“Taking flight: From war orphan to star ballerina” Michaela DePrince with Elaine DePrince

Rated 4 stars **** 2016. Ember. 246 p. (Includes an interview with Michaela DePrince).

TakingFlightHer parents in her Sierra Leone village loved their daughter Mabinty Bangura but, because of her leopard-like spots from vitiligo, she was shunned and despised by the villagers. Her parents could read, and defied tradition by educating her. They were a happy family until rebels killed her father. Without his support, she and her mother were forced to move into her despotic uncle’s house where they were starved. Within a short time her mother died, and she was abandoned at an orphanage.

Mabinty recounts her hard life in the orphanage, her adoption by an American family at the age of four, and her rebirth under the new name of Michaela. Inspired by a magazine picture, she was determined to become a ballerina. “Taking flight” is Michaela’s story of how she soared past the pain of her early life and into the world of ballet.

Michaela does an excellent job recounting her many trials and tribulations, the love she has for her parents and family members, as well as her successes. However the technical ballerina jargon used to describe various dance moves in several different chapters was very confusing. It would have been helpful to have a glossary, with photographs, of these dance terms at the end of the book.

Recommended for ages 12-18, due to the graphic nature of some of the war crimes described.


“Black Dove White Raven” Elizabeth Wein

Rated 2 stars ** Hyperion. 2015. 345 p. (Includes “Author’s Note.”)

BlackDoveWhiteRavenEmilia and Teo grew up on the road with their stunt pilot mothers in the early 1920’s. Frustrated at the lack of job equality for women, and especially upset with the laws against blacks, Teo’s mother Delia dreamed of freedom in Ethiopia. When she was killed in a freak accident, Emilia’s mother decides to raise Teo as her own and leaves for Ethiopia to fulfill her best friend’s wishes for him to have a better life. For a number of years they all enjoyed their time in Ethiopia until Mussolini’s army invaded in 1935. “Black Dove, White Raven” is Teo and Emilia’s, as well as Ethiopia’s story, during that timeframe.

I had a hard time making it through this book, as I found it to be too slow moving and it really didn’t capture my interest. Writing about Ethiopia was important to Wein, but the enormous amount of material put into the 345 pages was a bit much for me. However I will leave it up to those of you ages 14 and older to decide if you want to read it or not.

“Leaving Time” Jodi Picoult

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Published October 14, 2014. Random House (Ballantine Books.) 407 pp. Includes “Author’s Note.”

LeavingTimeThirteen-year-old Jenna Metcalf has lived with her grandmother since she was 3 years old, when her mother Alice disappeared from the hospital where she was taken after she was found injured at the elephant sanctuary where she worked.

With her father committed to a facility for the insane and her grandmother refusing to reveal any details of Alice’s life, all Jenna has are her brief memories and her mother’s research journals on elephant grief. Knowing that if she wanted to find her mother she would have to suspend her scientific disbelief in the supernatural she decides to hire Serenity Jones, a disgraced psychic, along with Virgil Stanhope, the former detective on her mother’s case, to find her mom.

Serenity has not been able to access the spirit world since she made an incorrect prediction on her former television show, but feels she was meant to help Jenna find her mother. Believing Alice holds the clue to what happened the night they found her, and that she could finally explain why a body was found trampled by an elephant, Virgil decides to help Jenna in order to gain closure. Neither Jenna, Virgil nor Serenity know their search for Alice will take them on a trip through the past that neither of them ever expected.

In alternating voices Jenna, Virgil, Serenity, and Alice tell their stories, allowing readers to gain a complete picture of what actually led to that dark night 10 years ago when Alice disappeared. Picoult has deftly woven together a story of mystery, love and suspense along with beautiful true stories of elephant love and behavior towards one another.

In the Author’s Note, she references The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald Tennessee as the place where she observed the behaviors used for her elephants in “Leaving Time.” The plight of elephants in Africa and zoos across the world will resound with Picoult’s readers, along with Jenna’s story, in her latest blockbuster book. PS – The author asked that I not reveal the ending, so will leave it up to you to discover as you read it for yourself.

Recommended for Adult readers.


“Running the Rift” Naomi Benaron

Algonquin Books, 2012. 360 pp.

Running the RiftThis book was an amazing read. It follows the life of Rwandan Tutsi Jean Patrick, from his youth to manhood. Readers learn of his trials, tribulations and great desire to run in the 800 meters at the Olympics. We are immersed in the life and customs of Rwanda, learning of the closeness of his family unit, his deep love for his older brother, his love for his country, his love for running, the massive amount of training required for an Olympic dream, and his love for Bea, a Hutu. All are threatened when Rwandan politics get in the way of the peacefulness Jean Patrick had always envisioned for his life.

The Rwandan Genocide of 1994 comes to life in “Running the Rift.” By the time the slaughters have begun, readers have grown to care for the Tutsi people because of Jean Patrick, and suffer all his losses with him. Benaron has done her research very carefully, and exposes the horror of what happens when countrymen turn against each other in a mob mentality. Massive radio propaganda egged on ordinary Hutu citizens, along with their militia groups, which combined to murder over 800,000 Tutsi and any Hutu believed to have sided with them in a short period of time. Their actions bring to mind the horror of what happened in Hitler controlled Germany during World War II, and the resulting mass murder of over 6 million Jews. That shameful history of allowing one group to murder another just for being “different” should never have been allowed to be repeated. What was also shameful was that no country in the civilized nation, including the United States, lifted a finger to help Rwanda in their time of crisis.

I am sure “Running the Rift” will win some sort of award at the upcoming ALA Media Awards in Seattle at Midwinter. I will be there, at the edge of my seat, and will report back as soon as I hear what award it has won. I am THAT sure it’ll win something.

For mature high school readers and adults.