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Adult Books 4 Teens
Inside Adult Books 4 Teens

Historical Fiction Round-Up

I have to say I expected more World War I books this year, considering it is the Centennial of that war. We did have the fabulous poetry collection/graphic novel Above the Dreamless Dead. But other than that we haven’t seen a huge push for books about the Great War. One book under review today takes place during World War I, but The End of Innocence was actually first published two years ago under the title Harvard 1914. Perhaps American publishers are waiting for the Centennial of America’s entrance into the war in 1917?

In any case, the three books reviewed today take us throughout the 20th Century and throughout the world–from Kansas in 1965 to Europe in 1914 to Yemen in the 1920s and 30s–and give us new insights into all three historical periods, as well as our own. All three grapple with issues of prejudice born of racial and ethnic differences–religious and cultural hatred in Henna House; American prejudice against Germans during World War I in The End of Innocence; and all kinds of racial, sexual, and cultural prejudice in Last Night at the Blue Angel. All three of these books are great choices for teens looking for that ever elusive category of “Historical Fiction”

ROTERT, Rebecca. Last Night at the Blue Angel. 325p. Morrow. Jul. 2014. Tr $25.99. ISBN  9780062315281. LC 2014008671.

Born and raised in Kansas in the early 1950s, wild and impulsive Naomi knows early on that she is different. Drawn to the pretty and wealthy Laura, they become friends and eventually begin a sexual affair that, once discovered by Laura’s father, forces Naomi to run away from home. She runs to Laura’s older brother, David, in Kansas City where their brief affair leaves her pregnant and adrift. Naomi turns to her childhood teacher and mentor, Sister Idelia and together, they travel to Chicago to move in with Sister Idelia’s transgender brother and friends. There, Naomi is introduced to the underground music scene at the Blue Angel Bar. This perfectly suits her unconventional nature and allows her incredible voice to shine. In alternating chapters, readers also hear from Sophia, Naomi and David’s daughter. It is 1965, and growing up in her unconventional family is leaving it’s mark on Sophia, who only wants her mother’s love and attention. It is left up to Jim, Naomi’s faithful and unappreciated lover, and Sister Idelia to provide the unconditional love and stability that Sophia craves.  When fame finally comes, it is only through great tragedy for Naomi and Sophia. This is for mature teens who may find the variations of sexuality, race, gender and lifestyle fascinating, especially for its time. They may also be surprised to discover the time’s harshness of laws against homosexuality and the rampant racial discrimination. Sophia navigates her world expecting at all times that it will fall apart, and yet holds onto an optimism that will make young adults root for her all the way.—Connie Williams, Petaluma High School, CA

JORDAN, Allegra. The End of Innocence. rev. ed. 320p. Aug. 2014. Sourcebooks. Tr $24.99. ISBN 9781492603832.

German-born Wilhelm von Lutzow Brandle, known familiarly as Wils, is related to much of the royalty in Europe. This prestige holds little sway on student opinion at the Harvard campus in 1914, however. Germans are the aggressors in a war that is sucking in all of Europe. Helen Brooks, a freshman at Radcliffe, is a talented writer who is invited to attend a seminar at Harvard, where she meets Wils and his British cousin, Riley. Wils and Helen fall in love at exactly the wrong moment in history, as they are quickly separated when Wils must leave to fight in the German army. Riley also becomes a soldier, fighting for Britain. Part of the book follows these two men, cousins and former Harvard classmates, as they freeze and starve in the trenches of opposing armies. Jordan’s inspiration for her novel comes from a plaque in Harvard’s Memorial Church that reads, “Harvard University has not forgotten its sons, who under opposite colors also gave their lives in the Great War.” Teens may not realize how deeply that war affected an America filling with European immigrants, bringing the loyalties and enmities of their homeland with them. And while Helen and Wils would be an ordinary couple in today’s world, the hatred of all things German was endemic in America during the war years. An excellent choice for romance lovers and history buffs. (Originally published as Harvard 1914: A War Romance, Gold Gable Press, 2012.)—Diane Colson, Nashville Public Library, TN

EVE, Nomi. Henna House. 320p. Aug. 2014. Scribner. Tr $26. ISBN 9781476740270. LC 2013497612.

Using the rituals of henna as a recurring theme, this story features a young Jewish girl in Yemen in the 1920s and 1930s. As the only daughter and youngest child of aging parents, Adela is in danger of being “confiscated” and adopted by Muslims if her parents die before she is married, so at the age of eight she is engaged to a young cousin, Asaf. Meanwhile, another cousin, Hani, arrives in Yemen from her home in Aden. Hani’s mother, Aunt Rahel, is an expert in the art of henna, and Adela is fascinated by the rituals, the designs, and the community of women surrounding henna. When Adela’s parents die, she moves to Aden with Hani’s family, still awaiting the return of Asaf, who has gone on an extended trip with his merchant father. By the time he returns, Adela is in love with someone else, but she marries Asaf out of obligation to her parents and the marriage contract they had made. But Asaf is not the person Adela has been remembering and imagining all these years. This is a fascinating story of family connections, love, loss, betrayal, and secrets, all tied into the designs that the women paint onto one another’s skin. Teens who like historical fiction will find much to enjoy in this tale from a time and place that is unfamiliar to most.—Sarah Flowers, formerly of Santa Clara County (CA) Library

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About Mark Flowers

Mark Flowers is the Young Adult Librarian at the John F. Kennedy Library in Vallejo, CA. He reviews for a variety of library journals and blogs and recently contributed a chapter to The Complete Summer Reading Program Manual: From Planning to Evaluation (YALSA, 2012). Contact him via Twitter @droogmark