The Land of Forgotten Girls

by Erin Estrada Kelly

Soledad Elia Madrid thinks she knows how the world ticks. It’s complicated, just as her family is. Mama’s dead. So is Sol’s sister Amelia, who drowned when Sol was seven. Evil stepmother Vea married Papa only because she wanted to come to the United States, and now Papa’s gone back to the Philippines, likely for good. Magnolia Towers, in Giverny, Louisiana, where Sol and her sister Dominga (Ming) live with Vea, is a dump. There are rats in the walls and the bathroom mirror has a bad luck crack. Class lines are drawn, with Sol and her friend Manny yelling insults at the parochial school kids. Adults in the neighborhood display their own distinctive quirks. And then there’s the story world that Mama left, with tales of Auntie Jove—is she real, or did Mama make her up? Kelly (Blackbird Fly) has created an array of well-honed characters. The plucky young narrator must learn to navigate the sometimes blurry borders between truth and fantasy, reality and longing. The prose is simple, often striking. Vea “talks in thorns.” A balmy afternoon is “the kind that makes you thirsty all day.” Past and present, real and imagined, intersect in this touching middle grade novel about friendship, community, and the power of sisterhood. The book ends on a note of hope while avoiding an overly tidy resolution.

Reviewer: Uma Krishnaswami

First Light, First Life: A Worldwide Creation Story

by Paul Fleischman

illustrated by Julie Paschkis

From different religious and cultural traditions come different creation stories, and this book weaves many together in a single narrative. In China, the world begins with darkness, while in Fiji, there is only water; and in Mali there is only a drop of milk. The God of Israel speaks light into existence, while the Raven of Alaska steals a ball of light and drops some for the people. When there was only water, the Nigerian Obatala creates land from a single snail shell. Egypt’s sun god, Ra, creates the first humans from his own tears; and Arizona’s Spider Woman mixes four different kinds of soil together, wraps them in a cape, and sings a song to create humans. In accounts of creators’ judgment, the God of Gabon calls thunder to work with lightning to set fire to the earth, and the water God of Mexico—one of several flood stories—floods the earth. As the flood recedes, the good people who had been spared begin life again. This fascinating compilation of stories proves surprisingly coherent and shows the commonalities among cultures seeking answers about the origins of the world. Bright and primitive illustrations evoke the cultures depicted, and one illustration flows seamlessly into another in clever two-page spreads. The Author’s Note at the beginning offers sources for further reading about creation stories.

Reviewer: Michele Hughes

Salt to the Sea

by Ruta Sepetys

World War II is nearly over but thousands of refugees have nowhere to go. Alternating voices from four perspectives tells their converging stories when three of their paths cross as they trek through eastern Prussia toward the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship that might take them to freedom. Each of the narrators has something to hide: Joana, a Lithuanian nurse believes herself to be a murderer; Emelia, a Polish fifteen-year-old secretive, is pregnant girl; Florian, a young Prussian soldier has deserted the Army and is carrying a mysterious parcel; and Alfred, a German sailor assigned to the Wilhelm is delusional, full of himself, and devoted to Hitler. With the exception of Alfred, the characters are warmly human and likable. Alfred, on the other hand, is not but his story helps tell the German role in the late war and sets up events on the ship. Sepetys has crafted another meticulously researched historical fiction story. Her poetic prose moderates the harsh realities of war and the setting but does not mask them. The short chapters gradually disclose each refugee’s heart-rending story, as well as that of an older cobbler poet, a runaway boy, and a large, negative woman. By the time the refugees reach the ship, the reader should sense they are heading for disaster as Alfred has provided details on the ship’s capacity and actual load. The ending is, of course, inevitable but the connection to the characters will keep readers quickly turning pages to reach the book’s heartbreaking conclusion that does include loss of a character. Sepetys tells a beautifully written, little known, and important moment of history, while helping young adults experience the best and worst of humanity and the strong will to persevere and survive. Back matter includes an informative Author’s Note and a map.

Reviewer: Peg Glisson