Court of Fives by Kate Elliot

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Though Jessamy’s mother is of “common” birth, Jessamy and her sisters are raised as ladies. Ladies are expected to remain pleasant and demure until they marry. Jessamy hates the life of a lady. Instead, she wants to run the Fives — and obstacle course on which both high-born patrons and commoners can win glory through victory. But, as a lady, Jessamy is not allowed to run the Fives and must do so in secret. When the hierarchy of the court shifts and Jessamy’s family finds itself in a precarious position, her father must make an impossible choice. The fallout from his choice changes Jessamy’s life forever, and she must use the Fives to save her family at any cost.

While the world-building in this book is truly remarkable, the plot itself is kind of boring. I think the problem is that the author tries to incorporate too much into this one story. There are two major plot-lines, both of which are exciting, good plots. But including both in this book gave me a bit too much to keep up with. The ending is great, though, and gives an excellent set-up for the second book. There are also very relevant undertones of racial/class/gender discrimination that could be tied to events of today.

*Lonestar, 2017 

Rating: 2.5/5

 

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Revolution by Deborah Wiles

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Told from contrasting viewpoints, Revolution follows Sunny, a twelve-year-old white girl living in Greenwood, Mississippi, and Raymond, a black teenage boy also living in Greenwood in the 1960’s. Though they are roughly the same age and live in the same city, Sunny and Raymond’s experiences are vastly different. Sunny gets to go to the air-conditioned movie theater, swim in the city pool, and live in a nice house. Raymond is not allowed anywhere that white people go, and is not even able to play baseball on a field with lights. Amid this disparate setting, Freedom Riders arrive in Greenwood. With the mission of supporting integration and the newest Civil Rights act, these young people bring a storm of trouble to Mississippi. Sunny and Raymond are witness to this storm, and, over the course of the summer, their lives change forever.

So, this book is LONG. I’m a huge fan of historical fiction, but it was long even for me. It’s split up so that it has two narrators (and sometimes a third, omniscient, storyteller) and non-fiction pieces are interspersed throughout the book. While I thought the non-fiction parts were pretty cool for the most part, I did feel like some of them were too long. For example, I don’t need an eight page biography on Lyndon Johnson when he’s not even in the book that much. I did like some of the testimonials from real Greenwood citizens, but some of those sections could have been cut out or shortened. Aside from its length and occasional boringness, this was a solid piece if you’re into the 1960’s and/or Civil Rights. Have patience with it (or just skip the non-fiction if you’re bored with it).

Rating: 3.5/5 

*National Book Award Finalist for Young Adult Literature, 2014

*YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults, 2015

For full analysis (including flags and SPOILERS) click here. 

Snow Falling in Spring: Coming of Age in China during the Cultural Revolution by Moying Li

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During the late 1960’s, the government of China attempted to propel its society into the modern century. Following this push to overtake “Westerners” was an uprising that called for Chinese to learn from its peasants, thus adopting a simpler way of life free from western ideas. During this time of political and cultural turmoil, Moying Li struggled to find an identity and secure herself an education. This memoir is an account of that turbulent time, as well as her never-ending fight to achieve her academic and intellectual potential.

Much like some of the other government-upheaval memoirs I’ve read, this one was pretty heavy. It’s heartbreaking to read about how Moying loses everything she loves during the Cultural Revolution, as well as her struggle to obtain basic rights such as freedom of speech and the right to read. If nothing else, Moying’s memoir shows us how lucky we are to live in such a different society (whether or not we always feel that way). If you’re a fan of memoir or are studying Chinese history, give this book a try.

Rating: 3.5/5

*IRA Young Adult Nonfiction Award, 2009

For full analysis (including flags and SPOILERS) click here.

The Harlem Hellfighters by Max Brooks; Illustrated by Caanan White

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Using stark black and white illustrations, Brooks presents the story of the little-known unit, “The Harlem Hellfighters”. The first African-American unit to be sent to the front lines in WWI, the men also spent the longest number of days in combat and were heavily decorated. However, as Brooks illustrates, their success on the battlefield did little to ease race relations in the United States. Though the men fought bravely for their freedom, they were continued to be denied Civil Rights upon returning home. The graphic novel format of this piece brings the story to life and depicts very clearly the effects of racism in the U.S.

This one was great! I’m sad to say that I don’t know much about WWI (WWII gets most of the coverage in school), so I didn’t even know about the Harlem Hellfighters. I found it especially cruel that this brave unit was treated so poorly both abroad and at home after they risked their lives for their country. What’s more, their bravery did little to quell the racial tensions after the war. As civil rights continues to remain a relevant topic for the U.S., this graphic novel is an excellent piece to explore. The story is engaging and well-researched, and it sheds light on a lesser-known early civil rights battle. There’s action, adventure, some pretty heavy battle scenes, and the best part is that it’s a true story (with some fictionalized events/characters). I recommend this book to anyone who loves history, graphic novels, or adventure stories (just be warned that there are some graphic war images).

*Rating: 4.5/5

*Maverick, 2014

For full analysis (including flags and SPOILERS) click here.

We’ve Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March by Cynthia Levinson

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Using striking historical photographs, Levinson’s work describes the 1963 Birmingham children’s march, in which thousands of school-aged children skipped class in order to be arrested for their cause. Though the Civil Rights Movement was eventually successful, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other activists initially experienced difficulty in motivating adult citizens to act for the cause. The solution: to allow children to protest and be arrested on behalf of the movement. Certainly a controversial decision, the use of children to advance the cause spurred adults into action and allowed the movement to gain the momentum it needed to succeed. Through her recounting of the event, Levinson’s work demonstrates that even young people can change the world.

As I’ve only read about the major events of the Civil Rights Movement, I was not too familiar with the Birmingham Children’s March. I also did not know that Dr. King’s initial movement was largely unsuccessful, as he and other activists were having a hard time convincing adults to join in. According to this book, it is only because the children took a stand that the movement really took a foothold. What I like best about this book is that it illustrates the power children and young adults can wield if they work together. While I’m not encouraging anyone to go to jail, I do believe in taking a strong stance for something you believe in (a strong, nonviolent stance). With civil rights once more taking center stage, this may be a good book for you to try if you are looking for something historical. You may even see some strong similarities in the book to modern events!

*Rating: 3/5

*IRA Young Adult Nonfiction Award, 2013

For full analysis (including flags and SPOILERS) click here.

They Called Themselves the K.K.K.: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

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In this historical piece littered with photographs, quotes, and documents, Bartoletti gives readers an in-depth view of the beginnings of the Klu Klux Klan. Highlighting the savagery of the Civil War and the subsequent utter crippling of the South during Reconstruction, the author demonstrates that the K.K.K originated as a response to the end of an established way of life. Though slaves were freed by the Civil War, the South was in no way prepared to treat black Americans as equals, and the North had not put measures in place to protect the nation’s newly emancipated citizens. Packed with viewpoints of white supremacists, former slaves, political leaders, and civil rights activists, Bartoletti’s work shows readers that the fight for Civil Rights began long before the 1960’s movement, and that true freedom is not easily won.

I found this book really interesting. I was mostly familiar with the K.K.K. active during the Civil Rights Movement, and did not know that the group actually formed just a few years after the Civil War. Though they did not start out as a particularly violent group, the Klan soon transformed into one and became nearly uncontrollable during their most active years. Another interesting aspect to this book was the light it shed on the lives of black Americans after the Civil War. Far from being “free” these new citizens lived in the poverty and hatred of the South, unable to find work to support their families. Though freeing the slaves was absolutely the right thing to do, the government didn’t give much thought to what their lives would be like after the war. I love the differing perspectives this book gives on this era in history, and there are a ton of pictures to illustrate the story. If you need a book for a history project (or you just love history), give this one a shot!

Rating: 4/5

*YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults, Nominee, 2011

*Booklist Starred Review

For full analysis (including flags and SPOILERS) click here.