What I Read in August 2016 Part IV. . .Stella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper--Middle Grades Historical Fiction
Stella likes the night. She likes to creep outside and practice writing by the light of the moon and the stars. It's her big secret. She doesn't like to write- it doesn't come easily to her. She finds it difficult to put on paper the words in her head. Late one night when she's supposed to be sleeping, Stella and her little brother accidentally discover a Klu Klux Klan meeting near her home. What's worse, Stella fears she recognized the leader's horse by his fancy saddle and Stella knows the man is a prominent member of the community. What can they do to stay safe? Her community is ready and willing to take a stand and make a change.
This book is best described as Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry light. It is aimed at a younger age group and teaches gentle lessons about overcoming obstacles. The plot is pretty good. I had a tough time putting it down because I kept waiting for some action. There isn't a lot of action. This book is kind of slow moving like the south in summer. The story picks up more after the first few chapters. I liked how the close-knit community came together to support each other. I also especially appreciated that not all the white people in town are racist and mean and that Stella finds out that people are more complicated than they seem. I liked learning about Stella's Mama's folk remedies and what people did for entertainment.
I was appalled and found it hard to believe that grown men would literally take candy from a child and physically assault a child! I'm not sure that was based on any true incidents but I suppose it could happen. There's another scene in the book that completely shocked me and made me really mad. I also found that scene a bit unbelievable.
The main character Stella is not only African American living in rural North Carolina in the 1930s, she also seems to have a learning difference. She was the last in her class to learn to read and slow to learn to write as well. She's still slow to write but works hard to overcome her problem. It doesn't help that she doesn't have access to a library or current textbooks. She does discover that she enjoys writing about what she thinks and I admire her for working hard and trying to do something that doesn't come easily. Her friend Tony is crazy to do what he does at night but I liked him and how he was proactive in changing his life.
I liked this book and I think my older niece will when she's a little older. Adults may prefer the classic Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry but tweens will like this more gentle story to introduce them to segregation, hatred and prejudice and teach them good lessons.
Blood Secret by Kathryn Lasky--Young Adult Historical Fiction/Contemporary Fiction
At the age of five, Jerry learned to swallow her words. By the age of eight, she stopped speaking totally when her hippie mother disappeared. The Catholic Charities homes Jerry has been shuttled off to think she'll have closure if she believes her mother is dead. She just has to pray for her mother's soul. Jerry isn't so sure. At 14, Jerry has not healed or found closure. She is sent to live with her great-great aunt Constanza, a 94-year-old New Mexico native who bakes the most delicious bread. Aunt Constanza has some unusual superstitions and customs, Jerry, who has been Catholic her whole life like Aunt Costanza, has never seen before. When sent on an errand to the basement, Jerry finds an old trunk with family artifacts, including a bit of blood-stained lace. When she picks up the lace, she finds herself in a strange dream-like world, learning long-hidden family secrets. The silence has been stretched out for generations and it's up to Jerry whether she will have the courage to speak.
This book didn't quite meet my expectations. I thought at first it would be a dual narrative with most of the story set during the Spanish Inquisition. Most of the book is about Jerry with brief stories about people from the past over generations-people who were affected by the Spanish Inquisition and the silence that came from that. I found it incredibly hard to believe that in all Constanza's 94 years she never once met a Jew or learned anything about the Jewish religion and religious practices. Certain things she did definitely would have been a dead giveaway for anyone familiar with Judaism. Even without the blurb on the dust jacket, I would have known there was some Jewish influence somewhere. I also felt a little annoyed by Costanza's uncomfortableness with Jerry's revelations. She's a very old woman who was raised a certain way but over 94 years you would think she would have a)looked in the trunk before and b)have more of an open mind. Granted, I am not sure I would want to know either.
I couldn't relate to Jerry or any of the other characters. It was hard to get to know her ancestors because they didn't appear on page for very long, probably because this is a YA novel so it's short. The subject would probably work better as an adult novel giving readers more time to spend with each of the characters, learning about them and their families. It's not hard to feel sorry for them or react to what happens, I just didn't really relate to any of them. The ancestor I liked best was Zayana. Her strength and wisdom were amazing in the face of adversity. She was brave, daring and incredibly strong. I could see her influence on later generations.
The one thing that kept me reading way longer than I should have is the subject of Jerry's mother. What happened to her? Will Jerry ever see her mother again? When Jerry's secret is revealed, it was a bit of a let down. I was expecting more about what happened. I don't really get a sense of closure from the brief glimpse into Jerry's memory. It seems Jerry's mother comes from a long line of "crazy" women, but in at least one case, "crazy" stemmed from post-traumatic stress. Why was Jeraldine crazy? What happened after 1910? Why was her daughter crazy and what really went on in Millie's mind?
This book is written for teen readers and is pretty graphic. The author doesn't spare words in her description of the Inquisition. I knew a little bit about it but wasn't quite prepared for just how horrific it was. Luis's story is the most disturbing of them all. I just don't even understand how that much evil and hatred can exist in this world.
I think this book is probably geared towards school curriculum. It certainly warrants discussion and comparisons with the Holocaust and even what is happening now. I think adults who want to know about the Inquisition would be better off finding another book to read.
There isn't a romance in this story but there is a hint of a sex scene (between adults) in the first chapter. It's shown through 5-year-old Jerry's eyes and she doesn't understand what she's seeing or why her mother jokingly refers to her as a peeping Tom. It was obvious to me, as an adult, what was going on and especially later when Jerry remembers her mom had a "thing" about men.