“Being Toffee” Sarah Crossan

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. Bloomsbury YA. First published in Great Britain in May 2019 (Bloomsbury Publishing Pic.) United States of America edition to be published July 14, 2020.

Being ToffeeSixteen-year-old Allison’s mom died when she was born, leaving her with a father who mentally and physically abused her. For years she tried to stay out of his way but when he got angry, there wasn’t anything she or his girlfriend Kelly-Anne could do to avoid his cruelty. After Kelly-Anne left them, things got so bad that Allison ran away.

Now homeless, Allison eventually wandered into a home where an elderly woman lived alone. Marla’s dementia caused her to mistake Allison for a long-lost friend named Toffee so, for lack of anywhere to go, Allison moved in with her. They soon struck up a friendship but as Marla’s dementia got worse, Allison’s peace of mind improved. As Marla helped her learn to find her voice, she helped Marla gain the strength she needed to face changes coming in her own life.

Allison’s moving story of love lost and found is told in poetic verse. Readers will find themselves rooting for both Allison and Marla. I’m glad Bloomsbury YA decided to release this book in the United States. It’s an important story of finding hope and joy in unusual ways.

Recommended for ages 14 and older.

I received a digital advance reading copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

 

 

“The bridge home” Padma Venkatraman

Rated 5 stars *****. 2019. Nancy Paulsen Books (Penguin Random House). 187 p. (Includes “Glossary” and “Author’s Note.”)

TheBridgeHomeEleven-year-old Viji and twelve-year-old Rukku’s mom was abused by her husband, but always believed him when he said he was sorry. Viji knew Rukku had special needs, and had always taken care of her older sister but, when her father hit them in a fit of rage, she knew they’d have to run away.

With nowhere to go and only a bit of money, they bus to the city where Rukku becomes attached to a homeless puppy, and they become friends with two homeless boys living on a bridge. There they build their own ramshackle tent, and the boys help her forage for recyclables in stinking trash dumps with other homeless children that they sell for pittances.

Hunger dulls their strength but, as time passes, the four forge strong bonds of friendship. Though they wind up living on a grave under a tree in a cemetery after marauding men destroy their home on the bridge, Viji tries to keep believing in her dream of becoming a teacher. Each day of looking for food in trashcans, and hoping to earn money on the dump, makes her dream seem impossible.

This moving story, based on real children’s first-person accounts, is an eye opener for many who might be unaware of the plight of over 1.8 million children living on the streets of India, working and eating from its many garbage dumps while trying to avoid abuse and slavery.

Recommended for ages 10-14.

“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.

“May the road rise up to meet you” by Peter Troy

Rated 5 stars ***** Doubleday. 2012. 386 p.

May the road rise up to meet youMary 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.

“Belle epoque” Elizabeth Ross

Rated 4 stars **** 2013. Delacorte. 327 p. (Includes “Author’s Note.”)

BelleEpoqueUnwilling to submit to an arranged marriage to a 40-year-old man, sixteen-year-old Maude Pichon runs away from her small, seaside village. Adrift in the large city of Paris and with her limited money running out, she seeks work at the Durandeau Agency where she reluctantly becomes a repoussoir – a person who is so ugly she repels others to makes her client look beautiful.

The Agency is filled with poor women and girls who have no money, but who Durandeau deems ugly enough to earn him a few francs. Maude becomes the repoussoir for Isabelle, a Countess’ rich daughter she plans to marry off during her upcoming debutante season. The only catch to her job is Maude must gain Isabelle’s confidence and report back to the Countess, but not let Isabelle know her true role. As months go by and the Countess transforms Maude’s life, she finds herself drifting into fantasies where she has become the debutante and finds herself a rich husband.

As she begins to befriend Isabelle, she looks down on her former life and friends at the Agency in favor of a new, imagined life with the Countess. However, the more time she spends with them, the more she will have to come to terms with her true self and decide if the rich life is really where she’s meant to be.

I enjoyed reading “Belle Epoque,” and learning about life in 1800’s France. Though based on a fictional story about repoussoirs written in 1866, it’s a shame that we still judge others by appearances rather than by what they offer society.

Recommended for ages 16 and older, including Adults.

“Ashes” Laurie Halse Anderson

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Seeds of America #3. Published October 4, 2016. Atheneum Books for Young Readers. (Appendix includes Questions and Answers as well as lists of books and websites for more reading.)

ashes“Ashes” continues the stories of escaped slaves Curzon and Isabel. First introduced in “Chains,” more of their lives and the cruelty of slavery was documented in “Forge.”

After escaping from their masters once again, the two have spent years making their way through the wilderness seeking news about Isabel’s sister Ruth who’d been sold away from her by a cruel mistress when she was just a little girl. Their plans of a reunited and peaceful life are interrupted by war and the cruelties of fate. The Patriot’s fight for independence causes Isabel to question how those seeking freedom for themselves could deny it to thousands of their slaves, while Curzon is sure the war will mean freedom for all.

As time passes, Isabel’s former closeness with Curzon dissipates as they remain at odds over the war and its meaning to them as slaves. As they learn to survive in the midst of chaos, they are left wondering and hoping about a future in a world turned upside down.

Anderson has done her research well, bringing readers fully into Isabel and Curzon’s time and place. The plight of escaped slaves, found on both British and Patriot’s sides, black soldiers fighting for General Washington, and other historical events are incorporated into the storyline of “Ashes.” If Laurie should choose to continue Isabel, Curzon and Ruth’s story in another set of books about their life after the war, I would be a very happy reader of them. Laurie can you hear me?

Highly recommended for ages 11 to 15.

 

 

 

“My book of life by Angel” Martine Leavitt

ARC (Advance Reading Copy). On sale September 4, 2012. Farrar Straus Giroux. 244 pp. (Includes Author’s Note).

In this novel-in-verse, mature high school readers will learn the sad story of Angel, a teenage runaway. Angel meets Call in a mall, who gets her hooked on drugs. She runs away to be with him, and soon is forced into prostitution. She doesn’t dare run away from Call’s physical abuse and her new life because there is no place for her to go and because he threatens to hurt her little brother if she leaves.

Soon, women and young girl prostitutes begin to disappear, but the police refuse to believe a killer is loose on the streets. To make matters worse, Call has found a young 11 year-old-girl who he has decided will join Angel’s line of work. The cloud of despair deepens as Angel tries to find a way out for young Melli. As she strives to think of a plan that will free little Melli it seems as if there will be no escape until, through reading Milton’s “Paradise Lost” every time a certain john comes to pick her up, Angel gradually comes to realize a form of hope and understanding of herself and what she can do to better her life and also save Melli.

“My book of life by Angel” brought tears to my eyes, realizing the plight of thousands of young girls who find themselves without hope and caught in the same world as Angel. In her author’s note, Leavitt educates readers on the underlying story behind Angel’s story which is based on true facts from the Vancouver prostitute murders which took place between 1983 and 2002 in Downtown Eastside. She also includes the names of 48 missing women from that timeframe, which further brings their stories to life.

“Missing” Catherine MacPhail

Bloomsbury, 2000. Hardcover. 191 pp.

Maxine feels like she’s going crazy. Her older brother, Derek, ran away from home and has been missing for 10 months. Sweeney, the school bully, had made his life, and others, into a living hell, never getting the punishment he deserved. Not knowing what happened to him has torn her family apart, and she feels guilty for wanting him to be dead so they would pay attention to her. When the police discover a body and her father identifies it as Derek, things seem to get worse. After the funeral, her parents seem to forget all about her and Maxie is left even more alone.

However, she’s not really on her own because Maxie feels like someone is watching her and starts to get strange phone calls from someone who says it’s Derek. Maxie has to keep telling herself that Derek is buried. Derek is dead. The voice insists he’s really alive, but won’t show himself to her. Maxie wonders if ghosts can come from beyond the grave. As if worrying about Derek and the strange phone calls wasn’t bad enough, Sweeney has decided she is going to become his next victim. Maxie doesn’t know where to turn or who she can confide in to get advice.

This is a quick and easy read for middle schoolers. The mystery of what happened to Derek, and what keeps happening to Maxie, will keep reluctant readers eager to find out what happens next.