Friday, 4 December 2009

Historical Fiction for Teens

Finished November 29
Ruby Red by Linzi Glass
This novel was shortlisted for the Carnegie and well worth it. It is set in South Africa around the time of the Soweto Riots. The main character is Ruby, a white teen girl. Ruby goes to the English high school (as opposed to the Afrikaans high school). Her father is a lawyer who defends not only the rich, but also poor black activists. Her mother owns an art gallery where she often highlights up and coming black artists. This puts her family under a vigilant eye by the powerful, and Ruby lives a very private life, not admitting her own or her parents' views openly.
When she rebuffs the advances of a boy in her school and falls for a Afrikaans boy, she alienates her school friends and begins to be harassed. When the riots begin, her family is caught in the middle.
There is a lot going on here, and Ruby must mature faster than most teens as she deals with it. There is lots of interesting history here, and a section at the end gives more information on South African history. Glass was born in South Africa, emigrating to the U.S. as a young adult.

Uprising by Margaret Peterson Haddix
This novel is set in New York City in the early 1900s and centres around three young women. Bella has emigrated alone from Italy, hoping to earn enough to provide sustenance for her mother and siblings back home. Yetta is a Jewish girl who has emigrated from Russia with her elder sister, running from the pogroms against the Jews back there. Jane is the daughter of a busy industrialist, who lost her mother at a young age. Bella and Yetta both work at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, and struggle to survive on what they earn. When Bella loses her only support in the new world, she also struggles against a landlord who takes advantage of her ignorance. Yetta is one of the first to join the strike against her employer, and walks the picket line, being abused and even jailed for her actions. Jane is lonely and bored, and joins other wealthy young women taking an interest in the strike as an action in the suffragette movement. As the three young women meet and become friends, their lives intertwine. When the fatal fire happens at the shirtwaist factory, only one survives.
This story is done very well, giving a realistic view of conditions at the time (both social and economic). The story is told as a looking back by the survivor, to a young woman who has tracked her down and wants to understand what happened. Both realistic and engaging, this story will keep you reading until the end. More historical information is included in an appendix.

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