The Great Trouble: A Mystery of London, The Blue Death, and a Boy Called Eel – Deborah Hopkinson

Action, death, period pieces, Safe Bets, Young Readers

Life for Eel is difficult as he tries to survive the streets of London as an orphan, doing odd jobs and being a “mudlark” who searches along the River Themes for trinkets to sell.  With a cruel man after him, no parents to protect him, and a little brother he pays lodging for, life is worse than for most 13 year olds.  And then an outbreak of cholera (“the blue death”) occurs the streets of his friends and community.

Together with the good doctor, Eel uses his wits and familiarity with the locals to try to help the doctor learn more of the disease and how it spreads.  Happy to have a safe place – even though it’s a shed – and two meals a day, Eel feels important in trying to protect his neighbors as he learns the ways of medicine and science.  After losing a few friends he is even more focused with Doctor Snow.  Can Eel get past his station as a mudlark and help the good doctor?  Will Henry remain safe?

I love a good historical fiction, and this doesn’t disappoint.  There is action until the end and things get wrapped up quite nicely as many juvenile books do.  The reader is even lucky enough to have author’s notes at the end and learn more about the mid 1800’s, this real epidemic, and some of the real people – like Doctor Snow.

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Salt to the Sea – Ruta Sepetys

alternating narration, Books Worth Crying Over, death, diversity in YA, period pieces

There aren’t a lot of books that the night I finish reading it, I wake and in my groggy state think back to the heartbreaking parts or dialogue.  I mean, Come On Ruta Sepetys! This is not only based on a true story, but has amazing characters – brave, loyal, courageous, kind.  And Emilia – a “warrior” (as Florian eventually calls her) for sure.   Read it.  Trust Me. Tears will flow, but they are worth it.

In 1945, thousands of refugees were trying to flee Germany.  Joana, a Lithuanian, is hunted by guilt.  Florian is Prussian has a plan he believes fate will hunt him or lead him to success.  Emilia who is Polish is living in shame and Alfred, the German sailor, is hunted by fear and a strange view of self-importance.   As these people come together, either trying to flee or trying to survive, each faces their fears and personal dangers.

This is the story of the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff at the end of WWII when 10,000 people were boarded on the cruiser [built for 1,463 passengers] to evacuate East Prussia.  Once at sea, a soviet submarine shot it with torpedoes and it sank, killing over 9,343 people.  It is the deadliest maritime disaster in history.  Sepetys writes of these hidden histories so that their stories are told and she does it so beautifully and respectfully.

I am still thinking of these characters 24 hours after completing the novel.  War brings about horrible situations, especially to the children, which is shown through these characters as well as the thousands of refugees our group encounters along the roads, walking across frozen bodies of water, and later on the ship which seems a savior, but ends up killing thousands.  Such wonderfully wise passages from The Poet, the elderly shoe maker who cares for Klaus, the 6 year old orphan, who still manages to find good in the world even as death surrounds all of them.  The historic details gained from Sepetys’ research are heartbreaking and shocking, especially to the desperate parents and the children cast aside.  The stories of the babies are really the only reason I would say 14 and over.  This was the first time I read all of the author’s notes following the completion of a work of historical fiction.

One of my top favorites for historical fiction, books worth crying over, and overall goodness still being in the world when there appears to be none left.  And that Emilia, quite the selfless warrior.

 

The War That Saved My Life -Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Award Nominee, families, period pieces, Safe Bets, Young Readers

This is a great historical fiction about the beginning of World War II when Ada and her brother are sent from London to the countryside of Kent with other evacuee children.  The story begins with Ada’s difficult life in London and her transition not only to country life, but also to a life of kindness, education, and love.

Ada is a ten year old, well maybe ten – the truth is her life in London is difficult and her mother not only is cruel to Ada, but does not even tell the poor girl know her birthday.  Ada was born with a twisted foot and her mother has kept her held up in their one room flat due to shame and ignorance.  When Ada learns from her little brother Jamie that children are being sent to the countryside she is determined to learn how to walk so that she can travel with her brother.  Once they arrive at Kent, they are the last children left to be chosen.  When they are placed with Susan, an education, but single woman in the village, they all must learn what it means to live as a temporary family.

Ada and Jamie rely on each other and through new experiences of country life, community, and love of two new pets, and curious ambition, they adapt to a new life.  As Hitler invades Europe, their oasis in Kent begins to suffer wartime hardships.  Susan helps Ada become a typical child and once they are told that Ada’s foot could be surgically fixed, Susan is sure that Ada’s mother will consent.  War looms, bombs become a daily occurrence, still it is the looming presence of a cruel birth mother that haunts Ada.  How long will she and Jamie get to stay in their new home?  Will Hitler’s armies reach Kent?  And will Ada finally get the medical treatment she deserves or will the cruel nature of her mom return to claim her children and lock Ada up in the one room flat?  Now that Ada has experienced friendship and love and the prospect of a future, does she even want her mom to come for her?

This is a story of how strangers come together and form a family, all saving the other’s and lead to living a better, more fulfilled life of love and joy.


Newbery Honor (2016),  Schneider Family Book Award for Middle School (2016), Odyssey Award (2016), Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award Nominee (2017)

A School for Unusual Girls – Kathleen Baldwin

Female Leads, period pieces, Safe Bets, Series, Young Readers

It’s 1814 and Georgiana Fitzwilliam is not the submissive, dainty, quiet daughter her high society parents expect in a daughter.  In fact, she’s a scientist (!)  and after setting the family’s barn and fields on fire (oops!) from a failed science experiment, she is sent to Miss. Stranje – a woman known for breaking wild girls of their strong spirit and reforming them into high society’s expectations of a well behaved female…… or so the Stranje House is believed to do.

As any smart spy knows, one must have a good cover – and that’s what the Stranje House is: a cover for girls with skills to be honed in an effort to help Britain avoid another war.  Emma Stranje is not the harsh Headmistress who reforms wild girls, as parents believe, but she is a clever, atypical female herself who will train these young females and place them in dangerous situations with some of England’s most secretive of spies. A truly bold woman using the innate skills of young ladies to help her country.  A patriot in a corset!

A period piece, not historical fiction but a story that takes elements of history (not as accurate as a Dateline episode, but far better than a Lifetime movie), but a setting that readers will enjoy dreaming about even once the book is finished. Another tale of young females dreaming of living outside of their sexist, limited options.

Gerogie and the other girls of Stranje House all have skills that will help the British army and keep the French Napoleon sympathizers from gaining control of France.  Throw in a few spy scenarios, a ball to attend, and secrets from a few sinister characters, as well as a gallant hero and that’s the story.  But it isn’t as romance-novel as it sounds since, after all, Georgie and the other ladies from Stranje House are some of the most clever, ranging from realistically sloppy to the most naturally beautiful, heroes of this adventure.   It ends with a new foe and challenge even the Strange House ladies do not know how to conquor, but (sweetly) concludes with Georgie finally finding a home among the other “unusual” girls.


A Stranje House series continues with Exile for Dreamers

exile