Looking for some good old-fashioned story-telling? Look no further. I had a chance to hear Alex George talk about A Good American at ALA Midwinter. He is British — not what I was expecting given that this is a big traditional American novel. He was inspired by his own family and his own experiences. His ancestors moved from England to New Zealand; his mother moved back to the U.K., and he himself emigrated to the United States as an adult. So he decided to write about the experience of making a life in an unfamiliar country. Hear about his trip to Dallas from the man himself in this blog post. He has a sense of humor!
Music, from opera to jazz, is an important element of the book from the first page, which begins “Always, there was music.” George writes about his passion for music in another post, and has put together a playlist for the novel.
A Good American is getting press all over the place, as you can see from the author’s homepage. For teens looking for a saga that will sweep them up easily and immediately, this is a great choice.
Adult/High School–When Jette Furst hears Frederick Meisenheimer singing from behind the privet hedge in the Grosse Garden, she feels as though the song were meant just for her; and indeed it was, for Frederick had already lost his heart to this large, gawky young woman. Jette’s mother, and most of Hanover society, condemns a match with a man of no property; so when Jette becomes pregnant, the young lovers flee to America. It is 1904 and, thanks to the kindness of strangers, they make a good life in Beatrice, Missouri, where Frederick gets a job tending bar at the Nick-Nack. Their son, Joseph, and daughter, Rosa, are born in quick succession, and life in their new country, and in Beatrice society, begins in earnest. But World War I devastates them with Frederick’s death. Prohibition and the Depression require Jette to turn the Nick-Nack into a restaurant. The family’s friendship with an African American musician named Lomax collides with the growing overt racism that shows them the underside of American life. Joseph takes over the restaurant and gets married, and the family grows to include his four children. Rosa returns from college to teach at the local school. The panoply that is America is played out in these characters, their music, and their town. George spins this captivating family tale in a clear, straightforward, unsentimental style. His novel has much to offer teens with its easy manner, quirky characters, and story lines that describe an immigrant experience in a country on the verge of becoming great.–Connie Williams, Petaluma High School, CA