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Honest and Real: The Diary of an American Girl

Home Front GirlHere at Good Reads with Ronna we only review books we have read cover to cover and love. I’m thrilled to share Home Front Girl: A Diary of Love, Literature, and Growing Up in Wartime America  ($19.95, Chicago Review Press, Ages 12 and up) because it just happens to be one of those books, and I just could not put it down. I had to read every single word, and I can see myself reading this book again one day.

This hard cover book is the diary of Joan Wehlen Morrison, beginning in the pre WWII year of 1937, when she was 14 years old, through the spring of 1943 when she was 20. Joan was a witty and insightful teenager from Chicago who wrote her thoughts, dreams and experiences in her journal on a regular basis. Following her death in 2010, her children discovered her written treasures, and her daughter, Susan Morrison, set out to get them published. Home Front Girl is the glorious result of those efforts.

It was fate that I was asked to review this book because not only was I born in Chicago where Joan lived, but my family has a long history with The University of Chicago, where Joan attended school. My grandfather received his degree from UC in the 1920s, my uncle (my father’s brother) was a well known professor of Economics at UC, my cousins – his daughters – attended the Lab School where Joan went, and my brother received his MBA there in the early 1990s. And although I have lived in Miami most of my life, I am very familiar with all the Chicago places Joan writes about in her diary.

Nothing can match the raw honesty of a teenager’s diary, especially when that teenager is highly intelligent, insightful, sensitive and hopelessly optimistic. I suppose all who write in a journal write for themselves not really contemplating who will read it after they are gone, and that is what makes them so honest and real.

“By the way, I’m a genius. I found out my I.Q. rating accidentally yesterday. It’s 141. And the biology book said people with I.Q.s of 140 or more are ‘usually considered geniuses.’ Only 1 percent get that.”

Throughout the diary, readers can step inside Joan’s thoughts and read of her experiences, from the every day to the extraordinary – her latest crushes, her talents as a top student, her friendships, a tuberculosis scare, how she is always hungry and how she is perpetually late for nearly everything. Most importantly, Joan is sensitive to the pre-war atmosphere and writes with great wisdom about what is happening globally as well as what she dreads with the impending doom of America going to war looming in the air. Her WWII comments are really quite perceptive and educational.

Joan’s academic abilities led to a prestigious scholarship to attend The University of Chicago’s Junior College for her last two years of high school. Later she got her college degree in Anthropology there. Considering the time period in which her writing takes place, when women in academics were the minority, her accomplishments were quite impressive. I love that some of her actual diary pages and doodles are included in the book and footnotes are used to help the reader understand details about Joan’s entries.

What I enjoyed most about the diary is Joan’s intellectual insight about what is most important in life. In a passage about a friend’s father who passed away suddenly she writes:

“Vera’s father is dead. Gee, I came home and Mom told me. I used to play cards with him and tell jokes and I saw him last Sunday and he is dead . . . and the Spanish War is over and the Chinese War is going on and 8,000 people died in the Chile earthquake and people all over the world are eating their suppers and doing their homework (as I shall) and laughing and reading and moving about in lighted rooms and a man I know is dead.”

Other than a whole lot of wisdom about the WII era, what young readers will take away from this book is that teenagers from more than 70 years ago were not much different in most ways than teenagers of today  – minus technology of course. The fact that Joan did not have a typewriter or computer to write her diary is perhaps the very reason her written thoughts were preserved as well as discovered by her children. Computers fail over time, CD roms are almost obsolete, but pen and paper endure.

I highly ecommend this book for any young readers, particularly girls, who wish to broaden their horizons and make friends with an American girl from decades ago who was honest and real. I now feel as though I know Joan Wehlen Morrison personally, and I only wish she had written more journal entries about her life so I could read more.

I commend Susan Morrison and her brothers for sharing their mother’s private words with the world. Oh how I wish my mother or grandmothers had left me with a treasure of a diary such as this!

– Reviewed by Debbie Glade.

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Fridays Featuring Flintridge – For Fans of Young Adult Fiction

Catherine Linka shares her picks for …

Young Adult Fiction

Publishers just announced that the biggest readers of young adult fiction are adults. This doesn’t surprise me, because I read YA constantly. YA fiction offers the adventure and excitement lacking from many adult novels. YA emphasizes “story” over “form” and offers a faster pace than many adult novels. Finally, YA characters tend to change and grow through a story, and even tough, edgy stories end with at least a sliver of hope.

Many adult readers are familiar with YA fantasy and dystopian titles, but some of the best YA writing right now is historical fiction. I encourage you to check out these novels. They have bold characters, perfectly crafted settings and stories that are anything but boring.

BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY ($8.99, Penguin paperback; ages 12+) by Ruta Sepetys.

The only WW2 novel to tell the story of the Soviets taking Lithuanians to concentration camps in Siberia. An amazing story of will and survival. Winner of numerous awards. Ironically, BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY is sometimes confused with another best-selling series.

GILT ($17.99, Viking Juvenile, Ages 12+) by Katherine Longshore.

Fans of “The Tudors” will love this unabashedly sexy novel about Catherine Howard whose secret affairs cost her her life. Told from the point of view of Kitty Tylney, her best friend, the terrific writing and perilous intrigue will keep you enthralled.

GRAVE MERCY ($16.99, Houghton Mifflin,  Ages 14+) by Robin LaFevers.

Chosen by independent booksellers as one of the best YA novels this year. Ismae escapes an arranged marriage and hides among nuns who train her to be an assassin for the God of Death. Sent to kill a traitor at court, she must choose between love and country. Dynamic character, perfectly crafted prose and a historically accurate medieval French setting.

OUT OF THE EASY ($17.99, Philomel/Penguin, ages 14+) by Ruta Sepetys

How could I not read this book when the first line is “My mother’s a prostitute.” Set in New Orleans’ French Quarter in 1950. Josie is a pragmatic girl and hard working student who wants nothing of her mother’s lifestyle and bad choices in men. When her mother is linked to a murder, Josie has to figure out not just her future after high school, but how to stay alive. (Coming in February!)

Please visit the Flintridge Bookstore today to pick up your copy of these great books, buy gifts, enjoy their extensive selection of other great reads  and relax over a great cup of coffee.  Also visit the website at www.flintridgebooks.com to keep up-to-date with story times, author events and other exciting special events.

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The Women Heroes of World War II – An Important Book for Young Readers

Debbie Glade reviews this nonfiction book for YA readers from Chicago Review Press.

After reading a graphic book about the Holocaust in college, which kept me awake for many a night, I always wondered how this sensitive, yet important subject could ever be taught to young readers. Then a few months back I reviewed the beautifully written book, Someone Named Eva, by Joan Wolf, on my publishing blog and understood how the subject can be taught with care.

That book lead me to be come interested in reviewing Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance and Rescue ($19.95 Chicago Review Press, Young Adult) by Kathryn Atwood. Each of the 26 stories in the book feature a female, from teen to adult, who went way above and beyond the call of duty to rescue, save, feed, house, hide or otherwise help victims of the Nazis. A black and white photo of each woman hero is included in the narratives.

What I like about the book is that the author goes into the background of each hero, revealing how they came to be in a situation where they were able to help others. Some of the women actually started out supporting the Nazis until they saw, firsthand, the torture and cruelty of so many people under Hitler’s regime. Most of the women had to do a lot of lying or hiding to help the victims, thereby sacrificing their own safety and well-being.

Kathryn Atwood did a great job portraying the struggles, without terrifying the young readers. And the stories in the book are so important that all adults can benefit from reading them as well. As a reader you can really imagine yourself in the place of the women heroes of the war. For anyone who ever wondered, “What could one person possibly do to change a horrific situation?” this book is a perfect example.

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