Rated 5 stars ***** Doubleday. 2012. 386 p.
Mary Wilkens and Micah are southern slaves in 1853; Ethan McOwen survived the great famine of Ireland in 1847, while Marcella Arroyo (Abolitionist and feminist) is a Spanish immigrant living with her rich family in 1860 New York. Spanning the years from 1847 until 1867 the evils of slavery, along with the horrors of the Civil War, are described for readers. All have roles to play in the stories of these four characters as, with losses to endure and tears to cry, their stories eventually intertwine. Readers learn that there are good people in an evil world, and that good can come from bad – especially when you can’t see the whole picture of what’s happening.
This novel is reminiscent of great, sweeping historical dramas like “Roots” and “Gone with the wind.” The storyline jumps from person to person, so can become confusing. For example I’ll read about Ethan for a while then the storyline goes to Marcella for a few chapters. Afterwards I’ll read about Mary for a bit, then it meanders to Micah’s story. By the time the story returns to Ethan I forgot what he was doing.
However the book is interesting, emotional, and has great plot twists. I love historical fiction, so was willing to overlook the back and forth dilemma to give it 5 stars.
Recommended for Adults.
Rated 4 stars **** ARC. Published September 6, 2016. St. Martin’s Press (Macmillan.) 275 pp. (Includes Author’s Note.)
Terror and helplessness followed the events of 9/11, felt throughout the United States and, especially, in New York City. “The Memory of Things,” released for the 15th anniversary of that tragic day, tells the story of 16-year-old Kyle and the mysterious girl he found cowering on the Brooklyn Bridge as he and others fled the horror of downtown Manhattan. In alternate voices the teens recount their stories and memories, gradually turning their terror, pain and sorrow into a sense of hopefulness and determination while falling in love.
I lived through those days as a teacher in N.Y.C., and managed to spend the past 15 years avoiding graphically descriptive yearly television documentaries or photographs of the time. It took several years before I could listen, or look at, a low flying plane without my eyes filling with tears. Even now, 15 years later, it’s still painful.
Knowing 9/11 hit me stronger than others, I was a bit leery about reviewing a book about 9/11. However, since it was a young adult book, I was hopeful it wouldn’t be too graphic. Polisner covered the feelings of loss and bewilderment that filled the days after this terror attack, while also infusing a sense of hope that radiated through Kyle’s generous nature. As she described New Yorkers’ reactions towards the events that shook us to the core, along with Kyle’s sense of duty and protectiveness towards a complete stranger, readers will get the sense that there will always be a shoulder to lean on when it’s needed to help us through the roughest of storms.
Recommended for ages 14 and older.
Rated 5 stars ***** 2015. Kensington. 340 pp. (Includes “Author’s Note,” “Q & A with Kristina McMorris,” and “A reading group guide.”)
The year is 1919. Twelve-year-old orphan Shan Keagan from Dublin, Ireland is living a hard knock life with his Uncle Will, trying to earn money and meals as a singer, dancer and impressionist in local bars. When the two of them decide to immigrate to America his uncle dies onboard, leaving Shan to figure out how he will enter the country of his dreams and find his real father.
Befriended by an Italian-American family who had just lost their younger son, Shan began his new life in Brooklyn, New York as Tommy Capello. As Shan adjusts to his new life with the Capellos, he hopes for a chance to find his father and finally find happiness with a real family. Despite his best efforts, life doesn’t turn out as he’d hoped, and Shan finds himself on the short end of the stick of life once more.
McMorris’ keen attention to detail brings Prohibition, Vaudeville, and Alcatraz, among other happenings of the 1920’s and 30’s, to life. These historical events, along with Shan’s struggles to find happiness while still keeping his own heart pure, will keep readers wishing for more even when the last page has been turned.
Highly recommended for Adult readers.
Rated 2 stars ** Ebook. Published June 1, 2015. Merit Press.
Rich and pampered sixteen-year-old Morgan Lindstrum is upset because her mother and father aren’t talking to each other, and not spending time at their beautiful home in Princeton, New Jersey. She is also confused about feelings she’s been having for her best friend Ansel and, on top of everything, her beloved Grandfather passed away.
While trying to make her way through the minefield that has become her life, Morgan discovers her mother has a secret centered in Brooklyn. Her curiosity about her mother’s past leads her to discover poor Irish relations, which include her real grandfather Terence Mulvaney. Her mother is reluctant to forgive her father for past wrongs, but Morgan is determined to bring the family back together.
While seeking a bridge of reconciliation she soon discovers her newfound relatives may soon become part of Brooklyn’s homeless population. Morgan must call on all of her resources to try and reconcile her family, but it may come at a price she cannot pay.
Though “Crossing into Brooklyn” realistically described the city’s homeless population, contrasting its poverty with Princeton’s upper class, fake exterior, I thought Morgan’s constant references to what happened in Chicago did not lend merit to the storyline and were a distraction. In addition, though she came across as a heroine, there were aspects of her story that did not come across as believable. Her encounter with Carlos, as well as the fact that she managed to come and go many times through a very poor, rough area of Brooklyn without once being challenged by area residents for being a richly dressed girl in a poor neighborhood did not ring true to this Brooklynite.
I have mixed feelings about this book, so will leave it up to you to decide if you want to read it or not.
Rated 5 stars ***** 2013. Alfred A. Knopf. 289 pp.
Seventeen-year-old Ember almost died the day her car went over the bridge. After 8 months of recovery and therapy from her operations, Ember is finally getting to return home. Her parents and best friend Rachel assure her she is back to normal, but Ember feels as if she’s missing something. A few months of her memory have been lost due to temporary amnesia and, when she finds out a passenger named Anthony had been killed in the accident, Ember is determined to try and regain her memories to find out more about why they’d been in the car together.
Little by little pieces of memory come floating up to the surface of her mind, bringing more questions than answers. Rachel, her parents, her friends and her ex boyfriend Holden want her to be the girl she was before the accident, but Ember is not comfortable dropping back into the mold they made for her life. Despite not being able to dance anymore, she wants her own identity and is sure her hidden memories hold the key to her past and her future. From the hints people have been dropping, she is sure Anthony was more than just a friend but can’t put together the missing pieces of their relationship.
While striving to remember Anthony she meets Kai, who shares her dreams of wanting to break out from the mold society has planned and envisions a whole new world for them. Together they begin the romance of their lives, effectively frustrating Rachel, her parents and Holden as Ember feels herself drawing away from them as she draws closer to Kai.
When Ember finally regains her memories, I was shocked at what Adele Griffin had planned out all along, as I had never seen it coming. “Loud Awake and Lost” leads readers on a roller coaster ride of Ember’s emotions as she seeks to find herself amidst the missing parts of her life, and will keep readers eagerly turning pages to discover more of Ember’s memories and insights.
Recommended for ages 14 and older.
Listed on the ALA (American Library Association’s) Best Fiction for Young Adults list (compiled by the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA).
Rated 1 star * 2013. Soho Press. 264 pp.
It is 1982, and the Soviet Union is alive and well. Marina Dukovskaya is on her way to becoming an established ballerina just like her mother Sveta had been when she was in her prime. Sveta is still held in high esteem by government officials, and is an important part of their propaganda machine. Despite managing to hide her strange proclivity to see visions of the past, when one of those visions reveals a dark state secret covered up by Soviet officials years ago, Sveta is arrested and imprisoned.
Knowing the KGB (Russian Secret Police) will be after them, Marina and her father are forced to leave their pampered lives and defect to a shabby Brooklyn apartment in Brighton Beach. Using assumed identities, they try to blend into their new lives but Marina’s father is not happy. In his naivete he is sure Sveta will be released by the KGB if he can provide proof of her revelations.
Unfortunately Sveta’s state secrets are also wanted by the Russian Mob, the FBI and the CIA, with each having their own reasons for wanting to place their hands on this data. Thus, instead of returning to her previous life as a ballerina, Marina and her new friend Ben find themselves in the midst of murder, intrigue, spies and national secrets. To complicate matters, Marina starts to get visions of her own…
Readers aged 12-16 who like ballet and want to learn more about what the U.S.S.R. was like in 1982 may find “Dancer, Daughter, Traitor, Spy” interesting, but I found it to be not so interesting. There wasn’t anything especially riveting about it, and the numerous Russian words would have been better appreciated if the book included definitions and a pronunciation guide. It was also unnecessary to have a storyline revolve about Sveta and Marina’s “visions,” as a story of Russians defecting from Mother Russia could have stood alone without it.
So I leave it up to you to decide if You Should Read It or Not.