The National Book Award Project: The Finalists

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All the way back in June I started a project, spear-headed by Dr. Steven Bickmore, with a bunch of other educators: We read through all the National Book Award Finalists and Winners from the past twenty years. There were twenty of us–each assigned a year. I read the five books from 1996.

Each of us chose one book to move forward to the next “round”. We were then placed into brackets of five books and as a group we needed to choose which of those five would move to the final round.

The final round has four books. Our task was to read all four and vote for which one we think is the best of the best. I had already read Homeless Bird (2000 National Book Award Winner), but the next three were new to me.

Autobiography of My Dead Brother by Walter Dean Myers (2005 National Book Award Finalist)

As is typical of Myers, this book starts out right in the action with the funeral of a teenager who was shot in a drive-by shooting. Jesse and his friends, CJ and Rise, are forced yet again to consider how quickly life can be taken away. Rise makes the comment that he believes this is why you have to live every day as if it’s special. All three boys grapple with how to do this, but Rise seems to take it to an extreme that Jesse can’t agree with. As Jesse tries to decide to stick by Rise–his blood brother–or follow his own intuition, he sketches Rise and the rest of what they experience. It’s a very honest look at what being a teen in Harlem is probably like.

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai (2012 National Book Award Winner)

Ten-year-old Hà, her three older brothers, and her mother are forced to leave Vietnam when the war reaches their home in Saigon in 1975. Hà has never met her father, who is MIA in the war–possibly somewhere in North Vietnam where communication has been cut off. The family journeys by ship to Alabama where they become refugees. Hà is forced to repeat the 4th grade even though she was at the top of her class in Vietnam because she doesn’t know English. What is most special about this book is that it is told in first-person verse covering a complete year: from Vietnamese New Year in 1975 to the same day in 1976.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (2014 National Book Award Winner)

Another book completely in verse, Jacqueline Woodson tells her autobiographical tale of growing up African American during the civil rights movement in the 1960’s and 70’s. Her life is split between two homes: one in South Carolina with her maternal grandparents and one in New York City with her mother. Her poems seamlessly weave her life story together in a way that the reader can actually feel. It’s beautiful writing.

Of the four books, I really liked Homeless Bird and Autobiography of My Dead Brother but I loved Inside Out and Back Again and Brown Girl Dreaming. I also felt all four books would be appealing and accessible to my students (all 8th grade). They were all well-written, though I think the three I described here were a little more literaturey (yes, I just made that up) than Homeless Bird. Or maybe it’s that Homeless Bird is about a culture different than the author’s.

In the end, Woodson’s poetry did more than just tell a story; it created an experience; therefore, it got my vote as the best National Book Award Winner of all time.

National Book Awards: The Next Bracket

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In June, I posted about a project that I am doing with a group of other educators. Dr. Steven Bickmore (you should go read his YA blog, by the way) gathered a bunch of us together to read all of the National Book Award winners and runners up since the award for YA turned twenty this year. We divided up the books by year (there are five books per year); my year was 1996 and I posted about those books here.

We each chose a “winner” from our year to move on to the next round. I chose A Girl Named Disaster by Nancy Farmer (a finalist in 1996; the winner that year being Parrot in the Oven by Victor Martinez).

From there we were put into groups of five to read each other’s picks and work together to nominate one from our group to move on. These are the next four books I read (in addition to A Girl Named Disaster):

Homeless Bird by Gloria Whelan (2000 National Book Award Winner)

Maybe it’s my historical fiction kick, but I really loved this book. In fact, this is tied for me with A Girl Named Disaster to move on to the next round.

So what is the book about? Koly is only thirteen years old when her parents arrange a marriage for her. While an arranged marriage is typical in India, Koly’s takes a tragic turn and she is left to fend for herself in a large city. The book is a quick read and appeals to all levels. It’s set in India and asks the reader to wonder about family structures, cultures, and traditions while also addressing the idea that the individual does not have to fit a mold to be a happy part of society.

Godless by Pete Hautman (2004 National Book Award Winner)

While Homeless Bird was my favorite of the four new books I read, this was my least favorite. I wanted it to be my favorite. I wanted to fall into it and find a bit of myself in it. The book is narrated by teenager Jason Bock whose family is very Catholic. Jason identifies as a “agnostic-going-on-atheist”. His parents try to get him into the fold of religion by sending him to a class at church for teenagers to talk about issues. The class only solidifies Jason’s apathy toward organized religion. In a moment of boredom and, according to Jason, clarity, he decides to create his own religion–one that worships the town water tower.

I really wanted this book to push the envelope and dig into the questions many teens have about religion and God. I was one of those teens and I craved books that showed others feeling and questioning as I did. This book fell short and only seemed to graze the surface. I was disappointed.

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson (2008 National Book Award Finalist)

This was another one that I loved. I almost put this as my vote to move on, but didn’t just because I think Homeless Bird appeals to a larger range of students than Chains does.

Chains takes place just as the Revolutionary War is about to begin. Isabel is a 13-year old slave in Rhode Island whose mistress dies. She and her sister are to be freed according to their mistresses will, but that does not happen and she is sold to a cruel New York City couple who side with the King and not with the American Revolution. Isabel finds herself befriending a slave boy who works for the Rebels and delivers messages and makes other dangerous errands that could get her beat…or worse.

This book was brilliant. It was long, and took a bit to get into, but the way Anderson wove both history and fiction together was flawless. Anderson has a follow up novel, Forge, and also a third, Ashes. I think students who love American History and have more reading stamina will fall in love with this series.

Bomb: The Race to Build–and Steal–The World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin (2012 National Book Award Finalist)

I don’t read a lot of nonfiction and what I do read is usually memoir, and I definitely don’t read books about science, war, or bombs, so I waited to read this one until the very last. Where Godless disappointed me, this one thrilled me. Bomb is written as a narrative of how the nuclear bomb was imagined, theorized, tested, and finally created. It also weaves in Russia’s attempts to steal the bomb using primary source quotes from American and Russian spies. It’s a real-life story of war and espionage. While I know what happens in the end–we make the bomb before he Germans and bomb Japan–I was still on the edge of my seat for the personal stories of the scientists who worked on the bomb…and those who leaked information to the Russians. The photos throughout were also a wonderful addition to the book. I want a separate category for books like this, but I feel like maybe this is one of a kind.

Overall I think the books I can see my 8th graders picking up and reading on their own are Homeless Bird and A Girl Named Disaster. Those are tied for me and I would be happy to move either on to the next round!

Have you read any of these books? What did you think?

Six World YA Lit Books You Should Read NOW

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It’s been awhile since I wrote about what I’ve been reading, which is actually funny because I have been reading more than I ever have before. In fact, I am on book 22 for the school year! Crazy!

Anyway, in the last month or so, I read six Young Adult Lit books that fall under the category of “world literature” and “historical fiction” because my 8th grade classes would be choosing between them for their final class book of the school year. Each of my five classes has a “book club” centered around each of these books. So far, it’s a wonderful experience, and I think the fact that the book are so darn good is has a big part of that.

I really love historical fiction, but I admit I hadn’t read much YA historical fiction until now. And of course reading six titles, probably qualifies as binging on it, but I am Ok with that. I highly recommend all of these titles to anyone 13 and over, so let’s get into the books…

My Name is Not Easy by Debby Dahl Edwardson 

Based on stories friends and family have told her, Edwardon bases her book in Alaska in the 1960’s when public schools were unavailable to the majority of children who didn’t live in a main city. Before 1976, students who wanted to attend high school had to travel hundreds of miles to boarding schools. In My Name is Not Easy, Luke (whose real name is not really Luke, but something too difficult for white speakers to pronounce) and his brothers–along with other children including Chickie, Amiq, Junior, and Sonny–are sent to Sacred Heart School where they realize that the students–Eskimo like them, Native American (Indian), and white–segregate themselves in the lunch room almost as if some sort of war is going on. The staff at Sacred Heart forbid use of native language and push to assimilate the children to a white, Catholic culture, but the students main goal is just to survive school and get back to their families.

I not only loved all of the characters in this book, but I knew many of my students would identify with having a name and culture that society may not understand. Many of my students may feel that they have to push their own culture behind them at school.

The Surrender Tree by Margarita Engle

Engle tells the story of Cuba’s struggle for independence through poetry through the eyes of characters in the middle of the action, mainly Rosa–known to some as a witch for her knowledge of holistic healing with herbs. The story begins with her childhood learning the different powers of flowers and plants, and it follows her as she becomes a nurse to those injured–from both sides–during Cuba’s fight against the Spanish empire. The setting is mainly near the concentration camps where former Cuban slaves were sent. While the poems are mostly from Rosa’s point of view, some are also from the voice of Lieutenant Death, a slave hunter who has a particular vengeance for capturing Rosa. The character of Rosa is based on Rosa Castellanos, an historical heroine known as “la bayamesa”.

This book was both beautiful and devestating. I had forgotten home much I love to read narrative poetry, and how quickly the actual reading goes. The imagery and  just sensations this book oozes are wonderful and terrifying. I went back and re-read some of my favorites. This book is in English, but a Spanish version is also included. Many of my students are hungry to read in their native tongue and lots have family in Cuba. I knew this would be appealing to those kids.

A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park

This is book is a dual narrative about Salva–one of the Sudanese Lost Boys–and Nya. Salva’s true story begins when he is eleven years old in 1985. Salva is separated from his family when fighting comes to his village in Southern Sudan. He has to walk for days in hope to find his family. He struggles to find food and people. He ends up walking for seven years before ending up in a refugee camp. Nya is a fictional character whose story begins in 2008 when she is also eleven years old. She has to walk to a pond that is two hours away twice a day to provide fresh water for her family. Her story emphasizes the lack of clean water in Sudan and the importance of family. In the end, Salva and Nya’s stories cross making a very important push for Salva’s cause of bringing clean water to South Sudan.

This was the first book of the six I read and I remember closing it and thinking, “these books are going to leave me emotionally drained.” I was right. Reading Salva and Nya’s stories was like going on these walks with them. And although I knew Salva survived to create the Water For South Sudan project, I kept thinking, “this is it. He can’t survive this.” I knew this book would appeal to the widest range of students, and since its the shortest, easiest read many of my reluctant readers chose it and are loving it.

Climbing The Stairs by Padma Venkatraman

Vidya is fifteen and dreams of going to college. But she lives in British-occupied India during World War II. Her family is loving and supportive and fairly liberal, encouraging her to be what she wants to be. However tragedy strikes and they are forced to live with ultra-conservative relatives who believe women should remain uneducated, serve men, and wait around to be married to a good family. Vidya is miserable, but she secretly breaks the rules and ventures upstairs to her grandfather’s library to read books she is not supposed to even touch. Here she meets Raman who treats her as an equal. When her brother leaves unexpectedly, Vidya is suddenly forced to think about the political situation in India and what she can do to hold on and make her dreams reality.

This is totally a “girl power” book. Venkatraman bases her characters on family members who have told her stories of growing up in India during this time period, and I was excited to see some of my strongest girls chose this book, and have already commented that they are totally loving it!

Far From Home by Na’ima B Robert

This was the last book I read of the six and I admit to needing to take a break from reading after this one. For one, I had binge-read six historical fictions in less than four weeks. Secondly this one made me think and I just needed the time to reflect before diving into something new.

Part One of Far From Home is Tariro’s story.  She is fourteen years old, lives in Zimbabwe on her ancestral grounds near the baobab tree that she was born under. Her dad is the chief, she is in love with the brave and handsome Nhamo–things couldn’t be better. Then white settlers arrive and violently and tragically drive her and her family out of their home into new areas zoned specifically for the blacks.

Part Two is Katie’s story and takes place twenty-five years later. Katie is also fourteen and lives on a farm in Zimbabwe near the baobab tree. She loves her family, her exclusive boarding school, and her home. Then disaster strikes when the second War for Liberation occurs and natives begin to reclaim their land. She is forced to leave the only hone she has ever known and go back to London with her family.

It was hard for me to feel sorry for Katie at first. Her relatives had been the ones to drive the natives off their land! But as I read, I understood the complexity of it. Katie, herself, had not been involved in the relocation. This home was where she was born and raised. It’s all she knew. Plus as the entire story unfolds she learns about white privilege and humanity.

While it is worlds away from us, there are definite connections with today’s society here in the United States. It’s a more difficult, longer read, so only a few of my higher reading level students are tackling this one, but so far they are enjoying it and I am enjoying the conversations that are coming out of it.

Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick

This one affected me the most out of all the books. This is the true story of Arn, a survivor from the Cambodia Civil War during the 1970’s. He was eleven years old when the Khmer Rouge invaded his village, killing the upper-class and educated and separating the rest of the people into work camps. Arn was sent to a work camp that was also where they took prisoners and slaughtered them. He was forced to work with almost no food or sleep and witness the horrific murder of many people–some of whom he knew. If the kids reacted, they were also killed. Arn eventually volunteers to become a musician for the propaganda-like revolutionary songs the Khmer Rouge has them play. Later, when the Vietnamese invade to help the people of Cambodia, Arn is forced to join the Khmer Rouge as a child soldier.

I had to keep reminding myself that this story is true, and that Arn does survive and make it to the United States because I kept expecting him to die. Reading this from the lens of a mother and teacher was hard. I found myself putting the book down several times because the imagery was so horrifying. I knew my students would be engrossed in a book about a kid close to their own age having to survive experiences that were too terrible to even imagine. I was right.

All six of these books are about real historical events, many of which we don’t learn about in school. And if we do, it is only briefly covered in a textbook which dates and a few facts. These books humanize the wars and struggles so many children had to endure.

Have you read any of these? Do you have any suggestions to add to this list? (because I am always open to adding more to my To Read pile!)

The Things They Carried

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This book reminded me of how necessary it is to go out of your comfort zone sometimes. This book reminded me that, no, I don’t normal read “war books,” but sometimes you need to take a risk and read something that is not your normal genre. This book reminded me that while it may not seem like I could relate to a Vietnam war vet, I would be wrong.

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien has been in my classroom library all year. I’ve wanted to recommend it–especially to boys who are finding a hard time choosing something–but I hadn’t read it and wasn’t sure how to present it. I don’t really read “war stories”. But I realized that by not reading it just for that reason, I was doing what my students were doing when they turned their noses up at books because the topic sounded boring.

So when I raided my classroom library in May to bring home a stack to read, I included The Things They Carried. Naturally, it was the very last book I picked up out of all the books. And I’m sorry for that because I quite possibly connected most to this one. In fact, I used O’Brien’s book as the first in my Reader’s Notebook that I am creating as an example for my students.

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The Things They Carried is actually a collection of stories, many of which has been published elsewhere before being brought together as a collection. The book is labeled as fiction, although the narrator is O’Brien and he was in Vietnam and all the places and characters and circumstances are based on real life. I would say The Things They Carried is “True Fiction”.

Everything he writes about is true, but it did not happen. Well, some of it may have happened, but not as he wrote it. Or to whom he wrote about. The truthiness of it plays with your mind a bit because it is so believable–graphic at times even–and yet, you know you are reading fiction. But while some of the details may be made up, it’s a True Vietnam War Story.

Sort of.

Admittedly, I don’t know a lot about the Vietnam conflict, and this book didn’t answer many of those questions. And I’m glad. When people say that it’s important to read books to see what it was like for the people who lived it, they were talking about O’Brien’s writing. I’m sure of it. This book proves why it’s important to read beyond textbooks. A history book is not going to show the reader the effects of PTSD or how soldiers coped with all the death around them. It’s not going to show the horrors of silence.

I think I connected to O’Brien’s words the most because he kept coming back to the idea of the story. How it’s important to tell your story. That even if you have to add details that did not happen, it’s Ok as long as they add to the truthfulness of the story. So your audience can feel and so you can release that bit of yourself from inside yourself.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

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Confession: I started this book and thought two things: 1) I like books that make me feel good about my Spanish and 2) this book is going to take a lot of brain power.

I started this book for no other reason that I want to read more non-white authors and many readers I respect (who read the “literature” on top of just other stuff) rated this one highly. I also started it one day on the deck in the sun in my favorite reading spot. It is a stark contrast to all the YA lit I have been reading lately.

Let’s see…how do I describe Oscar Wao? Well, the book is fiction, but it also has some magical realism. The narrator is third person, seemingly omniscient, whose actual identity isn’t revealed until about halfway into the book. The story is about Oscar and the curse that is on him and his family called the fuku. The book starts with Oscar’s childhood, but talks about his mother’s childhood and formative years in the Dominican Republic, his maternal Grandfather (where the fuku started), and his sister, Lola.

The narrator is incredibly conversational using Spanglish and Dominican slang to tell the story of the de Leon family.There are quite a few footnotes (which are just as conversational) to give the reader history and background of The Dominican Republic that will help understand character motivation or the environment the characters found themselves in.

The book is beautiful. The writing is glorious and true and moving. I kept thinking of my students as I read it…how many have such journeys in their family history–maybe not with a curse attached–but who have parents who have come from another country and they are first generation in the US. About the struggles and the reasons for coming.

It’s just an extraordinary book. I can’t compare it to anything because I have never read anything like it. And I read a lot.

Me Before You

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This was a book I didn’t think I really wanted to read, but I caved to the pressure. I was certain I would quit this book because it would be too “Chick Lit-ish”.

Louisa is a twenty-six year old who gets laid off from her job at a cafe. She lives with her family (mother, father, younger sister, nephew, and grandfather). They don’t have much money. She gets a job caring for Will, a quadriplegic man. A wealthy quadriplegic man. An attractive quadriplegic man. The thing is, Will doesn’t want to live like this. He was very active before the motorcycle accident, and now lives in constant discomfort and pain. Lou makes it her mission to show him just how beautiful a life he can still have.

See? Sounds incredibly sappy, right?

It’s not though. I don’t know how JoJo Moyes did it, but Me Before You is fast-pace, witty, and even suspenseful. I found myself worrying about the characters when I wasn’t reading. Yes, there are a bunch of cliches and the premise itself is pretty sappy, but somehow Moyes made me care about the characters. She made me root for Louisa and Will…and not that they would get romantically involved, but that she would be successful in showing him a wonderful life. On the other hand, the book also made me seriously think about my own views on assisted suicide.

It was a deep topic that read like a light beach read.

That is writing talent, right there.

Even before I was finished with the book, I recommended it to someone and promised to bring her my copy the next time I see her.  I don’t do that with many books.

Have you ever been pleasantly surprised by a book that you thought you wouldn’t like, but ended up loving?

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Want to contribute to my classroom library? Check out my students’ Wish List!

Links are affiliate with Amazon. Anything purchased via those links will give me Amazon credit toward books for my classroom.

Landline

Landline by Rainbow Rowell

Last fall I read Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell. I adored it. I couldn’t talk it up enough in my classroom, and for the rest of the school year there was a wait list for it. I meant to read Fangirl next, but due to the popularity of Eleanor & Park, it was also checked out all year, so I moved on to other books and other authors.

This summer I was perusing the “new in paperback” section at the book store and saw Landline. I picked it up even though I had a pile at home of other books to read.

I will admit the premise of a telephone that calls the past was weird, but I trusted Rowell. I knew if anyone could make it work in a quirky, witty way, it was her.  And I was not disappointed.

Georgie McCool is a writer for a TV comedy series with her best friend since college, Seth. She spends a ridiculous amount of time at work, leaving her husband, Neal, home with their two small daughters. Georgie and Neal love each other, but there is always a tension. It comes to a head when Georgie chooses to spend their Christmas vacation home working with Seth rather than travel Omaha with her family. Over the time her family is gone, Georgie discovers that the phone in her childhood bedroom at her mom’s house can call Neal–not present-day Neal–but Neal from when they were in college. Her phone is like a time machine.  Now she has to figure out how to make things right with him by talking to the past.

I don’t tend to pick up a book if I think it might be a sappy love story. This is not a sappy love story. It is funny and ridiculous and a little sad in places, but not sappy.

Rowell tells the story from Georgie’s point of view. It bounces back and forth from present-day to her memories of meeting and dating Neal when they were in college, when they were first engaged and married, and to when their daughters were born. Rowell’s characters and dialogue quick and spot-on. She even manages to make me a bit nostalgic for the 90’s.

I think I even liked this book more than I liked Eleanor & Park. And that is saying a LOT because I gushed about that book.

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Want to contribute to my classroom library? Check out my students’ Wish List!

Links are affiliate with Amazon. Anything purchased via those links will give me Amazon credit toward books for my classroom.

The Potty Mouth At the Table

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I like to laugh, so I decided to read a Laurie Notaro book. It’s really that simple.

I have only read one other book by Notaro,There’s a (Slight) Chance I Might Be Going to Hell: A Novel of Sewer Pipes, Pageant Queens, and Big Trouble, and it was funny. It was REALLY funny. So I figured if Notaro’s fiction is that hilarious, her memoir stuff was going to be even better.

Plus people told me, her memoir stuff is even better.

So I picked the most recently published of all of them,The Potty Mouth at the Table despite the fact that all the GoodReads snobs users seemed to think this was not her best.

If this is not her best? I need to make sure I am not drinking anything while I read her earlier stuff because liquid WILL come out of my nose.

Potty Mouth is a collection of personal essays that made me say to my husband, “I am pretty sure this sort of thing only happens to extremely funny people who can tell a good story. Otherwise these sorts of things would be lost. Why have someone get in a cab with someone with the worst breath ever if they can’t weave that into a story that makes you gag and laugh your face off?”

The essays range in topic from opera about Anne Frank to lists of the worst Foodie words and phrases ever. Because I was constantly chuckling out loud, I ended up reading a bunch of it out loud to Cortney. He loves when I do that. Ok he does not really love it, and he usually doesn’t really listen, but this time he actually chucked too and said, “what book is that?”

It’s totally a quick, easy read too. I basically read it over a weekend. And it was a busy weekend, so take it to the beach or to the pool or even just to the couch and get your giggle on.

Then come back here and thank me.

And you’re welcome in advance.

What authors make you giggle right out loud?

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Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post. I bought the book myself. The links are affiliate though and if you purchase the book through one of those links I may some day earn enough to buy one of my children something from the ice cream truck. No. Nevermind. That thing is creepy.

Jeneration X by Jen Lancaster

Oh my 518L04RBZJL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_goodness I needed to read some Jen Lancaster. It seems like everything I have been reading has either been a super heavy topic or it’s long or it’s serious nonfiction.

I’ve read everything she’s written up to about 2012, so I went out and bought Jeneration X: One Reluctant Adult’s Attempt to Unarrest her Arrested Development; Or, Why It’s Never Too Late For her Dumb Ass to Learn Why Froot Loops Are Not For Dinner. I need to catch up with my Jen Lancaster.

I’m not usually a chick lit person, and I still stand behind Lancaster books not being chick lit. You know, other than I can’t imagine any guy ever wanting to read it. But she doesn’t write mushy gross romances, and she makes me laugh right out loud. So she is one of my favorites.

Just like all her memoirs, Jeneration X is a fast read. Instead of telling one long story like her previous autobiographical works, this one is more of a collection of essays all with some sort of lesson for “reluctant adults.”  Since I consider myself one of the most reluctant of adults, I figured I would either learn something (HA HA HA) or laugh a lot (YES). I laughed a lot.

Long-time fans have criticized this book as seeming like a bunch of blog posts bound together in a book, and yes, I suppose it could seem like that. But really they are essays, not blog posts. And they all have some sort of (loose) lesson about adulthood. And everyone one of them is told hilariously.

Even the posts that are about more serious lessons like estate planning and how friends are your family don’t take the serious, preachy turn they could. No, no. Lancaster would never do that. Rather she makes you laugh, nod your head and say “for sure” about whatever it is she is talking about.

If you need a quick, funny weekend read, I suggest anything by Jen Lancaster.

Apron Strings

apron-strings-newcover-351x351I love historical fiction. Some of my favorite books fall under this genre: To Kill a Mockingbird, The Red Tent, East of Eden, among many more. So when I was offered the chance to read/review a book that goes between the late 20’s/early 30’s era and the late 1950’s, I jumped on it.

Apron Strings by Mary Morony tells two stories. The main story is told by seven-year-old Sallee Mackey growing up in the late 50’s, in the South, smack in the middle of desegregation. Sallee’s family has their share of issues. Her Yankee father, Joe, quit his job as a lawyer to build and open a controversial shopping center. Her Southern mother, Ginny, is concerned about what people are saying and copes by drinking. And their maid, Ethel, who has been with Ginny and the family since childhood and has been Sallee’s touchstone and mother figure when her own mother couldn’t, has her own personal and family problems.

The other story is told by Ethel, the Mackey family’s black maid. Morony’s novel jumps back and forth between Sallee’s voice telling a first person account of her family and Ethel’s first person account (which seems to be directed at Sallee) about growing up and working for Sallee’s mother’s family.

I very much enjoyed Morony’s writing. I felt that she captured the confused and often times naive voice of a seven-year-old trying to make sense of racism and the judgment of adults very well. In fact, she seemed to capture all the voices of her characters well. I get skeptical when a white person writes a black character, but Ethel and her family members seemed to have dialect that would fit both the time and location for the story.

I think my one issue was, that after I read the last line and closed the book, I wondered what story I just read. I enjoyed reading it all the way through, but when I got to the end I wasn’t sure what the main take away of the book was supposed to be. Both Sallee’s and Ethel’s stories were interesting and fun to read, but that is all it felt like, just the life stories of two different people. I wasn’t sure if it was supposed to be a statement against racism or drinking. Or maybe it was about the importance of family. It felt like maybe it was trying to do too much at once with a lot of characters that didn’t all seem necessary.

For instance, Sallee’s weird neighbor Mr. Dabney shows up in Ethel’s stories. We find something out about him, but I thought it would have a lot more relevance to the story. It did not. It didn’t seem to effect the outcome of the book at all, but I found it interesting. Like real life, I suppose.

So I feel like I am in a weird position. On the one hand, I very much enjoyed reading the writing and the stories these characters had to tell. On the other hand, I’m not sure all the characters or the details were necessary to the story as a whole. I wouldn’t tell anyone to NOT read it because it’s a nice little read, but I don’t know that it’s the first thing I would recommend to someone looking for a new read either.

I will say that in the end, I do wonder what happens to Sallee after the book is over. I wonder about all her siblings and her parents too. That is the mark of a good story and good writing.

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Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post. I was sent a copy of Apron Strings to read and review. I received no compensation. All the opinions are my own.

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