“The Underground Railroad” Colson Whitehead

Happy New Year! I’ve been writing on this blog since April of 2012, so happy almost 8 year anniversary to me!

It’s fitting on this first day of 2020 that I’m reviewing a book that will remind readers of our flawed American history. It also serves to remind us that “To be forewarned is to be forearmed,” and “Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.” 

Read on, and remember our past. Read on so that past is not repeated.

Rated 5 stars ***** Doubleday. 2016. 306 p.

The Underground RailroadCora escaped from her Georgia plantation, and is now hunted by Ridgeway, a slave catcher. He has a single-minded devotion towards her, because he was never able to find her mother when she escaped years earlier. Cora and her companion managed to make their way to the Underground Railroad, and travelled to South Carolina. The Underground Railroad once consisted of places, (stations), where black and white citizens (stationmasters) hid fugitives, passing them secretly on to the next station. However, in Whitehead’s novel, the Underground Railroad is an actual locomotive that moves through underground tunnels from station to station.

Despite her belief that South Carolina was safe Cora had to flee again, but was trapped for months in the attic home of the stationmaster in North Carolina because blacks were no longer allowed in the state. It was impossible to get to safety. From her stuffy perch, she watched the weekly lynching of freemen and escaped slaves found by night patrollers as the town celebrated their capture. While recuperating from an illness Cora was captured once again, while her benefactors were stoned to death.

Cora’s desperate runs towards freedom, descriptions of the horrors of slavery, the kindnesses of strangers, and the behavior of slave catchers and night patrollers are detailed in this compelling novel that kept me turning pages until its satisfying conclusion. I highly recommend it.

NOTE: I believe that if our Founding Fathers had freed their slaves when they were “freed” from England’s tyranny, we would now have a very different world. The Declaration of Independence says “all men are created equal,” but those words ring hollow since the definition of “men” didn’t include slaves or women. If they had done so, the writing of this novel would be a moot point. They did not, so Cora’s story needs to be told.

Highly recommended for Adults.

“Shout” Laurie Halse Anderson

Rated 5 stars ***** Viking (Penguin Random House). 2019. 291 p. (Includes Resources on Sexual Violence and Mental Health for readers.)

ShoutIn free verse, Laurie Halse Anderson tells her story of constantly having to move due to her father’s job, of being poor, of having to attend many different schools, and of being raped by someone she considered a friend at the young age of 13. After her assault Anderson details the many coping mechanisms she used to try to cover the raging anger she now felt, including getting high, cutting classes, and getting drunk. It was only after spending 13 months in Denmark as an exchange student, during her senior year of high school, that Laurie finally began to feel some of the scar tissue within begin to heal.

Anderson’s journey towards healing, and how those healing steps helped her become a writer, are interspersed with outrage towards those who foist themselves on boys and girls, friends, girlfriends, sisters, brothers, cousins and anyone who didn’t say “yes” to those advances. She offers strong encouragement and strength towards those who suffer in silence from the pain of sexual assault or rape.

Laurie doesn’t pull punches as she shouts out her outrage, calling out the Principal who cancelled the rest of her appearances at his school, after the first of three sessions “because those things [sex, rape, bodies touching, consent, and violence] don’t ever happen in his school” (p. 187). Censorship of “inappropriate books” also met the steely beam of her eyes, reminding us (and censors) “Censorship is the child of fear, the father of ignorance, and the desperate weapon of fascists everywhere.” (p. 191.)

In short, “Shout” loudly, lovingly and firmly gives victims of sexual assault the strength to stand firm, to speak their pain, and to rise up from the ashes knowing they’re not alone. The #MeToo movement gave voice to that which had had been hiding in the shadows for too long. However, with her memoir, Anderson takes that movement and puts it on an amplifier, giving knowledge and courage to her readers, infusing them with power and strength so they can also #MeToo and shout out their pain as they heal.

“Shout” is raw and truthful; a description of what happens when a slice of life is stolen from unwilling victims. Anderson’s pain from being a victim of sexual assault is your pain. Her fight to rise above her pain is your fight. Her courage to keep going forward is your courage. Her voice to educate others is your voice. Her healing is your healing. Her shout of victory is your shout.

I am going to predict “Shout” will win the 2019 YALSA Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature at the upcoming American Library Association (ALA) Midwinter Conference in Philadelphia, along with many other awards. When it wins, remember you read it first on my blog. I will be at that conference, and plan to SHOUT VERY LOUDLY at the ALA Youth Media Awards for Laurie Halse Anderson’s “Shout.”

Highly recommended for teens ages 14 and older, as well as Adults.

 

 

 

“Lost Autumn” by Mary-Rose MacCall

Rated 3 stars *** ebook. ARC. Published by G.P.Putnam’s Sons. To be published March 3, 2020.

Lost AutumnIn 1920 seventeen-year-old Maddie is learning how to be Prince Edward’s correspondence secretary on his train tour of Australia, feeling overwhelmed by her proximity to royalty.

In 1997 Victoria, a reporter, is asked to cover the death of Princess Diana, but finds herself at a loss for words.

In 1981 Maddie finds herself coming to terms with the loss of everyone she’d ever loved, wondering what she can to do right old wrongs.

In 1918 Helen, an ambulance driver in France, and Rupert, batman to the Prince of Wales, meet on the battlefield when she transports him to the hospital against the rules. They fall in love, but fate steps in to tear them apart.

The author bounces back and forth between these years as she tells stories of love, betrayal, broken relationships, strength and survival. Grief and loss, tinged with hope, survival and strength are woven throughout these stories.

I thought each storyline was interesting, and would have preferred to have each in its own standalone book. A particular favorite of mine was the World War I love story between Helen and Rupert, which inspired Maddie to write “Autumn leaves.” However, having so many storylines in one book was very confusing. In the many switches between timeframes, I had to constantly reread to figure out what had happened to that character earlier in the book.

Therefore I was a half fan of “Lost Autumn,” and will leave it up to you to decide if you want to read it or not.

Recommended for Adults.

I received an advance copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

“This does not leave this house” by Julie Coons

Rated 1 star * ebook. 2017. Amazon Digital Services LLC.

This does not leave this houseA girl hates herself because her mom hates her. She feels ignored by her father, alternately hated and loved by her brother, and hated by her abusive husband. She’s raped in college, so loses her dream of becoming a doctor when she drops out, and develops terrible illnesses – all while seeing spirits from the spirit world and still desperately wanting to be loved by the very hated mom.

The author said she put herself “out there” in this tell-all book about her horrible childhood and equally horrible adulthood, but her rollercoaster emotions towards herself and others, her constant repetitions and rehashing of the same stories, and her lack of chronology as she jumped all over the place in the book quickly got tiresome.

I didn’t like it at all, but will leave it up to you Adult readers to decide if you want to read it or not. I wish I had not.

 

“Jimmy” by William Malmborg

Rated 4 stars **** ebook. 2011. Darker Dreams Media.

JimmyThis extremely dark, twisted tale of a high school senior who kidnaps two teenage girls to satisfy his sexual bondage desires was very upsetting to me because it was too scarily realistic. All the clues that seemed to point to Jimmy doing something strange in his spare time went unnoticed, as no one suspected him because he was just so normal. This is what makes all the evil he got away with so upsetting to me.

I hope anyone reading this book won’t get any ideas of doing what Jimmy did, and I also hope if anyone suspects someone of similar actions that they’ll say something to someone in authority before it’s too late. I feel as troubled after reading this book as I felt when I finished watching the movie “The silence of the lambs.” I was very troubled after that movie and couldn’t sleep for a few hours. It’s now 12:42 a.m., and I have the feeling I’ll be up for a very long time tonight contemplating the evil in men’s souls after reading “Jimmy.” Thanks a lot Mr. Malmboorg!

I’m not a fan of horror books, especially ones I read at night, but the fact that this one was so realistic was what upset me the most. My heart cries out for the young ladies kidnapped by Jimmy, and for what they endured.

Recommended for mature teens ages 17 and older.

“What happened that night” by Deanna Cameron

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. To be published September 17, 2019. Wattpad Books.

What happened that nightEighteen-year-old Griffin was a rising baseball star, extremely popular, and loved by everyone. Though they were neighbors, and he was one year older, Clara had crushed on him for years. She was surprised when he showed up at her school musical, and especially thrilled when he asked her out on a date.

Seven months later Griffin is dead, and Clara’s older sister is in jail for murder. No one knows why Emily would kill a nice boy like Griffin, but Clara knows. She knows Griffin wasn’t nice, with a side to him no one ever saw. She’s never going to tell anyone what happened that night, though they’ll haunt her for the rest of her life.

As Clara remembers life before Griffin’s death, readers gain insight into Griffin, Emily, the events leading up to his murder, and how it reverberated onto Clara, her friends and family, as well as Griffin’s family and friends. As I read I was on the edge of my seat, eagerly turning pages to see what would happen. When the events of all the nights in question were revealed, I was shocked.

The brutality of sexual assault, and hope for survivors to continue on after it are the book’s themes. Clara struggles with what happened that night, while friends and family offer various reactions. Through telling her story the author reminds readers that their story of abuse needs to be told. Survivors of sexual assault need to know they can speak up about their pain. If the reader is a friend or family member of a survivor, they’ll learn they’re needed to listen and offer support. Resources, such as RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) are offered as places of help for survivors of sexual assault.

Recommended for ages 16 and older.

 

“Last seen leaving” Caleb Roehrig

Rated 3 stars *** ARC. Ebook. Feiwel and Friends. To be published October 4, 2016.

LastSeenLeavingFlynn is devastated to find out his girlfriend, January, had been reported missing. Prying questions from the police triggered a secret he had been hiding from everyone, and his vague answers only served to convince them of his guilt. Determined to prove his innocence he starts to dig deeper into January’s disappearance but, as he reflects on their relationship, floodgates open to his own secret that will forever change his life.

Through flashbacks and the present time, readers are drawn into Flynn and January’s lives as the author did a good job implicating various characters in the crime. I thought I knew who was guilty, but was fooled many different times.

Despite good clues in the whodunit portion, I found inconsistencies that were problematic. Would a 19-year-old be able to date a 15-year-old without anyone blinking an eye? Would the two of them be able to wander in and around a rich, private school without any kind of security system? It was these and other inconsistencies that made the story much less believable, and caused me to drop its rating down to 3 stars.

Despite my questions I will recommend “Last seen leaving” for ages 14 and older because Roehrig did a good job stringing along the reader in making several characters appear to be the “bad guy.”

I received an electronic copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.