“American Dream” by Ibi Zoboi

Ibi Zoboi does not shy away from the ecstasy of first love or the horrific violence of Detroit’s west side in “American Street” (Balzer & Bray 2017).

Teenager Fabiola Toussaint is on her way to Detroit from Haiti to find a better life, when her mother is detained by U.S. immigration on their New York stop. Fabiola, on her mother’s insistence, continues on to the home of her loud Detroit cousins known at school as the “Three Bees: Donna (slut); Pri (tough dyke); Chantal,” the wise one. Will innocent Fab become the Fourth Bee? Smart Chantal says, “If these girls think you’re scared and that you’re not gonna fight back, they will mess with you.”

Fabiola falls for the loveable Kasim. How you root for these two! But what might be best about this book is the turn of phrase. What great writing. What great insights, beautifully stated.

Here’s one about dancing. “A song I know comes on and my body obeys the familiar rhythm.” So right.

Here’s a couple about the magical realism. (Afterall, the protagonist comes from Haiti where vudu prevails). Papa Legba is known as a crack addict. He lives outside the family’s west Detroit house, which by the way, is situated at the corner of American Street and Joy Road. Fabiola, who sees Papa Legba as a conduit to God, describes him by saying, “something about the way he grins and that eye patch makes him look like he’s been to the underworld and back.” And: “His voice sounds as if it’s coming from the depths of dark, broken places. I can feel it in my bones.”

About her unformed thoughts, she says, “I open my mouth to say something, but my mind has not formed the words yet.”

About her life as it progresses in Detroit: “Creole and Haiti stick to my insides like glue—it’s like my bones and muscles. But America is my skin, my eyes, and my breath.”

About the rough life in Detroit: “I try to walk a path that’s perfectly in between. On one side are the book and everything I have to do to make myself legit, and on the other side are the streets and everything I have to do to stay alive out here.”

Dray is just one of the villains—and he’s rough and powerful.

About Haitian dictator Claude Duvalier: “This dictator was the heavy boot on our skinny necks.”

Back in Haiti, there was an abusive boss of teenage girls: “ . . . He would watch us while we worked. We let him look. Eyes are only dull blades, but hands are as sharp as broken glass.”

You get the idea. Fabiola is in love, trying to stay alive in a violent setting. At the same time she is working to get her mother out of the prison system. Why was her mother incarcerated? Her links to voodoo.

This heart-breaker is a National Book Award Finalist for 2017 and it should be widely read. Please do.


Patricia Hruby Powell is author of the young adult documentary novel Loving vs. Virginia and Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker   talesforallages.com

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“Genuine Fraud” by E. Lockhart

Two girls—two orphans. Both are pretty. They kind of look alike. One is an heiress. One is a liar. The book starts with Chapter Eighteen. “Begin here:” you’re instructed. The book works from the end to the beginning in E. Lockhart’s thriller “Genuine Fraud” (Delacorte 2017).

Imogen, the heiress is the kind of girl who everyone wants as a friend—or so “everyone” thinks. She’s generous, until she’s not. When friends annoy her in some way—if they take her generosity for granted or become boring—she drops those “friends” like scorching hotcakes. Imogen refuses to be the girl that “everyone” wants her to be.

As a reader, I think we try to find our own experience in the stories we read. I know no one like Imogen. Or like Jule, for that matter. Are they out there? At Vassar or Stanford—the schools the two girls drop out of? It doesn’t bother me that I don’t know these girls. It makes me wonder about them all the more.

On Imogen’s dollar, the girls live in a posh flat in St. John’s Wood, London, then a sprawling house that Imogen purchases on Martha’s Vineyard. When they want to ditch Imogen’s boyfriend, Forrest, they jet to Culebra, a Puerto Rican island. On Imogen’s dollar they wear expensive dresses and sports wear. Jule is penniless. Class status is a feature of the story.

There are other friends, but Jule doesn’t want them around. She wants the irresistible Imogen to herself. Does Imogen prefer Jule to her boyfriend Forrest or is that just what Jule wants? It’s hard to know.

Jule begins calling herself Imogen, stays at five star hotels on Mexico’s coast, then she’s in San Francisco, then hiking in the wilderness. The settings are fabulous and the adventures are enviable—to a point. Jule’s mysterious past is revealed little by little. She’s fabulously agile, strong, able—she can fight. She imagines herself an action hero. Insecure, but proud of her athleticism, she can take care of herself.

            Jule is an unreliable narrator. Do you like her? And who is this Imogen? Part way through you’re pretty sure that you know how it’s going to turn out, or something about how it’s going to turn out, but how will we get there? I turned the pages at a rate, in spite of the violence, which I normally shy from.

Lockart’s book has been likened to Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley and the author acknowledges the influence of that story in her endnotes. Some readers even consider Lockhart’s story a rip-off. Even if she used one book as a model, I’m in awe of her

plotting and pacing. This is Lockhart’s story.

For me “Genuine Fraud” is not as successful as Lockhart’s “We Were Liars,” but few books are. “Liars” kept me spellbound and its end shocked me. For the record, Lockhart also writes picture books under the name Emily Jenkins. And those are pretty marvelous—and at times controversial.



Patricia Hruby Powell is author of the young adult documentary novel Loving vs. Virginia and Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker   talesforallages.com

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“Forest World” by Margarita Engle

Cuban-American poet, Margarita Engle, tells the story of a pre-teen sister and brother, reunited in Cuba in “Forest World” (Atheneum 2017).

When the siblings were quite young, their mother fled Cuba to America by raft with her infant son Edver, leaving behind Luza with her father in their Cuban rainforest home. Now she’s sent Edver to Cuba to meet relatives he doesn’t know. He didn’t even know he had a sister. Luza, a year older remembers the dramatic exodus and has suffered, wondering why her mother deserted her.

Luza, with her father and grandfather, protect a patch of endangered rainforest against poachers and destroyers. Her spoiled American brother, without his customary internet hookup is bereft. Here is an eco-adventure with a juxtaposition of technologies and cultures along with the reuniting of a family divided by 90 miles of ocean and laws that have kept them apart.

Luza’s voice is Latina and lyrical. She has a familiar Cuban need to make art. Having visited Cuba three years ago, I observed this in the people and so much more about the culture which is clarified in Engle’s book. Luza makes sculptures “ . . . shapes molded from mud, trash, junk,/ all sorts of wasteful ugliness turning beautiful/ simply by contact with creative human hands,/ my fingers and palms hungry for meaning,/especially when this ordinary world makes no sense.”

Edver, like his scientist mother, thinks like a scientist. He’s smitten with wonderfully gross oddities in nature. “The wasp injects poison into a roach’s brain,/ turning the bigger insect into a zombie,/ that can be ridden like a horse/ using the antennae as reins,/ until they reach the wasp’s nest,/ where guess what, the obedient roach/ is slowly, grossly/ eaten by squirming/ larvae.” The siblings’ love of nature will draw them together, in spite of their vastly different cultures and economic status.

Edver has strict orders from Mom not to show off, eat too much, or compare American grocery stores to the meager rations that Cubans are allowed.

Luza speaks of Cuban resourcefulness—“Vanishing Wilderness?/ Appoint yourself guardian of a forest, patrol/ on your horse, carve a rifle from wood,/ frighten poachers into thinking/ you have bullets.” Or “ . . .no soap? Trade part of your rice rations with a neighbor who receives gifts from Miami.” Or “Not enough food? Grow bananas and avocados on the sidewalk.”

Luza explains “convergent evolution.” “Octopus eyes and human ones, separately developed, yet eventually/ becoming similar.” She continues, “Is that how Edver and I ended up/ so much alike/ yet also completely different?”

Edver remarks, “Time/ is so much slower/ here.” And as time goes on, he is influenced by the lyricism of Cuban culture and rainforest. “. . . so many green parrots wildly clacking from the feathery fronds of a towering palm tree!”

Oh yeah, and the siblings set into motion an eco-disaster, in their attempt to draw their mother to the island. And now they must solve the crisis or more species and habitat will vanish.

Read this insightful verse novel by this year’s Young People’s Poet Laureate.


Patricia Hruby Powell is author of the young adult documentary novel Loving vs. Virginia and Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker   talesforallages.com

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“If I Was Your Girl” by Meredith Russo

Eighteen-year-old Amanda moves away from Georgia where she’s been living with her mother, to Lambertville, Tennessee to live with her father. She needs a new start. Why? In Georgia, having been born a boy, she was Andrew, called “faggot” and had repeatedly been beaten up. Life was unbearable. And dangerous.

At her old school, when she was transitioning to being a girl, a stranger tells Amanda that she doesn;t deserve a black eye, assuming she’d gotten it from her boyfriend. Amanda tells us, “What I deserved and what I could expect in life were two different things.”

But now that Amanda has had psychological and hormone therapy, is fully transitioned, she’d love a normal life—or as normal as possible. Her alcoholic father is not altogether comfortable with his son-turned-daughter, but Amanda is his only child and she deserves a chance in “If I Was Your Girl” (Flat Iron 2016). Author Meredith Russo, a trans woman tells the story that is inspired by her life.

Amanda is tall and slim and very pretty. Both Grant and Parker, on the football team at the new school, are attracted to her. Parker is clearly a pig, but Grant is a lovely guy with a lot of his own secrets. Timid Amanda is acting very boldly. You’re terrified for her. Amanda knows she should lie low, get her high school diploma then move to New York City where she might be accepted, but Grant is so lovely—“open and honest and kind.” Amanda has never been touched this way before and it’s so wonderful to feel a degree of normalcy.

The “popular” girls at school befriend Amanda, as does an outsider bi-girl, Bea, who happens to have had a secret fling with one of the popular girls. Another of the “popular” girls is from a fundamentalist Baptist family. This all plays into the complicated plot. As a reader, you live in fear as to when and how Amanda’s secret will be discovered—because you know it will. She’s so lovely. At one point she says “I wondered if joy could ever be felt by itself without being tainted with fear and confusion.”

I had found the book insightful—about loneliness and fitting in—when I’d read it last year, but I didn’t remember it well enough to review it. So I listened to it. You know how when you listen to a book you have to first appreciate the reader and some times you’ll tolerate a reader who is not quite doing it for you. But listening to Samia Mounts read this book (Macmillan Audio)—wow! Fabulous. There are no bio notes about Samia on the CD cover. When I look on line I find she’s an actor/singer/writer/podcast creator—and I’m a fan already.

This is a brave and important book. Read it. Or listen to it.


Patricia Hruby Powell is author of the young adult documentary novel Loving vs. Virginia and Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker. talesforallages.com


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“Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers” by Deborah Heiligman

People—maybe young adults in particular—are inherently fascinated with relationship. Which makes Deborah Heiligman’s choice of subject so compelling even before you start reading “Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers” (Holt 2017).

The Van Gogh brothers from the Netherlands come from a strong family, where the parents coddle their children in a way that looks familiar in middle class society nowadays. The senior Van Goghs are proud of their younger son Theo who has become a successful art dealer. They look askance at Vincent who first is an atheist, then an evangelical preacher, then vagabond, in search of a life path.

Theo financially and emotionally supports his older brother, then champions him as a late blooming artist. The brothers left 658 letters behind, showing their profound love, their fights, their reconciliations—their paths together and apart. Vincent is particularly eloquent. Once he starts making art, he says, “I keep on making what I can’t do yet in order to learn to be able to do it.”

Heiligman uses elements of art as metaphors for the relationship. She writes, “Sometimes in a painting, negative space is intentional; sometimes it is an accident of composition. Empty space can create a meaningful image, or it can just be empty . . .” when she describes Vincent’s “darkness and despair”—his longing for his younger brother Theo.

We know more about Vincent as a child than Theo, for whom we only have a rare glimpse. Heiligman creates these glimpses, then likens each to a “croquis”—or a quick sketch in the making of a larger piece—a study of the arm throwing a ball, another for the hand grasping a fishing pole. These studies are used to build the full picture. Theo is the good boy, the middle child to Vincent’s tumultuous behavior as a bad boy. Maybe Theo’s eventual depression started in his childhood. Maybe he shouldn’t have been ignored.

Vincent has a particularly difficult time with perspective in his drawings. He uses a perspective frame, crisscrossed with strings to view a scene of field and windmill in order to observe the size and placement of people, windmills, clouds. “The view depends on the perspective.” How does Vincent’s life look from Theo’s perspective?

Theo works in an art gallery, selling conventional art to wealthy individuals. Vincent is still developing his art which is not only unconventional but not ready to be sold. But Theo knows that Vincent is working toward greatness.

It is difficult for Theo to live with Vincent in Paris, but “Vincent brings to Theo social and intellectual stimulation—and that family connection . . . For Vincent, living with Theo is necessary.”

The small color reproductions and the larger black and white drawings help the reader understand this eloquent story. I’m not sure why it is marketed as young adult. Every artist, art enthusiast, every person interested in relationship should read it. Is that everyone?


Patricia Hruby Powell is author of the young adult documentary novel Loving vs. Virginia and Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker. talesforallages.com


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“The Bitter Side of Sweet” by Tara Sullivan

Ever wonder where your chocolate comes from? Cocoa, Hersey bars, brownie mix—you name it—chocolate. I wasn’t sure why I was buying “fair trade” chocolate. That changed when I read Tara Sullivan’s young adult novel “The Bitter Side of Sweet” (Putnam 2017).

Fifteen-year-old Amadou chops cacao pods alongside his eight-year-old brother, Seydou, in Ivory Coast. The two are from Mali, where boys leave home, due to severe drought, and work elsewhere, to send money home to their families. But these boys have been kidnapped and forced to work alongside other slave boys, being told that they can earn back the price of their keep and be freed. However, they’ve been working there two years already, and no freedom is in sight.

The boys are beaten if they don’t make their daily quota, and they frequently don’t, because Amadou is chopping for himself and his little brother all the while working to protect his little brother from getting injured from swinging machetes. Amadou takes Seydou’s beatings, so he’s kind of a mess. He obsessively counts his pods to make quota and to forget the pain. Counting. Counting.

Then a girl around Amadou’s age, Khadija, arrives—the first girl the boys have seen in two years. The “wildcat” attempts escape over and over. She tricks Seydou into untying her. She runs, is apprehended and Amadou takes Seydou’s punishment. Amadou and Khadija are locked in the herbicide shed after being beaten.

So Amadou is not out in the forest chopping and protecting Seydou. The first day Seydou is successful in making quota, but the second day on his own, a terrible accident occurs. In the meantime Khadija has been raped by the managers who aren’t terribly much older than Amadou. The word “rape” is never used, so the younger reader might be protected from that particular violence, but a savvier reader will understand what happened.

The managers, particularly Moussa, might be sympathetic. We can’t quite tell. It turns out he’s in a hard position, too, trying to make his farm quota, and he seems to have bought into the desperate system. Eventually, Amadou uses the herbicide in an act of heroism, and we follow the escape or Khadija, Amadou, and the severely injured Seydou.

Along the way you learn the cacao trade, how the boys husk the seeds, ferment them, wait for the middlemen to drive in to haul them to the towns where they’re further processed. These trucks might be a route out of slavery. Or maybe not.

It happens that Khadija’s mother, a journalist, had been writing an article about the corrupt chocolate trade. Khadija had been kidnapped in order to silence her mother.

Khadija’s mother might be able to save Khadija from the corrupt cacao lords, but can she do anything for the two Malian boys? There are waves of tension due to loyalties and class distinctions among the well-drawn and realistic protagonists. So interesting!



Patricia Hruby Powell is author of the young adult documentary novel Loving vs. Virginia and Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker   talesforallages.com


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“Exit, Pursued by a Bear” by E.K. Johnston

In “Exit Pursued by a Bear” (Dutton 2016) by E.K. Johnston, high school senior Hermione Winters is captain of the cheerleading squad. Polly, her best friend, is co-captain and the friend that everyone on earth needs. The championship cheerleading squad is the gem of the town—more so than the teams for whom it cheers. That’s cool.

Senior year should be Hermione’s best year to date, but at the end of summer cheer camp, at the dance party, an unknown boy drugs her punch and rapes her at lakeside. Hermione is left unconscious, half in the water, with no memory of what happened. But once in the hospital she knows it’s awful—whatever it was, and she can guess. But who did it?

The author breaks that arch writing-rule that states: heap problems on your protagonist. Hermione is a confident, witty, talented, intelligent force at school. Polly is a miracle of a best friend. Her parents and her pastor are supportive. Everything is great, except—Hermione was raped. (Well, her boyfriend, Leo, is a douchebag). But all this good happening for and by Hermione lets us focus on one issue—rape—and how Hermione refuses to be a victim.

Hermione will not let this tragic event make her hide away and request home schooling or put up emotional walls—in spite of the fact that she has plenty of reason to do so.

She doesn’t care for the way people are treating her—as if she’s broken—or how they’re looking at her at the grocery store. She says to her pastor that she has a presumptuous favor to ask: “Please don’t ask people to pray for me.” She doesn’t want to be known as the girl-who-was-raped.

When Leo, her jealous boyfriend—actually, ex-boyfriend—suggests maybe Hermione was flirting and deserved what she got, she lays into him, saying, “If you think I’m going to apologize for being drugged and raped, you have another thing coming.”

Polly’s betters that. She says, “So let me get this straight . . . You’re okay with asking a girl who was wearing a pretty dress and had nice hair, who went to the dance with her cabin mates, who drank from the same punch bowl as everyone else—you’re okay with asking that girl what mistake she made, and you wouldn’t think to ask the boy how he would avoid raping someone?”

There are more twists and turns to the story, but those would spoil your reading of the book.

Every girl who has ever been sexually assaulted or known someone who has, should read this book. So should every boy who has ever raped or known one who has. Every reader might try to be a friend like Polly. E.K. Johnston writes so well, showing a dark reality highlighted by compassion. And it’s a fast read at only 242 pages.


Patricia Hruby Powell is the author of the young adult documentary novel Loving vs. Virginia (2017) and Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker (2014). talesforallages.com


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“Girl Rising: Changing the World One Girl at a Time” by Tanya Lee Stone

Be warned. You could become an activist after reading Girl Rising: Changing the World One Girl at a Time (Wendy Lamb Books 2017) by the remarkable Tanya Lee Stone. Follow twenty five girls world-wide who were denied education, fought back, and won.

Suma from Nepal was not an orphan, but her family lived in poverty. Suma was first bonded into kamlari—or slavery—when she was six. She worked from dawn until late night, ate scraps from the master family’s finished plates, and slept in the goat shed. She was sexually abused. Suma fought back. Six years later she was given a scholarship with Room to Read and is now receiving an education. She plans to be a medical assistant.

Sokha from Cambodia, Senna from Peru, Mariama from Sierra Leone have similar stories. So do girls from India, Ethiopia, Haiti. Interesting fact: in more than fifty countries, school is not free. Either are books, paper, and pencils.

“A girl on planet Earth has a one-in-four chance of being born into poverty . . . Slavery and child marriage are two major obstacles keeping girls out of school . . . poverty is often at the root . . .” If parents cannot feed their daughters, they hope a husband can. Once married, girls rarely go to school.

It is not always a case of poverty. In many cultures boys pursue education but girls cannot. Woman’s role is to bear and raise children and serve her husband. “In India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Jordan, Syria, and many other places, girls have been abducted, sexually abused, poisoned, shot, and had acid thrown on them: their schools have been bombed, burned, down, and shut down—all payback for the crime of wanting to be educated.”

The remarkable Malala Yousafzai is probably the most famous of these young women, but she is by no means alone.

Stone used hundreds of hours of raw footage shot by the filmmakers of Girl Rising, as well as original research to bring to life the stories of girls who are conquering obstacles. The reader gets to know these indomitable girls, see them create lives for themselves, and inspire other girls in their communities to break through cultural barriers in order to go to school. We come away hopeful and ready to fight for more girls.

Stone shows that not only individual girls from around the world are helped, but by educating girls, the world is made safer and more prosperous. When girls and women rise, so do their communities. And women have the perfect “platform” to pass their values on to their children.

In a chapter entitled, “Use What You Love to Inspire Change,” Stone suggests that the reader can organize a fashion show, poetry slam, cabaret, or a hoops competition to raise funds for one of the many Women’s organizations (with websites) she lists. Besides stories and full color photos of the girls in the stories, Stone introduces us to the filmmakers of Girl Rising. Read the book. See the documentary. Become an activist.


Patricia Hruby Powell’s is the author of the young adult documentary novel Loving vs. Virginia, Josephine, winner of Boston Globe Horn Book Honor, and other books. talesforallages.com

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“The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas

What a moving and timely story! Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter lives in the black ghetto of Garden Heights and
goes to a white private Williamson in “The Hate U Give” (2017 Balzer & Bray) by Angie Thomas.

At her white school Starr says, “I’m cool by default because I’m one of the only black kids there. I have to earn coolness in Garden Heights.” At Williamson, “It’s dope to be black until it’s hard to be black.”

Starr attends a party in the hood where she knows she doesn’t belong. She meets up with Khalil, her best friend until he recently started selling drugs. A fight breaks out. Khalil grabs Starr’s hand and they drive off.

A white cop stops them for a broken taillight and orders Khalil out of the car. Starr hopes Khalil knows what her Daddy has drilled into her—“Keep your hands visible. No sudden moves. Only speak when spoken to.” Khalil bends his head to ask Starr if she’s okay and the cop shoots him. He dies in Starr’s arms on the street.

Starr is devastated, of course, and says, “ . . . people like us in situations like this become hashtags, but they rarely get justice . . .we all wait for that one time, though . . . when it ends right.”

We experience Starr’s loving complicated family. Daddy is an ex-con who got out of the neighborhood gang by serving time for the gang leader. Momma is a nurse working in the clinic. Starr’s parents work hard to protect their kids. Seven is her older half-brother whose other family is fathered by the abusive gang leader, King.

Seven, Starr, and younger Sekani all study at Williamson where Starr has a white boyfriend, Chris. Starr says, “ . . . am I betraying who I am by dating him?” Her Black Panther Daddy would think so, and it doesn’t go over easy when he discovers the relationship in the midst of the hood riots.

If Starr comes forward as the witness, her family will suffer repercussions in the hood. She’s reluctant, but circumstances move her to act. On the news, Khalil is described as a thug, as if to excuse the cop’s action. Her uncle is a detective and vows to protect her. Can he?

Starr battles racism at school at the hands of blond Hailey. But Maya, her Asian friend says, “We minorities must stick together.” Chris is frustrated by Starr’s secrets. But she can stand on her feet and won’t take any nonsense, just as her Momma won’t.

“Daddy once told me there’s a rage passed down to every black man from his ancestors, born the moment they couldn’t stop the slave masters from hurting their families.” You accept Daddy’s rage, and, boy, do you worry for him. You see him humiliated by cops in front of his children. You love every member of this family who is trying to change a bad situation, but in a real way. There is nothing sugar-coated or easy here. Wow!


Patricia Hruby Powell’s is the author of the young adult documentary novel Loving vs. Virginia, Josephine, winner of Boston Globe Horn Book Honor, and other books. talesforallages.com

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“Dreamland Burning” by Jennifer Latham

Rowan Chase, 17, the daughter of a white oil magnate father and a black lawyer mother finds a skeleton under the floorboards in the “back house” of her spiffy Greenwood area Tulsa home in “Dreamland Burning” (Little Brown 2017) by Tulsa resident Jennifer Latham.

Will Tillman, 17, son of a white shop-owner and full-blooded Osage Indian mother, is in love with Addie, the prettiest girl at school, in 1921 Tulsa. Sincere and ignorant Will sees Addie at a speakeasy with a handsome young black man. It’s Prohibition, which doesn’t stop anyone from drinking, and Will is stumbling drunk. His manly pride injured, Will goes racist haywire on the black man, Clarence. In defense, Clarence pushes Will who falls and breaks his wrist. Bad news in segregated Tulsa.

In 1921, Greenwood was the wealthiest black neighborhood in the nation. If you know your race riot history, you know Memorial Day weekend began the worst race riot of the nation, when white people burned 35 blocks of black Greenwood. An estimated 300 people were killed. And it was all hushed up for decades. That’s the background story.

Alternating voices take us back to Rowan who slips a mildewed wallet from a scrap of pocket off the skeleton before her mother calls the police. The police aren’t real concerned about a hundred year old murder case, but Rowan is.

1920s Will is white enough to attend the white school, but his detractors call him “half-breed.” His Osage mother has oil rights to Maple Ridge plus she’s inherited 2 other portions. She’s rich. But racism against Indians requires her to have a white sponsor to hold her monies. That would be Will’s father, who is building a luxury house for the family on the edge of Greenwood.

Rowan and Will are both complex and well-drawn characters. Privileged and snarky Rowan describes a nearby high-end shopping mall “where the flowerbeds are perfect and the luxury cars roam free.” Her summer job is at a free clinic, and she loves the job.

Under the influence of his friend Clete, Will has falsely accused Clarence of assaulting him. Clarence is beaten by a white mob that plans to lynch him. Will isn’t bad, but he’s young and weak, until he begins to grow up.

Due to the parallel stories we can view racism—the degree of hatred allotted to varying complexions—then and now. Rowan’s mother says, “Black men and women are dying today for the same reasons they did in 1921. And we have to call that out . . .”

Rowan and best friend James are trying to solve the aged mystery with the contents of the skeleton’s wallet and it’s not pretty. Because we, the reader, have Will’s story, we’re a little ahead of Rowan, but not much. Latham has ingeniously structured her story to be a page-turner—every single page.

Readers follow two teens coming of age, making moral decisions and discovering their own values, while being steeped in the deep waters of history.



Patricia Hruby Powell’s young adult documentary novel in verse, Loving vs. Virginia, is now available. talesforallages.com


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