Saint John Don Bosco:

"Never read books you aren't sure about . . . even supposing that these bad books are very well written from a literary point of view. Let me ask you this: Would you drink something you knew was poisoned just because it was offered to you in a golden cup?"

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Words by Heart by Ouida Sebestyen

Imagine you’re a young girl and you’re competing in a contest quite important to you. You’ve been memorizing Bible verses and hoping to win by reciting the most.

Most of your small town is gathered, watching. It has come down to you and just one other boy: the competition heats up.

You trade verse…after verse…after verse….

He starts sweating; your heart is soaring with the excitement of victory within your grasp.

He stumbles, and offers to recite two verses to your next one.

You blank for a moment, then recite perfectly from Song of Songs.

He hesitates…draws a blank, and you win!

In front of everyone, you’re handed a beautiful box with your prize. Though the victory is your true prize, you open the box with anticipation…and pull out a boy’s bow tie.

…When you are black, and you live just after the reconstruction in a white town, you learn quickly that you aren’t expected or particularly welcome to beat the local white boy in an intellectual contest.

Thus, this book introduces Lena and her family who leave a black town in order to find more opportunities out west and north. They receive a mixed welcome. This story conveys beautifully the typical hopes and dreams of a family in the late 1800’s with the special burden of coping with discrimination.

Lena’s father wanted to be a pastor. While he did not find his calling there, he is a faith-filled, outstanding father.

In the final chapters, he is shot by an angry white boy, and he makes a choice to save the boy while losing his own life. Lena finds them both, hurt in the woods, right before her father dies. She has a powerful conversation with her dad. She struggles mightily with the challenge to forgive and to help the boy as her father requests of her. In the end, she turns out to honor her father by being like him and choosing love.

Her family, unwanted though they may be by some of their white neighbors, finds incredible strength and dignity in each other and their faith. And, in the final scene, Lena’s choice to forgive and love when she had powerful reason and feelings to do otherwise, makes a difference and ends the book on a note of hope if not perfect resolution.

There is mild menace in the form of finding a knife stuck in the bread when the family returns home, and the death of their dog (they believe he was poisoned). One character uses the words he__ and dam__. It is in fitting with her character. It is still an above-average historical fiction novel.

Safety Rating: 2 Vatican Flags
Historical Fiction: 1910's; Turn of the Century


Nancy P. April 23, 2009 at 5:39 AM  

I was directed to this site by the FCL e-goup. What a great resource you have here! Thank you for sharing, especially your quick rating system. I am looking for a detailed review of The Ranger's Apprentice. I enjoyed it and found it had great points for discussing the development of specific virtues. I don't see it but I thought I would ask. Have you reviewed any of the series?

Tween Lit Crit April 23, 2009 at 5:03 PM  

Thanks for the recommendation and comment. I'll move it to the top of my list, right after City of Ember (because Laura requested that one already).

I haven't read either of these books. I will soon, though, since I like to put mom's requests first. (I have 3 pending reviews, then I'll start those.)

And, I heard of a brand-new series out that looks promising: The Red Blazer Girls. I just ordered it. If you have girls who like Nancy Drew, it may be good.

Also, moms of boys: I'm working on that, too! My 3rd priority is finding more boy-friendly books because I know boys are a bit tougher. Chasing the Falconers looks like my next boy-friendly book. Whew! This should be fun...

Anonymous,  March 25, 2010 at 8:05 PM  

it seems like a great book i think ill read it

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