who is an unlikely hero unless you know him well.

Beautifully written and structured, this middle-grade novel is an important look at personal choices and the power of doing what is right. Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Scholastic and Edelweiss.

It All Comes Down to This by Karen English

It All Comes Down to This by Karen English

It All Comes Down to This by Karen English (9780544839571)

In 1965 Los Angeles, Sophie has moved to a new neighborhood as one of the only African-American families. Her summer is complicated not only by the move but by her sister leaving for college in August and her parent’s marriage becoming rocky. There are also external forces, like a pack of sisters in the new neighborhood who target Sophie and won’t let her swim with them. She does have one good friend, Jennifer, who stands up for Sophie and protests the way the others treat her. But racism is everywhere as Sophie discovers when she tries out for the community play, when she tries to shop in stores, and when she takes rides in cars with her sister’s boyfriend. When the riots in Watts erupt, Sophie discovers that the life in her wealthy neighborhood is not the one that others lead in the same city.

English, a Coretta Scott King Honor Award winner, brilliantly explores privilege and racism in this novel where Sophie lives a mix of both. The author directly looks at the color of skin, at the privilege given to those with lighter skin. She also explore wealth and the way that African-American families living in wealthier communities still face racism, both directly and indirectly. English’s pace here is very special with its mix of languid summer days, racial tensions, lack of parental involvement and then the riots.

Sophie is a well drawn protagonist as is her sister and her sister’s boyfriend. They each have distinct viewpoints, struggle with the expectations of family and society, and find themselves asking deeper questions about life in 1965. Sophie herself is often living in a bubble, but it is also one that is pierced regularly by the way others treat her. She is cleverly crafted, constantly learning and realizing how complex the world is.

This novel looks deeply into race in our country, offering a direct link between the Watts riots on today’s Black Lives Matter movement. It is timely, important and doesn’t offer easy answers. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from library copy.