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Weekly Reviews: Historical Fiction & Reviewer Spotlight
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.
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
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
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
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.
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