To say that Josie Moraine has a very unusual life would be an understatement and a half! Though she is only in high school, she already lives on her own and works two jobs — as a clerk at a local bookstore and as a maid of sorts for the brothel where her mother works. That’s right… Josie’s mother is a prostitute. Not to mention a cold, calculating, unloving woman who only ever seems to think of herself. And, as if that isn’t bad enough, Josie’s mother also happens to be in love with an abusive gangster-type. So, when her mom disappears from the French Quarter the very same morning that a man turns up dead, Josie isn’t sure what to do or what to believe. She has never wanted anything so much as a chance to get out of the “Big Easy” and to get a good education, but her mother and her mother’s foolishness always seem to get in the way.
One of the things I enjoyed most about this story was how the entire cast of characters was so well fleshed-out. I get annoyed when authors skimp on developing the supporting characters, but Sepetys did not disappoint! My favorite was Willie — the brothel madam who knew Josie was bound for bigger and better things, regardless of the fact that many people assumed/hoped she would simply follow in her mother’s footsteps. I loved that Willie did her best to support Josie and to encourage her to want more from life instead of being upset that Josie didn’t want to join the [ahem] family business. If you like historical fiction and/or mysteries, this is a book you won’t want to miss.
It wasn’t exactly easy to be an independent teenage girl in New York City in 1911, but Aurora Lewis wouldn’t let societal norms dictate her life. She refused to give up on her musical studies to attend a “finishing school” because she was determined to play violin in a symphony someday. When she arrived at violin lessons one Saturday morning, though, she found the studio a mess and the window open — despite the winter chill in the air. Looking down from the window, she found her teacher dead on the sidewalk… and was accused, by street hooligans, of having pushed him! Although the police cleared her when they deemed his death an accident, Aurora wasn’t satisfied with that result and decided that she and her friends would have to solve this murder themselves. This book was well written, fast-paced, and full of interesting musical and historical facts. I bet even reluctant readers would get lured in to this story!
I hate to admit that it took me so many years to actually read this book. It would have made sense for me to read it after hearing rave reviews from kids and adults alike. It would have made sense to read it when it was turned into a Broadway hit, or later when it was turned into a hit movie… but what finally made me get the audiobook and listen to this story was the opportunity to meet Michael Morpurgo when he presented the 2013 Arbuthnot Lecture. Since I am the Vice President of the Youth Services Section (YSS) of NYLA, I had the opportunity to sit in the VIP section of the chapel and then to sit at the head table with Michael during the YSS Spring Conference Luncheon last week — I *had* to read this book if I wasn’t going to feel like an idiot! Needless to say, I loved the story AND the lecture. And, fortunately, I can tell you that Michael Morpurgo is a very friendly, down-to-Earth man who had no problem posing for a picture with a geeked-out Tween & Teen Librarian.
15-year-old Evie Spooner is a bit awkward and wishes she could grow up a little bit a lot faster. She wishes she could be more like her mom, Beverly, whom she sees as a beautiful (albeit over-protective) mother and housewife who is capable of making practically anything look elegant. Being a housewife is more of a recent thing for Beverly, though. During WWII, Beverly had to work in a local department store to help support her family, but her husband/Evie’s step-father is back from the war and is able to take care of his family again. Joe’s appliance stores are doing really well, and he is happy to be back home in Queens, but the sudden appearance of a war buddy [Peter Coleridge] gets Joe acting strangely. Apropos of nothing, he decides to take Evie and Beverly to Palm Beach. The town is mostly shut down because they’re there during the wrong season, but they manage to find a room at Le Mirage — where they end up meeting a glamorous couple, Mr. and Mrs. Grayson [also from New York City]. Secrets slowly unfold, as Evie sees and hears things she shouldn’t… But, by the time Evie figures out what’s going on, she is already caught in the middle of a web of lies. This is a great mystery, especially for people who enjoy historical fiction.
American military personnel found Parvana in a bombed-out school building, so they brought her back to their base as a suspected terrorist. Because she refused to speak, the interrogations continued day after day. During that time, Parvana escaped into her memories — her flashbacks serving to provide readers with further information about her past. With the information gleaned through those flashbacks, it was easy to see why Parvana didn’t feel comfortable talking to the soldiers who were interrogating her. Between her experiences under the oppressive Taliban regime and the further struggles her family faced in the time after the Taliban was ousted, she learned that people in power didn’t always tell the truth and that speaking freely often made things worse. Definitely an eye-opening book about what it means to grow up female in the Afghanistan and how the American military presence has both helped and hindered Afghanistan’s progress.
I thought this would be a good book to review on Valentine’s Day, since it had a lot to do with love. Sadly, though, it was mostly about how love was off limits for Cameron Post. Why? Because of the strict Evangelical Christian views of her family [and the majority of people in small-town Miles City, Montana]. This belief system was so apparent that, even before she truly understood what homosexuality was, Cameron knew her feelings for other girls were unacceptable to the people around her. So much, in fact, that her first reaction to hearing her parents had died in a car crash was relief. Why relief? Because her parents’ sudden death meant they would never find out she had kissed her best friend, Irene, earlier that day. Cameron tried to lie to herself and was able to pass for “normal” for a while, but she finally admitted to herself that she was a lesbian because of a friendship/fling with an out-and-proud Seattle girl she met through swim team.
While it was interesting to read about how Cameron discovered and came to grips with her sexuality, it was devastating to read about her stay at God’s Promise — a church camp that was supposed “cure” Cameron of her homosexuality. Although this story is fictional, it is based on a reality too many young people face. I look forward to a day when all people can feel free to love whomever they love, regardless of gender, but I fear this will not be for a long time yet. In the meantime, at least GLBTQ teens have stories like these to help them through the hard times they are sure to face.
Happy Reading… and Happy Valentine’s Day!
Verity was a passenger in British spy plane that was shot down over Nazi-occupied France. When she looked the wrong way before crossing the street, and almost got hit by a van, she was picked up by the Gestapo. In order to get Verity to reveal her mission and any other pertinent information about the British war effort, the Gestapo subjected her to a wide variety of tortures. Verity’s confession gives an account of both what she endured and what she told the Gestapo, but it never explains whether it is completely truthful or if it contains any lies. Compounding this confusion, of course, is the inclusion of this quote in the beginning of the book:
‘Passive resisters must understand that they are as important as saboteurs.’
SOE Secret Operations Manual
‘Methods of Passive Resistance’
Only by reading the second half of the book, told from the perspective of Verity’s pilot friend Maddie, can readers ascertain the truth. This would be a good story for you if you want to learn more about some of the lesser-known facets of WWII, enjoy suspenseful stories, and appreciate heart-wrenching tales of friendship and devotion.
Set in 1906 in the Adirondack Mountains, and based on the actual murder of a woman named Grace Brown, this book will appeal to fans of both historical fiction and murder mysteries. Chapters alternate between the past and the present, as narrated by sixteen-year-old Mattie Gokey. In the chapters about the past, we learn about Mattie’s life on her family’s farm and her hope to attend Barnard College in New York City to become a writer. In the chapters about her present, we learn about Mattie’s work at The Glenmore Hotel on Big Moose Lake and how it brought her into contact with Grace Brown shortly before she was murdered.
I think what I liked best about this story is that it was about so much more than Grace Brown’s murder. It was also a coming-of-age story about a young woman (Mattie) who was determined to blaze her own path and to fight for her dreams despite the wishes of her father and the lack of women’s rights at the time. With how seamlessly Jennifer Donnelly wove together the true story of Grace Brown and the fictional story of Mattie Gokey, it’s no wonder this book won the 2003 Carnegie Medal in Literature [under the UK title A Gathering Light].
Happy Teen Read Week!