Elem./MG – Set Me Free

LaZotte, Ann Clare. Set Me Free.  Scholastic Press, 2021. 978-1-338-74249-7  $18.99. 288 p. Grades 4-6.

Mary Lambert, a deaf girl living on Martha’s Vineyard in the late 1700’s, went through an unimaginable and traumatic ordeal when she was kidnapped years ago to be studied to determine the reason for her deafness. Settled back into her life on the Vineyard, Mary is longing for a more meaningful life. When a friend from years ago sends Mary a letter asking for her assistance helping a young deaf girl to learn to communicate, Mary is hesitant but excited for this new opportunity. However, when Mary arrives on the mainland to teach the girl, she finds that her new charge is imprisoned in the attic and treated horribly! Mary must muster up the courage and support to help free this girl from her circumstances. 

THOUGHTS: For those that loved Show Me a Sign, this is a must purchase. I did not love this installment as much as the first, but the history behind this time period is fascinating. Mary is truly a feminist and has no problem sharing her beliefs. She is a wonderful female literary icon.

Historical Fiction          Krista Fitzpatrick, Abington SD

Mary Lambert, the deaf heroine from the fascinating early 1800’s island community of Martha’s Vineyard in Show Me A Sign, returns in this historical fiction book that is also rich with mystery and intrigue. Mary is eager to find her way in life and become a teacher, following in the footsteps of her own beloved teacher Mrs. Pye, but she is restless in her home community and feels as though she might have a calling in the wider world. Then, she receives a letter from Nora, a friend who helped her escape captors in her previous adventure, and decides to travel to Boston and help a young deaf girl who needs help learning to communicate through sign language. When she arrives, she finds the girl living in terribly cruel conditions and vows to help her not only learn to communicate, but also to return to her rightful family. With the help of friends both old and new, Mary bravely stands up for the rights of her young charge and demonstrates her conviction that people of all abilities deserve respect, dignity and opportunity in life.

THOUGHTS: This book is a wonderful testament to people with diverse abilities overcoming obstacles, especially those who deal with discrimination based on race, disability, gender, or for any other reason. Fans of Helen Keller’s story will also love this tale of a relationship that develops between a brave teacher and her bright but misunderstood student.

Historical Fiction          Erin Faulkner, Cumberland Valley SD

Elem. – Flooded:  Requiem for Johnstown

Burg, Ann E. Flooded: Requiem for Johnstown. Scholastic Press, 2020. 978-1-338-54069-7. 313 p. $16.53. Grades 3-6.

Gertrude Quinn is a spirited young school girl, looking forward to singing at Decoration Day.  Daniel Fagan is planning a summer spent outdoors, maybe even sneaking a swim in at the private late at the top of King’s Mountain. Monica Fagan is looking forward to traveling the world, especially if it means she’ll leave Daniel and his pranks behind. Joe Dixon is waiting for the perfect moment–the perfect moment to tell his father he isn’t working at the company store but instead bought a newsstand, and the perfect moment to propose to his true love, Maggie. William James has been collecting words for a long time, and he’ll get a chance to use them when he reads an original poem at Decoration Day. George Hoffman wishes his pa would let him quit school so he can go to work to help his family of 10. In Flooded: Requiem for Johnstown, Ann E. Berg tells a tale of the lives that were being lived before the disaster on May 31, 1889, that took the lives of more than 2,200 people, including 99 entire families and 396 children. We follow six main characters as they prepare for the Decoration Day celebration, disappointed by the rain but oblivious to the calamity about to unfold. We see the flood as experienced by these characters, and we also witness the aftermath. The flood is the catalyst, but it is not the main character. Instead, Burg has chosen to tell a tale of lives lived, lost and saved.

THOUGHTS: The character development and storytelling will attract students who may not know about the Johnstown flood, and it will likely encourage students to read more about this catastrophe.

Historical Fiction        Melissa Johnston, North Allegheny SD

YA – Kingdom of the Wicked

Maniscalco, Kerri. Kingdom of the Wicked. Little, Brown and Company, 2020. 978-0-316-42846-0. $18.99. 448 p. Grades 9-12.

Emilia and Vittoria, twin sisters, are also witches known as streghe. They come from a family of witches who must hide from both humans and The Malvagi, or The Wicked: Princes of Hell who would stop at nothing to capture their souls for themselves. Emilia and Vittoria have grown up hearing stories about the seven Princes of Hell from their grandmother, Nonna, and for protection, each girl wears a cornicello, a horned shaped amulet. According to Nonna, they must never take them off and never put them together because The Malvagi are always watching, and always waiting. When Emilia finds Vittoria murdered, her Nonna’s stories don’t seem so unbelievable anymore, and she finds herself summoning a demon to discover what happened to her sister. When she inadvertently summons Wrath, one of the seven Princes of Hell, she reluctantly accepts his offer to help her find the murderer of her sister and other witches, but from Nonna’s stories, she knows she cannot really trust him or the other princes she meets in her city. However, Wrath is unlike his brothers, and against her better judgement, she starts to rely on their alliance and cannot deny the attraction growing between them. In order to avenge her sister and protect her family, Emilia may just have to make a deal with the devil.

THOUGHTS: Kingdom of the Wicked is a refreshing, new fantasy series that takes place in the 19th century on the Italian island of Sicily. Emilia’s family owns a restaurant called Sea and Vine, and trust me, you’ll be craving some homemade Italian food after finishing this one. Although the time period wasn’t obvious to me when starting the novel, it became more apparent as I continued to read, but to be honest, I had to do a Google search to completely understand the setting of this book. Along with witchcraft, this book introduces the Seven Princes of Hell, referred to as The Wicked, which are basically the embodiments of the seven deadly sins, and they certainly add to the uniqueness and eeriness of this new, historical fantasy.

Fantasy           Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

These Shallow Graves

theseshallowgraves

Donnelly, Jennifer. These Shallow Graves. New York: Delacorte Press, 2015. 978-0385-906791 487 p. $19.99 Grades 8-12.

Jo Monfort is rich, clever and trapped. In 1890s New York, upper crust young ladies seek and receive only early marriage proposals, the richer and more stable, the better. They do not seek to showcase their opinions, writing skills or investigative interests, as Jo wishes to do. Jo and her friends know that their parents will seek for them the best match based upon family history, source of wealth, stability of name, etc. For Jo, that means she and her good friend Abraham “Bram” Aldrich will likely marry. By all accounts, he is quite a catch: kind, intelligent, handsome, and rich. But as much as she likes him, she doesn’t love him and doesn’t even know what that means. In fact, heavy issues like business and delicate issues like the body, or, heaven forbid, sex, are not discussed and not understood (Jo’s friend Trudy honestly thinks that a stork brings a child and only after you’ve married.)

When her father is found dead in his study, the police rule it an accident (he was cleaning his gun), but Jo knows he was too smart to make that mistake. When investigating on her own, she meets Eddie Gallagher, a handsome reporter for the newspaper, The Standard, owned by her family. Through him, she learns that the evidence points to a suicide, and her trusted uncle likely paid for the “accident” ruling to save the family name and business. Shocked, Jo is driven to know what would lead her father to suicide. Excited, Eddie is driven to break a huge story that will make his career. Attracted, they both fall in love and unearth some astonishing answers and deep mysteries around the shipping business shared by her father, uncle, and several other men. Eddie is more able than Jo to believe ill of her family and its business. As naïve, but driven Jo sneaks out (night and day) to seek answers, she risks her reputation (girls don’t walk alone, let alone go to the morgue or a graveyard). Fortuitously for her, she’s understood and trusted by several new friends: Eddie, his mortician friend Oscar, and street criminals Tumbler and Fay. Fay teaches Jo some needed self-defense skills, and saves her life more than once before the story is done.

The story gives a realistic look at the disparity between classes and sexes in 1890s New York, but strains credulity on many occasions—as when Jo repeatedly succeeds in avoiding repercussions, and she finds just who or what she needs when she needs it. The denouement, when the evil man finally answers, at great length, the entire history, after being shot in the kneecap, is nearly unbelievable (the “ouch” he utters, and his clarity of mind, do not match the pain or shock of this injury). But by then readers just want all the details and a happy ending for Jo, too. And it’s a happy ending we do receive.

THOUGHTS: Given its length and focus, this is for advanced readers who love a deep mystery sprinkled with a little romance. Indeed, this could begin a series for Jo and Eddie working together. The complicated world of 1890s New York provides excellent fodder for numerous murder mysteries and a furthering of Jo and Eddie’s relationship. Oscar in particular, as mortician, adds an incredible amount of interesting information to the tale.

Historical Fiction; Mystery       Melissa Scott, Shenango High School

Jackaby

jackaby

Ritter, William.  Jackaby.  Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books, 2014.  978-1-61620-353-5. 299 p.  $16.95.  Gr. 7 and up.

Abigail Rook is unlike many other young ladies from late 19th century Britain.  Against her family’s wishes, she has abandoned college to join an archeological dig in the Ukraine.  When the expedition is suspended, she boards a ship to America and ends up in the city of New Fiddleham.  Abigail’s situation is desperate; she doesn’t have proper clothing; she needs money, and she has few real job skills.  She soon meets R.F. Jackaby, a detective who hires her as his assistant on a trial basis.  Jackaby is a different sort of detective; he considers himself a “seer” who can recognize supernatural creatures (including a Ukrainian house spirit who hitched a ride to America on Abigail’s dress).

As the story begins, Jackaby is searching for a serial murderer.  While the city’s police are convinced that the criminal is human, he suspects a paranormal being.  Abigail has a knack for noticing ordinary but significant details, which makes her the perfect complement to Jackaby, with his otherworldly mindset.  The relationship between Jackaby and the police is strained, but Jackaby and Abigail find a friend in the police department’s new detective, Charlie Cane.  Together, they discover that the culprit is a red cap goblin who stays alive by keeping his red cap soaked in fresh human blood.  The goblin has taken on the form of a man, and his human identity is quite unexpected.

This is simply a fun book.  Jackaby is a fascinating character.  He is condescending but also displays great compassion to those in need.  His house is wildly disorganized, and the disarray has spread to his trademark many-pocketed coat and ugly hat. Abigail befriends his resident ghost, Jenny, and his former assistant (who has been turned into a duck by a malevolent spirit).  The different supernatural spirits also add some color and excitement to the story.  This book had the potential to be both bloody and grim.  However, it is full of tongue-in-cheek humor, much like a classic “Dr. Who” episode.  Jackaby, Abigail, and Charlie are not yet fully developed characters, but this is the first volume in a series of Jackaby tales. The second book will be published in September 2015, so there is room for future development in many areas.

Mystery; Paranormal    Susan Fox, Washington Jr. /Sr. High School