Monday, May 30, 2011

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

Zora and Me by Victoria Bond and T.R. Simon -- Middle Grades Historical Fiction, read by Channie Waites

It's the summer after fourth grade and Carrie is looking forward to spending the lazy days with her best friends Zora (Neale Hurston) and Teddy. Zora is a born storyteller and when she claims she has seen a local man with a gator's head, she spins a yarn that the adults refuse to believe and the children aren't sure what to think. Carrie gets sucked into Zora's wild adventure to find the gator man and solve the mystery of a local murder. Zora's tale may have disastrous consequences for everyone in Eatonville, whether it's true or not. This story focuses more on the power of storytelling to make sense of confusing subjects rather than the historical time period. I found Zora's story of the half-man/half-gator a bit hard to follow though and there was too much involved to keep track of by the time she pieces together the story. Zora is a really well-developed character and I enjoyed seeing what one of my favorite 20th century authors could have been like as a child. Carrie is a good sidekick. She has her own voice and her own story without overshadowing Zora but still remaining a protagonist. Zora's tall tales are a bit hard for adults to swallow but kids will probably enjoy wanting to believe in them the way Carrie and Teddy do in the book. I loved Channie Waites's narration. She changes her voice for each character and had a pleasant tone which makes listening fun. I liked this book and recommend it to fans of Zora Neale Hurston and kids who love a good yarn.

The Daughter's Walk by Jane Kirkpatrick -- Historical Fiction

This adult novel tells the story of Clara Estby who, in 1896, walked across the country with her mother, Helga. (See my review of The Year We Were Famous). Clara Estby works as a domestic in a wealthy household in Spokane. She has a crush on her employer's son and wants nothing more to be the wife of a banker, being his partner is business as well as in life. She resents her mother choosing her to go on this wild and impossible journey across the country. The first part of the book tells the story of Helga and Clara's courageous walk and the difficulties they encountered. A shocking secret about Clara comes to light and leaves Clara wondering who she really is and where she belongs. She's determined to be practical and find a way to help her family. Helga thinks Faith will see them though. The women hope to write a book about their adventures with Clara's illustrations, but back in Washington, tragedy awaits and their voices are silenced. Filled with grief and guilt and not protecting her children, Helga allows her husband to control her and willingly submits to the silence. Clara is not so willing. She struggles to find a place to belong while still trying to help the family who raised her. Their unwillingness to discuss anything related to the trip finds Clara at odds with her family and out on her own, all alone. A family friend helps her find a position and Clara finds friends, meaningful work and a way to support herself. She's still missing her family though and their rejections keeps her from true happiness. The first part of the book is pretty dry. It summarizes the trip and does not add any excitement or drama, at least not for me because I already knew the story. It seems to be setting up for the action of the plot but the plot never really picks up. I was curious to see what happened to Clara and how the author came to create the story. The story deals with issues of gender roles within the Norwegian community and issues of Faith. The mentions of God and Scripture are not overbearing and fit in well with the characters' personalities and culture. The author did extensive research and her story is very believable but I do not feel the writing really sparkles. This is a good companion to The Year We Were Famous. There is nothing really objectionable for young adults though they might find the story boring.

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