One of the most important books and television series ever to appear, Roots, galvanized the nation, and created an extraordinary political, racial, social and cultural dialogue that hadn’t been seen since the publication of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The book sold over one million copies in the first year, and the miniseries was watched by an astonishing 130 million people. It also won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. Roots opened up the minds of Americans of all colors and faiths to one of the darkest and most painful parts of America’s past.
Roots: The Saga of an American Family by Alex Haley, 899 pages, read by Kim, on 03/08/2013
The Other Wes Moore, One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore, 272 pages, read by Madeline, on 02/23/2013
Don't Tell a Soul by Tiffany L. Warren, 281 pages, read by Sarah, on 02/21/2013
Three best friends whose lives are intricately tied together through a Sister to Sister group in their church have been through some real trials in their lives. A cheating, wife-beating husband, recent divorce, tempting potential lovers, an 11 year old son with serious anger issues, a possible threat to one’s marriage, being stranded on an island in a storm with the choir director….these are just a few of the issues that Pam, Taylor, and Yvonne have to deal with. When a lovely girl, Eva, shows up at their church meeting needing food, Yvonne is more than happy to assist her and reach out with kindness. But can Eva’s past derail all that Yvonne has hoped for? Can Taylor forgive her baby’s daddy? Can Pam stay strong in the face of temptation?
This book surprised me with its frankness in dealing with serious problems in relationships. It was a bit confusing at first because each chapter is told from a different woman’s point of view and you don’t really know the connection between the ladies early on. It mixes street-wise folk with shouting-hallelujah folk and is heavy on pushing that Jesus will help you through it all. All in all, it was a good read that kept you guessing.
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer, 286 pages, read by Joyce, on 02/26/2013
This is an inspiring narrative about William Kamkwamba, an African teenager of Malawi, who used what limited resources were available to build a wind mill. His efforts overcame crippling adversity of poverty and famine. Many thought he was crazy, but his dream to bring his small village electricity and running water became reality. “And I try and I made it,” applauded words William spoke at a conference, where his accomplishments were honored, became the motto for those attending. This is an inspiring and heartwarming true story.
Chicago Blues by Hugh Holton, 384 pages, read by Leslie, on 02/18/2013
Police Commander Larry Cole returns in his most dangerous case to date. the investigation of the murders of two hit-men leads Cole to an old colleague, FBI Special Agent Reggie Stanton. Cole had known Stanton when he was a Chicago cop accused of vigilante knife-murders on Chicago’s South Side. Now the murders of the two assassins bear the same M.O. as those long-ago cases.
I liked this book but it isn’t the type of mystery I usually read. It seems very old school, police, mobsters, very realistic, considering that Hugh Holton was a police officer in Chicago. So, it’s very natural that it is the setting for this book. There weren’t a lot of twists and turns, I could see them as they developed, but it gives the reader a glimpse of what it must have been like in a big city, trying to hold back organized crime and bad cops. I think I would read more of his work if it were the type of book I tend to read.
The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, 572 pages, read by Janet, on 02/23/2013
This is the story of a young black man who, as a child, started living his life in humility as his dying grandfather stressed was necessary, but was a rebel inside. He won a scholarship to the state college for Negroes and enjoyed his first three years there. However, he was tricked into going to Harlem for a job the next summer and found out after many adventures that it was to get him out of the school. There he learned a different life and had to protect himself from almost everyone. His rebel inside, though, caused him to become a spokesman for those with so many problems. He learned the importance of diversity as a major issue of life and how it helped him be an invisible man in a large world.
Jim & Louella's Homemade Heart-Fix Remedy by Bertice Berry, 209 pages, read by Eric, on 02/25/2013
When Jim and Louella’s longtime marriage finally loses its romantic zing, Louella resorts to consulting her dead ancestors for advice. It does the trick, but what’s more, both Louella and Jim find they are able to hear the thoughts of others, and have a knack for helping them through their own troubles.
Far outside my usual fare, this often-hilarious story is like steamy chicken soup for the elderly sexual soul. Through Louella, author Bertice Berry delivers life lessons and sexual re-ignition with a Southern sensibility that is equally blunt and caring. It’s hard not to like this couple, even when they make the neighbors blush. Recommended for those with an open mind and a humorous bent.
Beneath a Meth Moon by Jacqueline Woodson, 182 pages, read by Angie, on 02/18/2013
Laurel has lost her mom and grandma to a hurricane. She has moved north with her dad and brother. At first things start out great. She makes a new best friend and joins the cheerleading squad. She also starts dating the co-captain of the basketball team, T-Boom. Everything seems perfect until T-Boom introduces her to moon (or meth). Laurel is soon hooked on the moon and doing anything to get her next fix. She is living on the streets and begging for money. Her dad tries to help her but rehab just doesn’t stick. She loses everything before she can start rebuilding her life.
This is a moving story about addiction. Laurel is like so many teens who just want to feel good, to party, to leave their pain behind. Her fall is fast and brutal, but not permanent. Because this is a story about recovery as well as addiction; about hope and despair. Laurel is saved by her family and a graffiti artist who paints those who have died because of moon. Laurel is a writer and keeps writing her story even when she has hit bottom. This story is a touching one and an excellent read.
Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty by G. Neri, 96 pages, read by Courtney, on 02/12/2013
This brief graphic novel packs a serious punch. It’s the true story of Robert “Yummy” Sandifer, an 11-year-old from the Roseland neighborhood of Chicago and the incident that shocked a nation. Yummy was a member of the Black Disciples gang and apparently decided to “prove” himself by shooting at rival gang members near his home. He instead shot a 14-year-old girl named Shavon. Yummy ran and was pursued by police for days before he was gunned down by his own gang members who were getting wary of the limelight.
The story is told by a young boy named Roger, who is roughly Yummy’s age. Roger’s brother is in the Black Disciples, so Roger knows a bit about Yummy’s transition from troubled kid to preteen thug. Roger reads the news and talks to his neighbors in order to better understand Yummy’s story. Is Yummy a victim of his circumstances? Is he a sociopath? Could anyone have stopped the chain of events that led to the deaths of both Yummy and Shavon?
Stories from the Heart - Missouri's African American Heritage by Gladys Caines Coggswell, 161 pages, read by Janet, on 02/11/2013
This is a compilation of interviews with people who were once U.S. slaves and now live a free life (at the time the book was written). The stories are written in the dialect of the speaker. They speak of the ghosts and haunts they heard about and how scared they felt, how they were treated by their masters, and how they were treated by other black folks. The Ku Klux Klan were also very frightening to many. Most were not educated at all as their white owners were against them getting “big ideas”, however, after freedom, many learned the basics so they could read and write. They tell of poor clothes and being barefooted all year round. Many were whipped by their owners and others. They usually had to doctor themselves – using turpentine or sugar for stomachache, goose grass twigs, black root for constipation, scraped turnip bound to a frost bitten foot, and many other home-made cures. Pensions for older folks were very small, if anything. Many had to live with younger family members.
One told an old riddle: “I rode over the bridge and yet I walked.” (“Yet I” was a dog.)
The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis, 320 pages, read by Angie, on 02/14/2013
Deza Malone is the Might Miss Malone. She is the youngest Malone. Her father and mother and big brother Jimmie make up the rest of the family. Deza is smart and precocious and very verbose. She loves her dictionary and thesaurus as if they were her best friends. She gets all As in school and is the top of her class. But things are going so well for the Malones. Papa has lost his job and is then hurt in a boating accident. Jimmie has stopped growing and Deza’s teeth are rotting in her mouth. Papa decides he has to go find work elsewhere and heads to Flint, Michigan. The rest of the family stays behind until they are evicted from their house. Then it is time for them to hit the road too. They end up in a shantytown in Flint looking for a home and work.
This is a great historical story for kids. It very accurately portrays life during the Great Depression. I like that the reader is introduced to shanty towns and train hopping, speakeasys and racism all through the wonderful narrative of this story. Deza is an interesting character. She is super confident in herself at the beginning of the book but throughout all the trials and tribulations she learns who she really is and who her family is.
Days of Jubilee: The End of Slavery in the United States by Patricia C. McKissack, 144 pages, read by Angie, on 02/13/2013
Days of Jubilee tells the story of the end of slavery in the United States. McKissack uses slave narratives throughout to illustrate the events of the times. She takes us through the beginnings of slavery to the emancipation of the slaves after the Civil War. There is a lot of historical detail in this book; McKissack really did her research. This is a thoughtful, well researched book that anyone can enjoy.
Devil's Wake by Steven Barnes and Tananarive Due, 278 pages, read by Eric, on 02/14/2013
The sheer bulk of zombies and similar human horrors in films, books, and television makes it increasingly difficult to bring something new to the genre. In Devil’s Wake, the husband-wife writing team of Steven Barnes and Tananarive Due don’t attempt to do so. In their scenario, the undead are of the infected variety, which pass the infection on through bites. A ragtag group of young adults must avoid being bitten as they travel from the state of Washington to Devil’s Wake, a reportedly “freak free” island off the coast of Southern California.
For the most part, the characters’ back stories are given perfunctory glances. A majority of them are delinquent teens from a work camp. At times, their dialog seems out of place for their age, and the cultural references too dated. This, combined with the familiarity of the plot, failed to spark my interest much until they were on the road, and interacting with other survivors. Unfortunately, the novel abruptly ends after this point, not because it’s a natural break in the story, but so there can be a series of books. I’m not sure I’ll go along for the ride.
The Skin I'm In by Sharon G. Flake, 176 pages, read by Angie, on 02/13/2013
Maleeka gets teased all the time. She gets teased for her mom-made clothes and her too dark skin. She is friends with Charlese who uses her and is not very nice to her. Charlese is a thug who thinks she runs the school. Then Ms. Saunders comes to teach English. Ms. Saunders is not a regular teacher but she really engages the kids even when they are mean to her. Ms. Saunders has a huge birthmark on her face and children are not kind to those who are different. Ms. Saunders becomes Maleeka’s champion and tries to make her see that she is beautiful and has a lot of potential.
This was an enjoyable, quick read. Maleeka is a really interesting character who gains strength and backbone during the course of the book. She starts out so beaten and downtrodden but by the end she is learning to stand up for herself. I also really liked the character of Ms. Saunders. She is big and proud and doesn’t let anything phase her. She truly wants the best for Maleeka. I did think a lot of the other characters were fairly one-dimensional with very few redeeming qualities, but Maleeka and Ms. Saunders make up for that.
Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith, 256 pages, read by Angie, on 02/12/2013
Ida Mae Jones wants to fly. She has wanted to fly ever since her daddy brought a plane home. Her daddy taught her to fly, but getting her license was another story. Ida is Black, in the South, and it is the 1940s. No one is going to let a Black girl fly at that time. Then Ida finds out about the WASP program. The Army is recruiting female pilots. Ida makes a bold choice. Whereas the other members of her family are dark skinned, Ida is light skinned and can pass for white. So Ida forges her father’s pilot’s license with her own information and goes to Texas as a white girl. Ida becomes a WASP and flies planes all over the country. She makes friends with the other girls and even has a little romance. But she is always afraid someone will find out her secret.
I thought this book was really interesting. I love women who overcome barriers to do what they want to do. Ida is smart, spunky and ambitious. I admire the courage it took to leave and deny her family so that she could follow her dreams.
Their eyes were watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, 231 pages, read by Kira, on 02/10/2013
Janie a southern black woman in the 1930s deals with sexism and racism in her search for love and respect. Hurston weaves poetic descriptions of pear blossoms raining down on Janie, with short sections of magical realism. Her grandmother had been raised in slavery, and later freed, forces forces young Janie to marry as a young teen, giving Janie what the Grandmother desired in life, Her granny claimed she was doing it out of love, but it seems more out of her own fears.
I thought this would be a difficult read, and though the characters certainly face hardships – they still are able to find love and beauty in the world!
The Ways of White Folks by Langston Hughes, 255 pages, read by Melody, on 02/11/2013
The Ways of White Folks is a short story collection of the great poet and Missourian Langston Hughes. These intersections of white and black life are brutal and heart breaking in Hughes’ distinct melodic spare style. Succinct empathetic stories of early 20th century African American life.
How Stella Got Her Groove Back by Terry McMillan, 368 pages, read by Melody, on 02/10/2013
Warning Spoiler Alert: How Stella Got Her Groove Back is the mostly autobiographical story of the author Terry McMillan’s love affair and marriage to a much younger man she met on a Jamaican vacation. Her family and friends warn her that he is just after a green card and her cash but true love prevails. Well actually, after six and half years of marriage, the book release, and a major Hollywood film, her husband turns our to be a gay man who married her for a green card and sued to have the prenup overturned because he felt he was owed money. It was very difficult for me as the reader to severalize the real life story of McMillan and the fictional account. “Stella,” I would find myself yelling, “Get out. You are going to end up on Oprah’s couch with him making catty comments about your sex life!” Her strident defenses of Stella’s and Winston’s relationship were especially wince-worthy to me given the real life coda. I also had problems with McMillan’s stream of consciousness writing style. She has a sentence that is 204 words long. 204 words long! McMillan rambles, meanders, and lazes through a lackluster story with too many words for too little plot. Qhyrrae warned me that How Stella Got Her Groove Back was not a good use of my reading time and how very right she was.
Beloved by Toni Morrison, 324 pages, read by Kim, on 02/11/2013
Toni Morrison’s magnificent Pulitzer Prize-winning novel–first published in 1987–brought the unimaginable experience of slavery into the literature of our time and into our comprehension. Set in post-Civil War Ohio, it is the story of Sethe, an escaped slave who has risked her life in order to wrench herself from a living death; who has lost a husband and buried a child; who has borne the unthinkable and not gone mad. Sethe, who now lives in a small house on the edge of town with her daughter, Denver, her mother-in-law, Baby Suggs, and a disturbing, mesmerizing apparition who calls herself Beloved. Sethe works at “beating back the past,” but it makes itself heard and felt incessantly: in her memory; in Denver’s fear of the world outside the house; in the sadness that consumes Baby Suggs; in the arrival of Paul D, a fellow former slave; and, most powerfully, in Beloved, whose childhood belongs to the hideous logic of slavery and who has now come from the “place over there” to claim retribution for what she lost and for what was taken from her. Sethe’s struggle to keep Beloved from gaining possession of her present–and to throw off the long-dark legacy of her past–is at the center of this spellbinding novel. But it also moves beyond its particulars, combining imagination and the vision of legend with the unassailable truths of history. Upon the original publication ofBeloved, John Leonard wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “I can’t imagine American literature without it.” In fact, more than a decade later, it remains a preeminent novel of our time, speaking with timeless clarity and power to our experience as a nation with a past of both abominable and ennobling circumstance.
When I first started reading this book I didn’t think I was going to enjoy it as much as I did as I got further into it. I love Toni Morrison’s writing style and her characters.
When Dad Killed Mom by Julius Lester, 192 pages, read by Angie, on 02/10/2013
Jenna and Jeremy are pulled out of school one day and informed that their dad killed their mom. He shot her in broad daylight on a city street in front of witnesses. Jenna, her father’s favorite, can’t come to terms with her dad doing something so awful. Jeremy, his mom’s favorite, wants nothing to do with his dad. The two kids have to deal with the aftermath of the killing and their father’s incarceration. They have to figure out what really happened and who their parents were. Jenna learns more about her parents from Karen, her father’s ex-wife and her mother’s friend. Jeremy finds his mother’s diary which reveals the events leading up to her death. Jenna and Jeremy must figure out how to live now that their lives are forever changed. They must figure out who they will be and who their family will be.
This book sucked me in and I really couldn’t put it down. The story is told through the alternating viewpoints of fifth grader Jeremy and eight grader Jenna. The have such different takes on what their lives have been like and who their parents are. I found their grief and their actions very realistic. I have never dealt with this kind of tragedy, but I felt like Jenna and Jeremy handled it in a way that most kids would. This book starts with a violent act, but it ends with hope and love and family. I would definitely recommend it.