A historical novel examines racial tensions in mid-20th-century Bermuda.
Desma Johnson is a black Bermudian girl who is a week away from her 16th birthday. Growing up in a segregated Bermuda in 1959, she’s a brilliant scholar, having earned the Empire Scholarship, beating out many other “coloured” and white students in the Commonwealth. Her father’s gift to her was to be his treating her entire class to the movies. But this is where Desma’s troubles begin. Rumors of a boycott on the island begin circulating. The Progressive Group, said to be initiators of the boycott, seeks to end racial segregation in Bermuda, and they plan to do so by boycotting the movie theaters. Desma is upset by this development, but as the anxieties around the boycott build, she becomes aware of the racial tensions that she had previously been sheltered from in her paradise home of Bermuda. She comes to see a new, less favorable side of neighbors who were once friendly and supportive and realizes the harshness of the shadow that racial divisions cast over the island. In frequently expository prose, Maxwell tells a simple tale of a moment in a country’s history that is often erased. One-dimensional characters, jerky dialogue, and an awkward and excessive use of metaphors often take away from the significance of the revolution that should be at the center of this story.
The pivotal moment this Jamaican import describes deserves a more artful vehicle for the telling.
(Historical fiction. 12-16)
A low-wattage collection of original stories and poems, as unmemorable as it is unappealingly titled.
The collection was inspired by a perceived paucity of short science fiction for teen readers, and its production costs were covered by a Kickstarter campaign. The editors gather a dozen poems and 21 stories from a stable of contributors who, after headliners Jack McDevitt and Nancy Holder, will be largely unknown even to widely read fans of the genre. The tales place their characters aboard spacecraft or space stations, on other worlds or in future dystopias, but only rarely do the writers capture a credibly adolescent voice or sensibility. Standouts in this department are the Heinlein-esque “The Stars Beneath Our Feet,” by Stephen D. Covey & Sandra McDonald, about a first date/joyride in space gone wrong, and Camille Alexa’s portrait of a teen traumatized by a cyberspace assault (“Over It”). Along with a few attempts to craft futuristic slang, only Lavie Tidhar’s fragmentary tale of Tel Aviv invaded by successive waves of aliens, doppelgangers, zombies and carnivorous plants (“The Myriad Dangers”) effectively lightens the overall earnest tone. Aside from fictional aliens and modified humans, occasional references to dark skin (“Out of the Silent Sea,” Dale Lucas) are the only signs of ethnic diversity. Most of the free-verse poetry makes only oblique, at best, references to science-fictional themes.
A change of pace from the teeming swarms of fantasy and paranormal romance but too underpowered to achieve escape velocity.
(Science fiction/short stories. 12-14)
A child of Japanese immigrants looks back on her World War II–era experiences in internment camps and afterward.
Changing names and inventing details to fill in the gaps between memories, Arakawa, in character as Shizuye, begins with her 1932 birth on a Murphy bed in San Francisco, takes her narrative through multiple moves that become forced ones in the wake of Pearl Harbor, then concludes with a temporary postwar settlement in Denver and final journey back to the West Coast. Despite the fictive fill, her account is spotty and episodic, more hindered than helped in its course by such details as painstaking descriptions of the route between one home and the local playground or tedious tallies of the comings and goings of briefly known schoolmates. As much a personal story as testament to a historical outrage, her recollections mingle references to domestic strife, pre-adolescent bed-wetting, and suicidal impulses following the internment with incidents of being jeered as a “Jap” on the way home from school, encounters with neighborhood “racial covenants,” and other manifestations of prejudice—not to mention repeated forcible removals to hastily constructed camps in California and, later, Arkansas. Occasional mentions of “Caucasian” visitors or a friend’s “dark skin” serve as reminders that most of the figures here are Asian or Asian-American.
These are experiences that need to be remembered, though Arakawa’s are not as compellingly related as other novels or personal accounts of the travesty.
(Historical fiction. 12-16)