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Wednesday, July 4, 2012

American historicals for teens by Tara Chevrestt and Mary Zinda


To celebrate the Fourth of July, Poe felt like browsing American historical fiction. This first title promises to take the reader on a fast ride from coast to coast:

By Tara Chevrestt
MuseItUp Publishing, 2012
Poe thinks this is younger YA adventure/historical

First sentence: “Oh, darn it all to hell and back!” Angeline exclaimed as she pulled back the heavy brocade drape for the twentieth time and stared in dismay at the empty street on the other side of the window.

MCs Angeline and Adelaide Hanson (19 and 16 years old) are described in a preface as avatars for Augusta and Adeline Van Buren, descendents of Martin Van Buren, the eighth President of the United States. Like the Van Buren sisters, Chevrestt's MCs hail from a family with a historically significant family tree; like them, the MCs are active in War-preparedness and suffragette activities. In 1916, the real sisters bought two motorcycles and rode them across the continental U.S. in 60 days. The ride was meant to prove that women could perform significant War work--delivering military dispatches. Female cyclist/dispatchers would free men up for rougher War duties, and (incidentally) reinforce the idea that American women deserved full citizenship--that is, the Vote. All of this applies to the fictional sisters, too.

What an engaging hook for readers who like exciting real history in their historical fiction, and for those weary of historicals that are little more than contemporary romances in corsets!

This recommendation comes with a reservation about Voice. The dialogue includes occasional anachronisms, and (at the opposite extreme) is sometimes too stilted to sound natural, even for 1916. Poe thinks that the subject's interesting and unique enough to overcome that flaw. But that may not be your view, particularly if you are selecting ebooks for a school reading list or library.

Rated: If you like books about cultural game-changers, adventurers, or athletes (especially motorcyclists)(especially female motorcyclists), then don't miss this book.

Today's second selection, in contrast, features a stay-at-home heroine.

By Mary Zinda
Self-published in 2012
Poe thinks this is an MG historical ghost story

First sentence: It was raining again, but that rarely stopped them.

This is a fascinating story that struggles with style. A historical based on true events (in this case, the obscure Peshtigo Fire of 1871) must present a quantity of facts. How to do it? "Telling" is supposed to put young readers off; but "showing" often involves contorting the story with extraneous characters and episodes. Zinda chooses to "tell," in the first-person voice of teenaged Lark. But why is Lark compelled to explain so much? We're not sure. Perhaps if we knew quite specifically who Lark is telling her story to?

Interweaving a quantity of back-story is another challenge—especially in a story that darts with the speed of incorporeal thought between the present day and several different stopping points in the 19th century.

Despite these hiccups, the mysteries captivate us. Lark, you see, dwells in the attic of an old Wisconsin house that has become a living history museum. But why is she trapped here with her embittered, ever-more-destructive Father (who is clearly a ghost)? Where is the rest of the family? How did Lark and her father come through the great fire, if the others did not? Poe expects that you'll be curious, too, and for that reason suggests that

If substance (here, a ghostly story, a bit of history, and a refreshingly different setting) matters more than style, then do explore the sample—a few pages will tell you whether you want to read further.

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