Kate Pentecost’s YA novel has the wonderfully ironic title, Elysium Girls. There’s nothing paradisal about Elysium, Oklahoma, during the 1930s Dust Bowl. One moment it’s a regular town, the next, the goddesses Life and Death use it to play a decade-long game: from next to nothing, the citizens must build a city and a society which is good and responsible, setting aside one-third of all crops as a Sacrifice. If the Elysiums do this, at the end of ten years, their society will continue; if not, everyone perishes. Dust Sickness soon begins to claim lives.
Seventeen-year-old Sal Wilkerson loses her mother and doesn’t fit in, overcome by unfulfilled predictions. As the game’s conclusion draws near, the town’s self-declared witchy leader, Mother Morevna, chooses Sal as the Successor. Finally, it seems Sal’s time has come, but an outsider named Asa arrives and unintentionally upsets things. For me, Asa stole the show as much for his charming personality as for the fact that, even though a nonhuman character, he’s so very relatable. Over the course of the book, his life changes dramatically as he deals with one unknown after another.
Outside the Elysium walls, a band of kick-butt girls survives fire coyotes and other wicked things by using their ingenuity. The different realities are fascinating: inside the walls, outside, above, and blips from the real Depression-era world. In addition, there are many appealing character elements including friendship, girl power, and family. Romance isn’t limited to boy and girl, or human and human. Put it all together and you’ll see why Elysium Girls is as hard to shake as a dusty Oklahoma day.
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A REVIEW + GIVEAWAY FOR MULTICULTURAL CHILDREN’S BOOK DAY
LOVING VS. VIRGINIA A DOCUMENTARY NOVEL OF THE LANDMARK CIVIL RIGHTS CASE Written by Patricia Hruby Powell Artwork by Shadra Strickland (Chronicle Books; $21.99 – available after 1/31/17, Ages 12+)
REVIEW:When I read Patricia Hruby Powell’s Loving vs. VirginiaI felt like a fly on the wall or a Jeter family cousin, as the action of this powerful story unfolded around me. Despite knowing how things turn out in the end, I found every aspect of this teen docu-novel incredibly riveting and eye-opening. Through meticulous research and interviews,Powellhas successfully managed to transport readers back in time to the Jim Crow south of Caroline County, Virginia. Plunked down into the small neighborly community of Central Point, we’re quickly swept up into the lives of sixth grader Mildred Jeter, and her close knit family. The year, 1955.
As the romance between family friend Richard Loving and Mildred Jeter developed and grew, so did their problems. Strict segregation laws banning interracial marriage were in effect in over 20 states making any romantic relationship between a black woman and a white man a crime, and vice versa. Virginia, the state that Mildred and Richard called home, made no secret of its distaste for interracial marriage and did whatever it could to thwart these relationships. Mildred often noted that had their genders been reversed making Mildred a white woman and Richard a black man, he’d have surely been hung.
So while things were already difficult for these two, matters were made worse by the local law enforcement. A nasty man named Sheriff Brooks was determined to keep the lovers apart or make them pay. When Mildred and Richard eventually got married in D.C. where it was legal to do so, they returned home to Central Point intending to stay under the radar. But secrets were hard to keep in small towns and it wasn’t long before Sheriff Brooks invaded their home as the legally married couple slept together. The marriage was not considered legal in Virginia and the Lovings were guilty of committing a crime. Mildred and Richard were arrested! Having not seen the film or read anything about the Lovings, I was shocked by this dead of night intrusion.
This would only be the first of several arrests that eventually led Mildred and Richard to young lawyers with the National Civil Liberties Union. The Loving’s rights as Americans, according to their plucky attorneys, were being denied. It took several years and a lot of personal sacrifice for the couple, but they worked through every issue, and their compelling case was ultimately heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. Of course as we all know, they won in a unanimous decision under Chief Justice Earl Warren, but the fear of losing was palpable. It was no longer illegal to marry someone of another race. And at last, the Mildred and Richard could raise their children in their home state of Virginia without fear of breaking the law. Perseverance, fearlessness, and commitment helped this couple make history. The year, 1967. And now in 2017 we can proudly mark the 50th anniversary of this important case and the Lovings that made it happen.
Powell’s writing is at once simple yet sophisticated. The ample white space of each unillustrated page invites readers in slowly and calmly as the tension of the story builds. Told in blank verse, Powell’s narratives alternate between the distinct voices of Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving, bringing enlightening perspectives to teen readers. The text is complemented by illustratorShadra Strickland’s evocative artwork done in visual journalism style “characterized by a loose, impromptu drawing style” containing overlapping lines and “an informal feeling of sketches in the final composition.” Strickland’s illustrations made it easy to picture the setting, the characters, the time period and the events. I cannot imagine this story with any other type of art. Its minimal and muted color palette and its interspersing of historical photos in black and white worked wonderfully to convey the mood of this era. Helpful information can be garnered from the extensive resources included in the back matter of this book such as a time line, a bibliography, quote sources and moving messages from the artist and author. With its still timely message of civil rights, equality and racial tolerance, Loving vs. Virginia should be required reading for every high school student. I will be recommending it to everyone I know with a teen at home.
Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Multicultural Children’s Book Day2017 (1/27/17) is its fourth year and was founded by Valarie Budayr fromJump Into A Bookand Mia Wenjen fromPragmaticMom.Our mission is to raise awareness on the ongoing need to include kid’s books that celebrate diversity in home and school bookshelves while also working diligently to get more of these types of books into the hands of young readers, parents and educators. Despite census data that shows 37% of the US population consists of people of color, only 10% of children’s books published have diversity content. Using the Multicultural Children’s Book Day holiday, the MCBD Team are on a mission to change all of that.
We’d like to also give a shout-out to MCBD’s impressive CoHost Team who not only hosts the book review link-up on celebration day, but who also work tirelessly to spread the word of this event. View our CoHostshere.
From acclaimed author Patricia Hruby Powell comes the story of a landmark civil rights case, told in spare and gorgeous verse. In 1955, in Caroline County, Virginia, amidst segregation and prejudice, injustice and cruelty, two teenagers fell in love. Their life together broke the law, but their determination would change it. Richard and Mildred Loving were at the heart of a Supreme Court case that legalized marriage between races, and a story of the devoted couple who faced discrimination, fought it, and won.
Patricia Hruby Powell’s previous book, Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker, won a Sibert Honor for Nonfiction, a Coretta Scott King Honor, and five starred reviews. She lives in Illinois.
Shadra Strickland is an illustrator whose work has won an Ezra Jack Keats Award, a Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent, and an NAACP Image Award. She lives in Maryland.
GIVEAWAY: Details of our giveaway courtesy of Chronicle Books are below. Plus, if you follow us on Facebook and let us know that you did by telling us in the comments of this blog post, we’ll give you an extra entry. An additional comment on our Facebook page post for this book review gets you yet another entry. Also, if you enjoyed this review, please subscribe to our blog. Thanks and good luck!
OUTRUN THE MOON Written by Stacey Lee (G.P. Putnam’s Sons; $17.99, Ages 12 and up)
Ever since I finished reading Stacey Lee’s debut Under a Painted Sky, a YA novel following two girls escaping along the Oregon Trail, I’ve been hankering for more of Lee’s historical fiction, especially her lively and likable characters. In Outrun The Moon, out on May 24, Lee delivers, giving us Mercy Wong, a fifteen-year-old growing up in San Francisco’s Chinatown. It’s 1906, and the Chinese are restricted to a crowded corner of the city, but Mercy is determined to break out for the sake of her family, especially her overworked father and weak-lunged little brother. Mercy wants to change their destiny, but her mother warns that destiny is “like the moon. We can see it differently by climbing a mountain, but we cannot outrun it.” Or can they?
The story takes off — literally — as Mercy helps her lifelong friend and marriage prospect, Tom, with his hot-air balloon. Mercy’s mother is a revered fortune-teller who uses facial characteristics in her character assessments and predictions. You can imagine what happens when the daughter she calls “bossy cheeks” is left alone in the balloon for a moment, with the simple instructions, “Don’t touch anything.” The balloon seems to be collapsing, and Mercy will never sit still doing nothing if she thinks she can fix a problem.
And lots of problems are coming. If she can survive the hot air balloon, Mercy has a plan to win herself a scholarship to the best girls’ school in the city, but she may not understand the depth and breadth of prejudice against the Chinese. Dependable Tom is acting aloof. Ma has a chilling premonition — of her own death. Worst of all, it’s springtime in San Francisco. In 1906, that means the earth is about to crack open.
I love how Lee places many intermediate points of suspense along the story’s path, and I don’t want to spoil that suspense by telling any more about the book’s plot. But I can tell you that you will meet interesting young people of different backgrounds and prospects — and some crotchety older people, too. There will be leeches, and a mystical cow. There will be wisdom from Mercy’s fortune-telling mother, and from Mrs. Lowry, a Texan with a big ranch and a big personality. Food plays an important role, too, especially once disaster strikes; you may want to have some pasta available for the cravings you’ll get as you read. Chocolate, too.
I recommend this novel wholeheartedly. YA readers looking for strong, independent female characters will enjoy it. The book is also an excellent diverse read, giving an intimate perspective on the attitudes, injustices, and practical difficulties associated with the Chinese Exclusion Act. Finally, I recommend Outrun The Moon to my fellow historical fiction fans, and to anyone who’s ever left their heart in San Francisco.
Click here to see Lee’s book tour dates. Visit Lee’s website to learn more about her here.