Clint Smith’s book, How the Word is Passed, was absolutely once of my favorites this year. I devoured the text, and definitely put off more pressing matters in favor of reading his words.
Smith sought to reckon with slavery in America by reconciling his own personal experiences with the story of slavery. He visited many historical landmarks, interviewed tour guides and visitors, and then reflected on what he saw and what they had to say.
Although I was aware of much of the history that Smith discussed, the combination of his reflections, his interviews, and his descriptions of each place made the process of reading this book summarily enlightening. Smith’s writing is so lyrical that it almost felt like I was reading a long form poem instead of a narrative.
Honestly, I think this book is for every American. I’ve seen so many fellow teachers post about this book, and now I see why! I could see teachers assigning a chapter or two for either an English or a History class. Please pick up a copy for yourself.More info →
(YA reading level - graphic depictions of violence and use of the "n" word is historical documents)
Crow was an abandoned baby who washed up on the shore of a small island in Maine. She was taken in and adopted by a man named Osh. At twelve years old, Crow starts questioning her identity and her origin. Her investigations lead her in the direction towards an abandoned island nearby that once housed a leper colony and rumors of buried treasure.
This wasn't a book that captured my interest, and I'm not sure why. I loved the setting, the story was sweet and simple, and the writing was lovely. However, for some reason I just didn't connect with the characters. As one Goodreads review noted, the book was both heartbreaking and boring at the same time.
Notably, although this book takes place in the 1920s, the story is really timeless. The only indication of historical content is the concern over "lepers" and the leper colony that was located near Crow's adoptive home.More info →
Spies, Communists, the FBI, the McCarthy era, New York City, and an unhappy marriage... The main character is Katharina Edgeworth. She worked for the UN during WWII as a translator, and now she has settled down as a wife and mother. She is miserable in that role and wallowing in self-pity when she is recruited by the FBI to spy on a Communist organization centered in NYC.
This story is much more so about a woman that feels trapped in her marriage and motherhood. The history is there, however, it often reads like background noise to her personal story. She doesn’t really question the role she’s playing for the FBI, or whether Communism is really a threat. Really, she’s just excited to have a life outside of her apartment and away from her boys. I really wish the author had focused more on the history, as the setup for that history was really engaging. Instead, much of the book focuses on Katharina’s internal monologue.
If you’re looking for a book about motherhood and all of its trials, this is definitely a book for you. However, don’t pick up this book expecting to learn more about the McCarthy era.More info →
Amy Hanley first appears as a regular 20 something women. A bit lonely, but exited about her plans to become a EMT and dedicated in that pursuit. Still, as the story unfolds, clues about Amy's mental well being gradually reveal a deeply depressed and isolated woman. I could throw many labels towards Amy relating to any number of afflictions - still, her story was really about unresolved and unrecognized grief. She's a frustrating and unreliable narrator, but ultimately I only felt sympathy for her circumstances. If you enjoyed Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, you will definitely appreciate this story.More info →
This book succinctly summarizes and effectively argues how the for-profit system of fines and fees criminalizes poverty in the United States. It makes its case by following the stories of three people who were caught up in the system. Messenger supports these anecdotal stories with data from many states detailing how this system has caused significant harm. It's clear from his assessment that the only groups who are winning from this system are the for-profit prisons. It costs the government more to criminalize poverty and it certainly doesn't help those in poverty to escape their circumstances, nor does it make communities safer in any shape or form. It's clear that this system needs to change and hopefully politicians will be clear-eyed enough to look past the immediate profits and towards the longstanding damage these fines and fees create.More info →
Well, I started this book about 36 hours ago, and I'm now finished.
I'm well versed in the story of the Freedom Rides. I read a full book outlining the events when I was younger, I have taken more than one class on the Civil Rights movement, and have shown more than one documentary in class. Still, the gripping account of Charles Person's experience with the Freedom Rides during the Civil Rights movement enthralled me from cover to cover. The authenticity in his story and in the emotion he relays is unparalleled. It's one of the best historical memoirs I've read.
For instance, in one section, Person explains the fear one feels when one encounters pure racial hate. As he notes, " If you want to know what Anniston felt like when our bus arrived, go to the deadly sites- the deadly nights - of the Civil Rights Era... fix your thoughts on what it must have been like on each of those solemn, horrific, now sacred, nights. Stand still..." He then goes on to describe the racial violence the Freedom Riders encountered when they arrived in Anniston, Alabama. Person discusses many accounts of violent attacks and many accounts of friendship, bravery, and true white allyship. Still, it's the way he describes them that makes this book enthralling and timeless. It's simply a must-read.
More people should be talking about and reading this book. It is one of the best accounts I've read that draws a throughline between the protests of the Civil Rights era to today. If you teach U.S. History, grab a copy of this book, display it in your classroom, and share the story with students. You can read sections to a full class and I have no doubt that it will keep their attention.More info →
(Middle Grade writing level – no content concerns)
Attack of the Turtle takes place during the Revolutionary War. Nathan Wade has grown up a Patriot and he is there when his cousin, David Bushnell (a real historical figure) invents the first submarine
With this story, the history was much stronger than the character development. The text was written with a fifth-grade mentality and a 7th-grade vocabulary. Really the kind of “gee-whiz” attitude of the main protagonist was a bit too peppy to seem real. Beyond that, the story was a bit thin for a full book. I think this book is great for that student who just loves anything about war, but it’s just a book for the classroom shelf. Place it on the shelf and hand it out to that student who keeps asking you when you’ll be teaching about World War II.More info →
This novel starts from the perspective of Travis Wren, a man who has been hired to search for Maggie St. James. His search leads him to a reclusive commune called the pastoral.
A History of Wild Places is not about any history, instead, it's more of a contemporary dystopia. This book had a timeless quality. It could have taken place in the 1950s or the current day. The story follows the path of three characters as they become lost within the the world of a reclusive commune. Without giving away the plot, I would note that the novel really explores conceptions of reality - and how that conception can be so blurred by invasive ideas. I do wish that the author had explored some of the more details that are embedded along the way. Still, this novel was very engrossing and I was finished read it with a few days.More info →
(Middle-Grade reading level - racism, mentions a lynching, an assault - however, all is dealt with appropriately)
This was a book I wished I had as a child. A "Little House on the Praire" styled book, but with a more worldly point of view. Hanna is a half-Chinese girl trying to make her way with her father in the Dakota Territory. She's an aspiring dressmaker who just wants the opportunity to attend school and be accepted by the all-white community. Written by Linda Sue Park, the text and story are expertly crafted at the perfect level for middle school readers. There are big and complex ideas framed with simple language.
The history of this time is embedded within the story without being too dark or needlessly laborious. Hanna is an incredibly likable and sympathetic character. The frustrations she faces from family, racism, and the social mores of the time are real and muddy. None of the characters fit into a neat box. This book deserves just as much love as the Wilder series, and I would love to see several more written.More info →
(YA reading level - there is some racism and the use of racial slurs, beyond that, the book is very clean)
Valora Luck is the daughter of a white mother and a Chinese father. She and her brother have been trained as circus performers, and both parents are deceased. Luck decides to disguise herself as a well-off widow and is able to finagle her way onto the infamous Titanic shortly before it leaves that harbor. She then finds her brother aboard and is able to entangle herself in many dramatic plotlines, as she attempts to pass herself off as both a male Chinese circus performer and a widowed first-class passenger.
My main criticism of this book is that it didn't need to take place on the Titanic. Much of the plot could have taken place on any ship crossing the Atlantic during this time. I understand that Lee wanted to explore the history of the Chinese men who survived the Titanic, but a fictional female character was the main character of the story. I think the struggles Luck faced (racism, poverty, the Chinese Exclusion Act, etc) could have been better explored if the story just took place on a ship - no ice needed. I spent much of the book waiting for the ship to hit the ice, as then all of the stories that led up to the sinking wouldn't really matter. That was really my struggle with this book. I knew that all of the plots would be stressed or demolished towards the end, so I never really found myself invested in the stories of the characters. I do look forward to reading more Stacey Lee books, as I really enjoyed her writing, just not the plot structure of this particular tale.More info →