Wednesday, January 9, 2013

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

Sophia's War: A Tale of the Revolution by Avi -- Middle Grades Historical Fiction

Sophia's family has always lived in New York City, what seems to be the center of life in the American colonies. Her brother taught her to read and they have enjoyed reading and discussing many books together. William caught revolutionary fervor while reading Thomas Paine's Common Sense and passed that feeling on to Sophia. Now, 1776, William has gone to be a soldier and the rest of the Calderwoods have fled New York in the wake of battle. Sophia and her mother return to the city to learn about life under British occupation and discover whether it is safe for her father, a secret rebel, to return. Sophia discovers that British soldiers are hanging spies, are cruel to prisoners and quarter their officers in the home of private citizens without permission. She also discovers that British officers, namely, one Lieutenant John Andre, can be charming, witty and so handsome; enough that twelve-year-old Sophia develops a deep and everlasting crush on Andre. When Sophia discovers the horrible truth about what has happened to her brother and Andre breaks faith with her, she vows vengeance against the British. Four years later she has the opportunity to become a spy in British headquarters. Should she risk her life uncovering secrets? She knows she must for the brave soldiers like her brother, have risked their lives. What she discovers could alter the course of the war and change her country forever. She's determined the rebels will not have died in vain, but who will believe a young girl? Can Sophia stop something from happening before it's too late? This is an interesting look at the events that led up to Benedict Arnold turning coat. By using a young girl to tell the story, Avi makes a history lesson more relateable and interesting for readers. I liked Sophia because she's spunky and brave and not afraid to stand up for what she believes in. She defies the conventions of the time while still accepting that while war creates unusual situations but people still have preconceived ideas about girls. She's willing to play along in order to get what she wants. Avi did a great job getting into the head and describing an adolescent girl. Her emotions and feelings seem true to life. The descriptions of period life are thoroughly detailed. He doesn't shy away from gritty, unpleasant details. The reader is treated to everything but the smells of eighteenth century British prisons. Some of the descriptions may be too difficult for younger readers to handle. The plot moves along fairly quickly. The first half drags a bit, making the book rather long for the 9-12 age category. In the second half of the book I got caught up in Sophia's adventures and couldn't put the book down even though I know what's in the history books. The main problem with this book is Avi's detached writing style. While I enjoyed the story and liked Sophia, I didn't find myself fully immersed in the story the way I did with Ann Rinaldi's Finishing Becca. Sophia was not as engaging a narrator in the second half of the story and stepped out of the plot to write directly to the reader, jarring the flow of the narrative. She also included events which had been told to her which slow down the plot a bit at the end. I think using real people to populate the rest of the novel hindered the plot a bit because there was only so much Avi could do with them. A few more invented characters to interact with Sophia might have made the story a bit more interesting. Overall though, I liked the book and would recommend it to anyone 10+ who wants to learn about American History. 

The Wild Queen: The Days and Nights of Mary, Queen of Scots by Carolyn Meyer -- Young Adult Historical Fiction

This latest entry in the Young Royals series is about Mary, Queen of Scots, who was the only legitimate child of James V of Scotland and granddaughter to Margaret Tudor, sister of Henry VIII of England. From birth, Mary was in danger of kidnapping by the English and her own country was torn by warring factions. At a young age, she was sent to the French court to become engaged to the dauphin. Mary enjoyed her time at the French court once she got used it it. By the time they were married,  Mary had come to care for Francois like a sister. Francois was an immature boy but everyone hoped for an heir when the unthinkable happened: Francois died. Stranded alone in a foreign country without allies, Mary realized she was a pawn in a larger political game. She was determined to chart her own course and return to Scotland to rule. It proved far more difficult than she ever expected to be a female ruler in the 16th century and thus was her downfall. I found this book very difficult to read. It is very long and covers Mary's entire life. I already know the story so I didn't feel compelled to finish the book. I did eventually get through it, but it was slow going. The time frame covered is too vast, especially for a young adult novel. The prose reads like a biography rather than a novel. I just could not enjoy this book due to the style of writing. I liked the first three books in the series but the last few have been rather dull. If you are interested in Mary, Queen of Scots then I recommend the Royal Diaries book Mary Queen of Scots: Queen Without a Country, 1553 by Kathryn Lasky or The Queen's Own Fool by Jane Yolen and Robert Harris.

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