‘The Last Dance of the Debutante’ by Julia Kelly is a frothy tale of parties and upper-class British snobbery but it’s touching and inspiring

The Last Dance of the Debutante
by Julia Kelly

“The Last Dance of the Debutante,” Julia Kelly’s historical fiction about the last group of British debutantes who got presented at Court to the Queen in 1958 is, as might be said about many of the debutantes, a frothy delight. Getting to sneak vicariously into debutante parties and reading about the effort and expense that went into a debutante’s season in 1950s England is fascinating, and Kelly provides us with the inside story. It was a time when, at least for upper class women, their goal as debutantes was to meet other debutantes and expand their social circle, all in the pursuit of one overarching aim: to find a husband who would increase their social value. So the daughters of the extremely well-connected and wealthy might demand a suitor with a title or prospective title, and the daughter of an impoverished but noble family might simply need a suitor who could provide the funds to keep the family estates going. Each debutante had slightly different goals, but almost all were in pursuit of a husband.

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‘Boy Underground’ by Catherine Ryan Hyde is a coming of age story of a gay teen in the 1940s

Boy Underground by Catherine Ryan Hyde

“Boy Underground” is the title of Catherine Ryan Hyde’s newest novel, and the title has a double meaning. On one hand, the title refers to Nick, who is main character Steven Katz’ best friend, and who is also Steven’s romantic crush. Because of an unbelievable betrayal by Nick’s father, he must hide and ends up living underground in a root cellar on Steven’s family’s huge farm. On the other hand, the title could also refer to Steven, and the fact he is gay; something he is hiding from his family and pretty much everyone else. During this time homosexuality was considered a perversion and a crime. Steven’s feelings, his identity, his persona—all are hidden “underground.”

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‘Sugar Town Queens’ by Malla Nunn is an emotional tale of familial discrimination and the slums of South Africa

Sugar Town Queens by Malla Nunn

In “Sugar Town Queens,” author Malla Nunn takes us on a journey to the slums of South Africa, where fifteen-year-old Amandla lives with Annalisa, her white mother. Where they live, in the slum called Sugar Town for its proximity to the sugar cane fields, her mother is the only white person, and the oddity of her existence there extends beyond her skin color. Annalisa’s accent marks her as upper class, as does her insistence on living in an immaculate house—even though it’s one room made from tin — teaching Amandla how to make tea the correct way, and speaking correctly. The narrative is powerful, and we see the world through Amandla’s clever, perceptive eyes.

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Incredibly — ‘Better, Not Bitter: Living On Purpose in the Pursuit of Racial Justice’ by Yusef Salaam an inspiring read

Better Not Bitter by Yusef Salaam

The set of blazing emotions provoked by Yusef Salaam’s memoir, “Better, Not Bitter: Living On Purpose in the Pursuit of Racial Justice,” includes strong doses of disgust, shame, anger — and inspiration. In 1989, five teenagers, all Black or Hispanic, were convicted in the notorious case of a young White female jogger who had been raped, beaten, tortured, and left for dead in Central Park. Salaam was one of those five teenagers.

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‘That Summer’ by Jennifer Weiner is about two Dianas whose lives intersect in an unexpected way

That Summer by Jennifer Weiner

In “That Summer,” Jennifer Weiner returns to her beloved Cape to share the tale of two Dianas, who each in her own way have had her life’s ambitions destroyed by one man. The difference is that one Diana has her life destroyed—almost—when she is fifteen while the other Diana is seduced into choosing a life of postponed dreams and belittled ambitions.

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Three Mothers: Unappreciated, Unnoticed, Unknown

The Three Mothers by Anna Malaika Tubbs

Their names were Berdis Baldwin, Louise Little, and Alberta King. The percentage of Americans who might recognize those three names is approximately zero. But their lives, struggles, and accomplishments are every bit as important as those of the people we generally acknowledge as American heroes. And that is why Anna Malaika Tubbs’ detailed account of their lives is so significant and timely. Her study, “The Three Mothers,” shines a brilliant light on the influence these three women exerted in the lives of their sons — James Baldwin, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

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‘Yellow Wife’ by Sadeqa Johnson: a beautiful historical fiction about love and sacrifice

yellow

“Yellow Wife” takes us into America’s dark past, where we meet Pheby Delores Brown, a woman of valor. A woman who loved deeply and fiercely. A woman who was a slave yet managed to keep her dignity. But no matter Pheby’s relatively privileged upbringing in the plantation house where she grew up, being taught to read and play the piano by her master’s sister who was also her aunt; in the end, there was no one left to protect her. Pheby reverted to being nothing more than a possession, a belonging, to be sold at the whim of her owner.

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‘Starfish’ by Lisa Fipps is a sensitively written middle grade novel in free verse about image and bullies

Starfish by Lisa Fipps

“Starfish” is Lisa Fipps’ debut novel, and it’s a winner. Think Jennifer Weiner for middle grade readers and you will come close to picturing this book. It’s about Ellie, who is known as Splash for an unfortunate exclamation made by her older sister when she did a cannonball into the family pool at age five. It’s tough being a five-year-old and having your mother and everyone in your family berate you for your weight. The only one on Ellie’s side is her dad, but it’s not enough.

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Attack dogs do not belong in jails

There have been many allegations that inmates in Virginia jails have been attacked by guard dogs, even when the inmates are lying prone on the ground — clearly not a threat. A Washington Post article dated March 6th, “Virginia is using dogs to ‘terrify and attack’ prisoners, say lawsuits that describe one man as mauled in his cell,” outlines how Curtis Garrett was mauled while standing with his hands behind his back, waiting to be put in handcuffs. The two dogs not only bit his arm and leg, but when he fell from the attack, the guards lifted him up while the dogs still had their teeth in him, biting him.

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‘Separate No More: The Long Road to Brown v. Board of Education’ by Lawrence Goldstone is an important nonfiction young adult history of segregation and bigotry

separate no more

“Separate No More: The Long Road to Brown v. Board of Education” by Lawrence Goldstone is an important nonfiction young adult history of segregation and bigotry beginning in 1892 in the famous Supreme Court case Plessy v. Ferguson. Goldstone writes the story of segregation and institutionalized racism and bigotry as if writing a novel, and many of the historical figures and events he shares become real and present. Continue reading

The Conservative Party? Jack Kramer opines

The malignant tumor generally known as Donald Trump may have been excised before it could fully metastasize, but Trump was not, of course, the only cancerous cell in our ailing body politic. Neither was he the cause of the disease; he was simply its most glaringly obvious symptom. The other malodorous, noxious cells are alive and all too well. Unlike the ex-president, they are still all around us, multiplying and spreading as they surely and not-so-gradually go about their business of destroying the body they inhabit. Make no mistake: those cells must be investigated and isolated in order for the healing process to begin before the offending organisms are allowed to fulfill their singularly horrific goal.

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‘They Called Us Enemy’ by George Takei is a graphic memoir that brings home the horror of racism and judging people by their race and is a must-read for teenager readers

I’ve read about the internment camps for Japanese Americans during WWII, and there are many historical fiction books for children that are set in those camps (see some listed at the end of this review), but George Takei’s powerful memoir instilled in me a broader sense of what this country was like when this atrocity was implemented — taking away the property and rights of American citizens because of their ancestry and separating them from their homes. Continue reading