Rave Reviews Log: Historical Fiction

April 07, 2012

The Mighty Miss Malone

By Christopher Paul Curtis
Era: Great Depression America
Rating: 3 3/4 stars

If you can remember Deza Malone from Bud, Not Buddy, you will recall she is a smart and feisty girl.  Now Deza has her own story.  Although her family is struggling in Gary, Indiana, Deza is pretty happy.  She excels in school, has a best friend Clarice, and adores her family.  Perhaps she has to eat buggy oatmeal, hasn't had a new dress in ages and can't afford to get her cavities filled, but Deza sees mainly the good in her life.  But when her father goes on a fishing trip and ends up first missing and then returning injured, Deza's happy life falls apart.  First her father leaves town to try and find work elsewhere.  Then the family gets thrown out of their rented house and end up living in camps with lots of other homeless folks outside of Flint, Michigan.  Even her brother Jimmie leaves when he hears he might be able to get paid for his superb singing voice.  Will Deza and her mother ever manage to get their family back together again?  Despite all the very real hardships, Deza mainly stays positive in this sobering picture of the Great Depression.  Readers will be interested in the very different life that Deza's family leads during a difficult era in American history.

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January 23, 2012

The Romeo and Juliet Code

By Phoebe Stone
Era: World War II, Maine
Rating: 3 3/4 stars

Eleven year old Felicity is brought from England to Bottlebay, Maine when the bombings in London become too destructive.  Her parents Danny and Winnie leave her with Danny's mother, brother and sister and then they return to England.  Felicity is miserable, but when a letter arrives in her father's handwriting for her uncle from Portugal, she is mad with curiosity.  Even worse, her Uncle Gideon snatches the letter away and won't let Felicity read it.  Why are her parents in Portugal instead of London?  Mystery abounds in the house, but Felicity makes a friend in Derek, the adopted 12 year old who lives with the Bathburns, too.  Slowly, slowly, Felicity, now nicknamed "Flissy," begins to settle into her new life, but she has so many questions.  Why won't Uncle Gideon let her read the letters?  Why is the piano nailed shut?  Why won't anyone tell her about the fight her father and uncle had?  Then Flissy gets a glance at one of the letters and discovers it is entirely in code.  What exactly ARE her parents up to?  As Flissy and Derek unravel the code, they also unravel the other mysteries in the house, but was it better not to know the truth?  An interesting twist on a World War II story, focusing on the efforts made in America before we entered the war officially.  

January 09, 2012

City of Orphans

By Avi
Era: 1893 New York City
Rating: 4 1/4 stars

Thirteen year old Maks Geless lives in a tiny tenement apartment with his family of 2 sisters and 3 brothers, his parents (originally from the Denmark) and Monsieur Zulot to whom they rent some space in the three room place on the lower East Side of Manhattan.  His mother takes in laundry, his father and one sister work in the shoe factory and his other sister works at the new, fancy Waldorf Hotel.  But Maks is a newsie, one of dozens of boys who sell papers for the local newspaper companies.  The newsies have been dodging the Plug Ugly gang, who regularly beat them up for the pennies they earn, and it is while Maks is trying to get away from the gang that he meets Willa.  Willa manages to attack the gang out of the blue with her stick and wards them off.  When Maks finds out Willa is living in the streets alone after the death of her parents, he brings her home with him.  Then the unthinkable happens--his sister Emma is accused of stealing a guest's watch at the hotel. The evidence is circumstantial but she's been thrown in prison and has a trial fast approaching.  With immigrant parents and no money to pay a lawyer, what will the family do?  Maks and Willa find help in an unlikely source--a lawyer and investigator who promises to help by teaching Maks how to become a detective.  Can Maks, with Willa's help,  find the evidence he needs while avoiding the Plug Uglies?  It's a mystery, it's historical, it's got action and readers will be turning the pages fast to find out what happens.  It might get tied up a tad too neatly at the end, but no one will mind.

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December 31, 2011

Dead End in Norvelt

By Jack Gantos
Era: 1962 America
Rating: 4 1/4 stars

Jack lives in the historic town of Norvelt, Pennsylvania, founded by Eleanor Roosevelt in 1962.  After he mows down his mom's cornfield (don't ask!), Jack is grounded for the summer.  His only escape is to go to help Miss Volker, his elderly neighbor, write obituaries for the town paper since her hands have become too arthritic.  But as the last remaining original inhabitants die off, it begins to seem rather suspicious--can murder be involved?  There are lots of laugh out loud moments in the story, including grown men on tricycles, an endless bloody nose, a motorcycle gang and many more.  Jack learns more about both the history of the world and the history of Norvelt as he follows the townspeople to death's door.  You wouldn't think it would be so funny, but it is.  Any reader with a slightly twisted sense of humor and fans of Richard Peck books will love this one.

September 24, 2011

The Lovely Shoes

By Susan Shreve
Era: 1950's America
Rating: 3 3/4 stars

Franny was born with a deformed foot and all of her life has had to wear clunky orthopedic shoes with lifts in them to help her walk.  To cover up for this glaring thing, Franny has always been a goody two-shoes--always helpful and compliant with everyone.  She is afraid of the high school dances, afraid of what she may or may not be able to do with her ugly clunky shoes.  Then her mother puts her in a pair of her own shoes with toilet paper stuffed in the toes and Franny feels beautiful...she even gets to dance with her secret crush.  But when the toilet paper begins trailing out of her shoe, Franny feels disgraced and won't come out of her room.  Suddenly Franny realizes being nice all of the time has gotten her nowhere and her mother's big plans for her may never come true.  Until her mother writes to a famous Italian shoemaker who invites them to come to Florence, Italy where he will make a mold (a "last") from which he will make Franny not some clunky shoe, but a beautiful pair, a lovely pair.  And Franny begins to slowly discover the self she really wants to be.  A story about figuring out who you are and who you might want to be. 

August 30, 2011

The Friendship Doll

By Kirby Larsen
Era: 1927 to present day America

Rating: 4 stars

In 1927, 57 dolls were sent from Japan to America as Ambassadors of Friendship. The book follows one doll in particular--Miss Kanagawa--and her adventures through our country from the Great Depression to the World's Fair and onwards. Everywhere she ends up, Miss Kanagawa meets a girl who she manages to influence for the better. As we meet each girl and read the snapshot of their life before Miss Kanagawa appears, we get a real feel for how life was in the United States during that time. Some stories will break your heart and others will give you hope, even up to the very end. Readers who like historical fiction, especially graduates from the American Girl series, will eat up this book. Interesting and involving, a real little gem!

May 13, 2011

Inside Out & Back Again

By Thanhha Lai
Era: 1975 Vietnam and America
Rating: 4 1/4 stars

It is 1975 and Ha has lived all her life in Saigon, but as the war creeps closer and closer to the city, her mother makes the difficult choice that the family must flee.  When Ha questions how their father, long missing in action, will find her 3 brothers and herself, her mother replies that a plan is in place.  So they crowd onto ships overflowing with others also trying to escape and sail out into the wide ocean, hoping to be rescued.  Days and days go by, but finally American boats come and take the refugees to camps in Guam.  Now they must wait and wait again to be sponsored by someone, in some country, somewhere, so they can leave the camp and start a fresh new life.  When a man offers them a place in Alabama, they jump at the offer.  But once they arrive, new hardships begin--the neighbors are unfriendly, only one brother knows English, and there are plenty who tease Ha to tears.  How can the land of the free be so cruel?  But her family is made of sterner stuff than she knows, and there is always a little bird called hope.  Written in free verse poems, readers will get a real taste of what life was like from war-torn Saigon to living as a refugee far from home.  An enjoyable and insightful story that may make you think twice about how you behave towards a stranger in your land.