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Adult Books 4 Teens
Inside Adult Books 4 Teens

Weekly Reviews: Historical Fiction & Reviewer Spotlight

Today we highlight three recent historical novels set in a variety of time periods and locations. I also thought it would be fun to highlight one of our AB4T reviewers, Connie Williams, who has been reviewing historical fiction since the blog began.

First, a brief introduction to the reviews. Orphan Train moves between contemporary Maine and Depression-era Minnesota. Both settings feature young women who have lost their families. Though I have encountered both fiction and nonfiction for younger readers on the topic of orphan trains (Joan Nixon Lowry’s Orphan Train Adventures and Andrea Warren’s nonfiction account, Orphan Train Rider: One Boy’s True Story), I cannot think of another for teen readers. This is a fascinating, moving slice of history not widely known. Author Kline sums it up on her website, “Between 1854 and 1929, so-called “orphan trains” transported more than 200,000 orphaned, abandoned, and homeless children – many of them first-generation Irish Catholic immigrants – from the coastal cities of the eastern United States to the Midwest for “adoption” (often, in fact, indentured servitude).” For more, take a look at her webpage about her research process. NPR interviewed Kline just a few days ago about the novel.

Garden of Stones also alternates time periods, 1978 San Francisco and World War II-era Los Angeles and the Manzanar internment camp. This is a story in which a daughter seeks to learn more about her mother’s past, and ends up being introduced to her tragic adolescence. Garden of Stones was the Target Book Club Pick for March 2013. Teens might already know the author — Sophie Littlefield has written in a variety of genres, including the popular post-apocalytic zombie series, Aftertime.

The Forgotten Queen is D.L. Bogdan’s fourth novel set in the Tudor era. Here she tackles a little-known figure, Margaret Tudor, Henry VIII’s older sister. Give this one to fans of Philippa Gregory, Alison Weir, and Nancy Bilyeau.

And now, more about Connie. I asked her to introduce herself, and here is what she has to share:
I am the Teacher Librarian at Petaluma High School in Petaluma, CA.  I was a junior high school librarian for over 20 years before moving up to the High School 4 years ago. I’ve been the President of the California School Library Association and am now the Chair of the AASL Legislative Committee. I consider myself to be a school library advocate and I’m always writing letters, visiting legislators and generally trying to get the word out about strong school libraries.

I’ve always been an avid reader of historical novels. and so when I started  writing reviews for AB4T I asked to only get historical novels – mostly medieval mysteries. Little did I know that I’d be introduced to such an array of historical fiction. I’ve met  Catherine the Great, learned about life in Tokyo during WWII, been on a ranch in the midwest during a rash of mysterious deaths, and sent to an island because of typhoid. Reading about people far away both in time and location has been a treat. AB4T has sent me books I’d never find on my own and I am honored and grateful to be a part of this column.

I am married and have two grown children. My husband works in the film industry which means that he gets to work in interesting locations all over. My children claim that I have replaced them with my two incredibly brilliant and cute dachshunds… and they may be right.

KLINE, Christina Baker. Orphan Train. 288p. Morrow. Apr. 2013. pap. $14.99. ISBN 9780061950728.  Orphan Train

Adult/High School–Ninety-year-old Vivian has an attic full of memories. Seventeen-year-old Molly has nothing but a potential stint in juvie for stealing Jane Eyre from the library, a bad attitude, and foster parents who don’t want her. The two meet when Molly chooses the community-service assignment of helping Vivian clean her attic. Molly assumes that working for this “rich old lady” will be just a quick in-and-out job to clean up her record. Instead, Molly and Vivian open trunks full of history.  Vivian, born into grueling poverty in Ireland, arrived in America only to have her family perish in a fire. In 1929 the Orphan Train sent orphaned children from New York to Minnesota to find jobs and a home. What Vivian found was further poverty and humiliating living conditions. Through the kindness of her teacher, she finally found a safe home. As Vivian’s story unfolds, Molly discovers that she wants to help Vivian meet her past, all the while unknowingly helping herself in the process. Both women must come to terms with the choices they’ve made, and can still make, in their lives. Vivian still has opportunities to open her heart. Molly, on the brink of rolling out of a “system” that, like Vivian’s orphan-train experience, gave her few opportunities, discovers that she, too, can determine her own future. Many teens will like this story for its juxtaposition of eras: Molly’s story is contemporary and realistic, Vivian’s reflects a past time and culture. This novel will leave readers wanting to know more, yet satisfied that it ends in just the right way.–Connie Williams, Petaluma High School, CA

LITTLEFIELD, Sophie. Garden of Stones. 320p. Harlequin. Mar. 2013. pap. $14.95. ISBN 9780778313526.  Garden of Stones

Adult/High School–In June, 1978, sitting at his desk in the dank San Francisco basement of Reg’s Gym, Reg is murdered. Hours later, Patty Takeda listens as police question her mother, Lucy, about her whereabouts at the time of the crime. Puzzled that her mother knows this man, Patty investigates. Seeking information about Reg at his apartment, she discovers a box labeled “Manzanar.” Once the box is opened, Lucy’s story is revealed through pictures and artifacts and later from Lucy herself. Growing up in Los Angeles as the beautiful daughter of wealthy Renjiro Takeda and stunning Miyako, 14-year-old Lucy’s life suddenly changed when her father died. Soon after, Pearl Harbor was attacked, and within weeks the Japanese American community was herded into camps where they experienced the starkest privation and disorder. Lucy discovered that the corruption of the camp overseers surrounded her beautiful mother in a way that caused her to take the most drastic steps to keep Lucy safe. Counterpointing stories between Patty’s 1970’s investigation of her mother’s past and Lucy’s own story, Garden of Stones takes readers into the internment camps and the horrendous decisions one must make when there are few options. Teens will gain insight into the tragic decision that created these camps and will find much to think about.Connie Williams, Petaluma High School, CA

BOGDAN, D. L. The Forgotten Queen. 384p. bibliog. Kensington. Jan. 2013. pap. $15.00. ISBN 978-0-7582-7138-9.  The Forgotten Queen

Adult/High School–Born to King Henry VII and Queen Elizabeth of York, Margaret is the sister of Arthur and Henry. With the Tudors now firmly established on the throne of England, much depends on the alliances they can make. When Margaret learns that she is to marry King James IV of Scotland, her sense of duty is put to the test because she must leave England to live among the “wild Scots.”  But Margaret falls in love with her new husband, and with the birth of her son Jamie, she claims Scotlandas her home. When King James dies, leaving Margaret as the Regent for her son (now King James V), she must keep Jamie safe from warring clans as well as intervention from France and England. As he lay dying, James warned Margaret to think only of her child and his ascent to the throne, but Margaret is unable to resist the charms of handsome Archibald Douglas, leader of the influential Douglas clan. With her brother Henry now on the throne of England, Margaret faces the conflicts of warring nations and family ties. Teens will learn much about the culture of Tudor England and Stewart Scotland while also observing this entitled young woman make mistake after mistake because of her inability to see past her family ties or her own needs. Offer this to fans of historical fiction who love reading about the many Tudors of the 15th and 16th centuries. Margaret’s story is an important one because her marriages, first to James, then to Douglas, begat children who, in succeeding generations, ultimately completed the Tudor goal of uniting England and Scotland.–Connie Williams, Petaluma High School, CA

Angela Carstensen About Angela Carstensen

Angela Carstensen is Head Librarian and an Upper School Librarian at Convent of the Sacred Heart in New York City. Angela served on the Alex Awards committee for four years, chairing the 2008 committee, and chaired the first YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adult committee in 2009. Recently, she edited Outstanding Books for the College Bound: Titles and Programs for a New Generation (ALA Editions, 2011). Contact her via Twitter @AngeReads.