A straightforward slavery story told with striking skill and sensitivity.

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LET MY SOUL FLY

A debut YA novel about the American slave trade in the 1840s and ’50s features historical commentary and discussion questions for readers. 

In Mississippi, Mary Anne and Lizzie, two young slave girls and fast friends, are racing and laughing when, rounding a bend in the road, they are snatched by traders. Because the importing of slaves was banned in 1808, they are even more valuable, especially for the burgeoning trade in newly settled Texas. The girls are taken to New Orleans, the Texas port of Indianola, and eventually to the Jackson plantation near present-day Austin. Along the way, they meet Henri, who gives them practical advice, and Minerva, who reminds them to keep true to their minds and hearts, regardless of whatever evil is visited upon them. The girls witness a short-lived uprising onboard the Endeavor in the Gulf of Mexico, but the heroic rebels are betrayed by Tommy, the conflicted mulatto cabin boy. More adventures await the girls at the Jackson plantation, where Missy Nellie, the owner’s wife, is dangerously unpredictable and seems to have a special animus toward their new young friend, Noah, another mulatto. Lizzie gets a place as a cook, and Mary Anne is assigned as a helper—mainly as a seamstress—to wise old Tempie. Mary Anne had been taught to read, a skill that must be kept secret but will come in very handy. The intriguing plot eventually involves a covert cotton-ginning operation and the buying of Noah’s freedom, which involves raising money on the sly and a lot of dangerous sneaking around by Mary Anne and Lizzie. Cooper tells an engaging story with no annoying textual slips. Mary Anne and Lizzie are strong, spunky characters, though their hard-won lessons try them severely. The historical addendum gives readers virtually two books in one, and there is also a short bibliography. While this could be a valuable classroom text, the absorbing tale should appeal to both teens and adults.

A straightforward slavery story told with striking skill and sensitivity.

Pub Date: Sept. 14, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4791-6794-4

Page Count: 228

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: May 4, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

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A promising debut that’s awake to emotional, political, and cultural tensions across time and continents.

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HOMEGOING

A novel of sharply drawn character studies immersed in more than 250 hard, transformative years in the African-American diaspora.

Gyasi’s debut novel opens in the mid-1700s in what is now Ghana, as tribal rivalries are exploited by British and Dutch colonists and slave traders. The daughter of one tribal leader marries a British man for financial expediency, then learns that the “castle” he governs is a holding dungeon for slaves. (When she asks what’s held there, she’s told “cargo.”) The narrative soon alternates chapters between the Ghanans and their American descendants up through the present day. On either side of the Atlantic, the tale is often one of racism, degradation, and loss: a slave on an Alabama plantation is whipped “until the blood on the ground is high enough to bathe a baby”; a freedman in Baltimore fears being sent back South with the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act; a Ghanan woman is driven mad from the abuse of a missionary and her husband’s injury in a tribal war; a woman in Harlem is increasingly distanced from (and then humiliated by) her husband, who passes as white. Gyasi is a deeply empathetic writer, and each of the novel’s 14 chapters is a savvy character portrait that reveals the impact of racism from multiple perspectives. It lacks the sweep that its premise implies, though: while the characters share a bloodline, and a gold-flecked stone appears throughout the book as a symbolic connector, the novel is more a well-made linked story collection than a complex epic. Yet Gyasi plainly has the talent to pull that off: “I will be my own nation,” one woman tells a British suitor early on, and the author understands both the necessity of that defiance and how hard it is to follow through on it.

A promising debut that’s awake to emotional, political, and cultural tensions across time and continents.

Pub Date: June 7, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-94713-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2016

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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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