Immersive and witty, it illuminates as a historical piece yet falters when connecting the snapshots into a cohesive picture

UNSTOPPABLE OCTOBIA MAY

With elegant prose and a spunky narrator, Flake’s latest offers detailed snapshots of African-American life in 1953.

“Death does not look like people think it should. Sometimes it wears summer suits and fine hats, silk gloves, and handmade shoes. Like him.” The “him” Octobia May refers to is Mr. Davenport, a boarder in her aunt Shuma’s rooming house that she believes is a vampire. With the help of her best friend, Jonah, Octobia May stalks the man, telling everyone of her suspicions. It is a unique perspective, depicting a character of color during the 1950s who is more enraptured of horror-movie prototypes than anything else. But Octobia May’s passion begins to feel like compulsion, then obsession. When she insists that she sees what others cannot, she becomes an unreliable narrator—and one who sounds desperate. Then later, when the book shifts from vampires and talking to the dead to Octobia May’s desire to become a detective, the plot feels crowded and loses its emotional resonance. Flake’s incorporation of the social and political milestones of the era makes the story a veritable compendium. From Masons to McCarthy to Pall Malls, Camels and Lucky Strikes, the tale offers an intriguing insight into an important time in U.S. history. However, jarring transitions and a narrator who at times feels emotionally disconnected ultimately leave readers wanting.

Immersive and witty, it illuminates as a historical piece yet falters when connecting the snapshots into a cohesive picture (. (Historical fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 30, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-545-60960-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2014

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Japanese-American Aki and her family operate an asparagus farm in Westminster, Calif., until they are summarily uprooted and...

SYLVIA & AKI

Two third-grade girls in California suffer the dehumanizing effects of racial segregation after the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor in 1942 in this moving story based on true events in the lives of Sylvia Mendez and Aki Munemitsu.

Japanese-American Aki and her family operate an asparagus farm in Westminster, Calif., until they are summarily uprooted and dispatched to an internment camp in Poston, Ariz., for the duration of World War II. As Aki endures the humiliation and deprivation of the hot, cramped barracks, she wonders if there’s “something wrong with being Japanese.” Sylvia’s Mexican-American family leases the Munemitsu farm. She expects to attend the local school but faces disappointment when authorities assign her to a separate, second-rate school for Mexican kids. In response, Sylvia’s father brings a legal action against the school district arguing against segregation in what eventually becomes a successful landmark case. Their lives intersect after Sylvia finds Aki’s doll, meets her in Poston and sends her letters. Working with material from interviews, Conkling alternates between Aki and Sylvia’s stories, telling them in the third person from the war’s start in 1942 through its end in 1945, with an epilogue updating Sylvia’s story to 1955.

Pub Date: July 12, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-58246-337-7

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Tricycle

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2011

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This 2015 New Visions Award winner offers a complex narrative and inspires readers to check their privilege to address...

AHIMSA

Although Kelkar’s debut novel takes place in colonial India in the 1940s, when Indian citizens were fighting for independence from British rule, it is uncannily timely: 10-year old Anjali grapples with issues of social justice in many of the same ways young people are today.

When Anjali’s mother quits her job to become a freedom fighter, Anjali is reluctant to join the struggle, as it means she will have to eschew her decorated skirts and wear home-spun khadi (hand-woven cotton) instead, inviting the mockery of her school nemeses. But as her relationship with her mother evolves, her experience of and commitment to activism change as well. When her mother is imprisoned and commences a hunger strike, Anjali continues her work and begins to unlearn her prejudices. According to an author’s note, Kelkar was inspired by the biography of her great-grandmother Anasuyabai Kale, and the tale is enriched by the author’s proximity to the subject matter and access to primary sources. Kelkar also complicates Western impressions of Mohandas K. “Mahatma” Gandhi—Anjali realizes that Gandhi is flawed—and introduces readers to Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, a figure rarely mentioned in texts for young people in the United States but who is best known for campaigning against social discrimination of Dalits, or members of India’s lower castes.

This 2015 New Visions Award winner offers a complex narrative and inspires readers to check their privilege to address ongoing injustices. (Historical fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-62014-356-8

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Tu Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 7, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2017

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