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West of the Moon by Margi Preus (2014)

West of the MoonA dense tome for middle grade children that deals with abandonment, abuse, greed, illness, illiteracy and poverty. Weaving fairy tale and folklore into a historical setting – similarly to Grace Lin but in a less structured fashion and with heavier themes – Preus tells the story of Astri and her younger sister, two girls effectively orphaned by the death of their mother and father who left them for America. Now in the care of their uncle, Astri and her sister are marginalized.

Then Astri is sold to a goat farmer named Mr. Svaalberd, she is worked to the bone, physically abused and almost sexually assaulted. Then Astri discovers Svaalberd has been keeping another girl, rumored to be a changeling, with a talent for weaving.

Eventually, Astri finds the courage to escape with the weaving girl, rescue her sister and leave for America. Along the way, she discovers family secrets, betrayals and the courage to cheat death and forge a new future herself and her sister. A well told tale.

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Forge by Laurie Halse Anderson (Oct. 19, 2010)

We were escaped slave, half frozen  and exhausted. We needed to warm ourselves, sleep and eat. But above all, we had to stay hidden. The business of returning of selling runaways  was profitable for both redcoats and rebels.

I tallied our advantages: A few coins. Food enough for a few meals. Disadvantages: No horse. No gun. No one to trust.

A large piece of ice floated down the river as the second truth crackled in me.

This freedom could kill us (p 8-9).

This is a review of an unedited bound manuscript of Forge by Laurie Halse Anderson, provided by the publisher, Atheneum.

Forge is the sequel to the brilliant book Chains (read my review), and equal to its predecessor is scope and excellence. If you haven’t read Chains, do so immediately.

In Chains, Isabelle, a teenage slave girl, narrators her story. She and her younger sister Ruth are sold to wealthy, cruel Loyalists living in New York City. Isabelle turns spy for the rebels but soon learns their promises of freedom are insubstantial. Ruth is sold away and Isabelle is determined to find her. Isabelle escapes the city after freeing Curzon, a slave sold into soldiering for the rebel cause.

Forge continues the story with a new narrator, Curzon. We soon learn that Isabelle has broken with Curzon, sneaking off in the night, because she insists on traveling south to find her sister while Curzon plans for a safer route north to freedom.

Before too long, Curzon finds himself reenlisted as an American soldier. His thoughts constantly turn to Isabelle.

Forge has several meaning in this novel: (1) Curzon worked in a forge.

“I worked with a blacksmith,” I said, which was both true and believable. “Warmest job in the entire camp. I’ll wager you right now I’ll get to do it again. Blacksmith’s don’t want clumsy oafs helping them in the forge. They need skilled chaps like me (p 138).”

(2) Valley Forge, named for an iron forge on Valley Creek, was an American Revolution War winter camp (1777-17780). Curzon and his company make camp at Valley Forge with the American army. (Read more about Valley Forge at Wikipedia). Much of the story takes place at Valley Forge.

(3) This book is as much about the American Patriots attempting to forge a new nation, free from England’s rule, as it is about two young slaves fighting even harder to forge their own free futures.

The fellows had forged themselves into an army that was ready to march and take its country back (504).

(4) And of course, Isabelle and Curzon will fight their enslavement as long as they have breath in their bodies, finally forging their futures on their own terms.

“If our luck does not turn for the good on its own,” she said, “we’ll make it turn” (p 490).

This book incites many emotions: frustration, sadness, and several beautiful moments of fulfillment and sweetness. All of it unfolds beautifully and with a veracity that places the reader in chilly half-built barracks feeling hungry with only fire cakes to eat and unable to do anything about it. Anderson is a stellar writer and researcher and this book reflects it.

And what a completely satisfying ending! I suppose she could write another book, and I’d be first in line to read it, but I’m also completely happy to end the story with Forge.

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Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

ChainsI know, I’m so late in reading this but I finally got around to it (historical fiction isn’t my favorite genre). I won’t summarize because there are plenty of blogs out there who already have (Librarilly Blonde and The Reading Zone are two).

I will say that I enjoyed the book enormously. Great writing, riveting perspective, heart-wrenching scenes. I am pretty surprised that it wasn’t a Newberry Honor. I wish I knew what qualified an honor book… This book is so superior to Savvy that I cannot believe a group of educated Librarians actually choose Savvy over Chains. Perhaps their undergraduate degrees were in some esoteric and irrelevant field. That is the only reason I can fathom for their misstep (although it has been know to happen –  ahem **Charlotte’s Web** ahem). Perhaps it was a case of kidlit bloggers gone amok! (If anyone can explain, please do!) That being said, The Graveyard Book was an excellent winner.

Chains was a 2008 National Book Award finalist.