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Posts Tagged ‘friendship’

Dead End in Norvelt

by Jack Gantos

Farrar Straus Giroux, 2011

341 pages

I have a thing for dark humor. I’m also a fan of period fiction (sometimes truly historical, sometimes not) and stories with a strong regional flavor. Give me a book, TV show, or movie that combines the two, and I’m in heaven.

So I’ve been itching to read Jack Gantos’ Dead End in Norvelt ever since I read the ALA Newbery committee’s description of the book. I finally got my hands on a copy, and it did not disappoint. Even better, I discovered that (although the main character is male), the book has a handful of terrific female characters that make this story a perfect fit for my Super Secondaries series.

Here’s the story: young Norvelt, PA, resident Jack Gantos is in deep trouble. He got caught playing with his father’s WWII souvenirs, and he cut down his mother’s prized corn. So instead of spending his summer playing baseball, watching movies at the drive-in, and hanging out with his friends, he’s grounded until further notice.

His only escape is Miss Volker, an elderly neighbor who does double duty as the town nurse and obituary writer. Jack’s mother has loaned him out to the old lady, whose severe arthritis is getting in the way of her work.

As Jack works for Miss Volker, he learns something about the fascinating history of his hometown and its residents, how grown-ups cope with harsh economic realities, and what it means to live – and die – well. As more and more of the town’s elderly residents do the latter, he also begins to ask some questions. Is Norvelt’s soaring death rate just a coincidence, or is someone bumping off the old ladies a bit before their time?

As you’ve probably guessed from the main character’s name, Dead End in Norvelt is semi-autobiographical. Norvelt, PA, is the author’s true hometown, one of dozens of New Deal settlements founded during the Depression for the relief of unemployed coal miners and their families. Most of the town history related in the book is real, and Gantos communicates it in an entertaining way.

But it’s not just the history that makes this story a winner (though it won the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction as well as the Newbery). Gantos’ wry style and strong voice are deeply engaging, and the macabre humor is side-splitting. And then, of course, there are the ladies: Dead End in Norvelt has three strong female characters to inspire girl readers.

First there’s Jack’s best friend Bunny, who is very small of stature but huge of personality. Her father is the town undertaker, and exposure to his profession has made Bunny the exact opposite of a shrinking violet. While Jack swoons in the autopsy room, Bunny goes in for a closer look. When arsonists plague Norvelt, she organizes a nighttime fire patrol. In short, she is one of the spunkiest, sassiest girls I’ve ever encountered in fiction. For girls who are athletic, fascinated by the weird side of life, dealing with physical limitations, or just loud and proud, she’s an excellent point of contact with the story.

Next there’s Jack’s mom, a big-hearted and capable woman. With Jack’s father frequently out of town on construction jobs, she often holds down the fort alone. And when insufficient income and other setbacks arise, her resourcefulness keeps the family afloat and provides for Norvelt’s elderly residents. She’s not perfect: her desire to protect Jack can make her fearful, but she always summons courage when it’s needed, as when she faces down an armed stranger in the family’s backyard. In a time when girls are still bombarded with messages to fit a mold for the sake of winning love and approval, she shows how to operate as part of a loving family and caring community without sacrificing identity or principles.

And finally there’s Miss Volker, a fiery, sharp-witted old lady who teaches Jack to think both for and outside himself. She is one of Norvelt’s original residents, a deep admirer of Eleanor Roosevelt (for whom the town is named), and dedicated to educating and caring for Norvelt’s citizens. In addition to the town obituaries, which she pens as wider historical lessons, she writes a “This Day in History” column where she encourages readers to question and look beyond the victors’ narratives that make up most textbook versions of history. Politically progressive, outspoken, and tenacious, she teaches Jack and readers that women’s voices are an essential part of the social conversation. She is also a healthy model of single womanhood – encouragement that women needn’t marry or have children to find fulfillment in life, career, and relationships.

Dead End in Norvelt is an excellent read any way you slice it, a hilarious and touching coming-of-age story with plenty to engage both boys and girls. But with these three ladies as part of the story, it becomes inspirational as well.

Read about the further adventures of Jack and Miss Volker in From Norvelt to Nowhere, published in 2013.

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200px-Up_a_Road_Slowly_coverUp a Road Slowly

by Irene Hunt

Follett, 1966

192 pages

Irene Hunt’s Up a Road Slowly is a problem book.

I can’t remember where I first heard about it, but I do remember being told that it’s a great book for girls. By the time I finished reading it, however, I wasn’t sure – and even as I write, I’m feeling the tug of indecision.

Don’t get me wrong: I loved the book. I read it in long sittings, reluctant to put it down. And when my daughter is a bit older, I’ll recommend it to her. So why the uncertainty? Well, keep reading, and we’ll explore it together.

Up a Road Slowly follows Julie Trelling from age seven, when her mother dies and she is sent to live with her Aunt Cordelia, to age 17, when she graduates as valedictorian of her high school class. There’s not much plot, to be honest. The book is more about people: Julie, the folks she loves, and how her relationships with them influence her growth.

My favorite thing about the story is the sheer variety of female characters. They are traditional and unconventional, smart and brainless, cool-headed and mentally unstable. Moreover, the central female characters – Aunt Cordelia, Julie, her sister Laura, and her stepmother Alicia – all find fulfillment because each deliberately chooses the path that is right for her. In other words, Hunt doesn’t try to fit every girl into the same box. Her book is a healthy reminder that there are many valid roles for a woman to fill: scholar (Alicia and Julie), professional (Cordelia), homemaker (Laura), and more. The point is not to value one role above the others but to choose, to make sure that you are filling your role intentionally and because it is the right one for you.

I also love Hunt’s realism. For a classic, the book offers nuanced and fairly progressive treatments of sticky issues such as alcoholism, mental illness, and sexuality. Julie’s alcoholic Uncle Haskell, for instance, is a layered character whose behavior has complex origins – he’s not just a morally bankrupt drunk. And her schoolmate Carlotta, who becomes pregnant by the manipulative Brett Kingsman, is not just a tainted slut – she’s an impressionable girl who is unfairly used and discarded, and Julie both recognizes the injustice of her fate and the importance of maintaining an open heart toward her old friend.

So what’s the problem? There are a couple, actually. First, the book’s attitude toward romantic love bothers me. There are steady messages that strong, successful women will not find fulfillment unless they fall in love and/or marry. Alicia, despite having an established career as a respected teacher, equates being uncoupled with “insecurity” and calls it “frightening”; Cordelia says, “A woman is never completely developed until she has loved a man.” Worse, Julie adopts this philosophy wholeheartedly: once she reaches adolescence, she is fundamentally unhappy and ill-at-ease until paired off with a boy.

Second, I’m not entirely keen on Danny Trevort, Julie’s longtime friend and eventual lover. He’s obviously supposed to be Julie’s ideal match, a boy who deserves her because he is kind and good and appreciative of her talents. But he has a very proprietary and, at times, condescending attitude toward her. When she’s drifting in the wrong direction, he tends to try and bully her back onto the right track (there’s one unsettling instance where she resists this behavior, and he tells her baldly to “Shut up”).

The issue of romantic love in general, and Julie’s relationship with Danny in particular, are central to the book, so these problematic elements form a strong counterweight to the empowering messages found elsewhere in the story. Hence my hesitation. As I was mulling things over, however, I realized that Up a Road Slowly would be worth a review because it makes an excellent case study.

After all, it’s good to have a plan for dealing with books like this: beautifully written, potentially inspiring stories that nevertheless carry some problematic baggage. Many classics, particularly those written pre-1900, fall into this category. Crack one open, and you’re likely to find inspiration right along side paternalism, racial and gender stereotypes, colonialism, or worse.

My suggestion? First, match the book to the girl. The younger or less mature the girl, the less problematic content the book should have. Then be ready to talk. As she reads, or after she’s finished the book, ask her what she thinks of it. Ask specific but open-ended questions about problematic passages: “What do you think of the way Danny talks to Julie when he’s angry? What makes you a ‘complete’ person?”

It’s not a question of whether a girl will encounter oppressive messages in life – it’s a question of when. Train her to recognize those messages for what they are, and to question them, and you train her for empowerment. Books like Up a Road Slowly can be a part of that process. Because, ultimately, a thinking girl is an inspired one.

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Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures

by Kate DiCamillo; ill. by K.G. Campbell

Candlewick Press, 2013

233 pages

Finding inspiration in the sublime or the exceptional is fairly easy: the girl who bravely battles the wilderness, cancer, or a super-villain is an obvious candidate to inspire the next generation of women.

The problem is, most girls don’t live that kind of life. So while books about extraordinary people and situations are important, so are books that celebrate the ordinary or even oddball. That’s where most girls are going to find a point of identification and, by extension, of inspiration.

Which brings us to Kate DiCamillo’s Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures, illustrated by K.G. Campbell.

Preteen Flora Belle Buckman is a character many girls can easily identify with. She lives in an ordinary middle-class home in an ordinary middle-class neighborhood. Her clothes, her bedroom, her dad’s car, her street – they all look like anything or anyone you’d encounter in your own home or city.

Flora also faces challenges many girls can easily identify with – the kinds of problems that are a part of many ordinary people’s lives. Her parents are divorced, she and her mom don’t quite connect, and she misses her dad, whom she sees only on weekends. She copes by escaping into her favorite hobby and by detaching herself from her peers and family. She calls herself a “natural-born cynic” and takes “Do not hope; instead, observe” as her motto.

Flora’s life becomes suddenly un-ordinary, however, when Ulysses the squirrel appears. Flora rescues the rodent after he suffers a run-in with neighbor Tootie Tickham’s vacuum cleaner. The accident endows him with superpowers: super strength, the ability to fly, and the ability to compose poetry (though he has to type it, since he does not receive the power of speech).

Being devoted fans of comics, Flora and her dad know that every superhero must have an arch-nemesis – and they quickly figure out that Ulysses’ is none other than Flora’s mother. With the help of Tootie, her great-nephew William Spiver, and Mr. Buckman’s neighbor Dr. Meescham (who tends to speak in wise but enigmatic axioms), father and daughter set out to save Ulysses from his climactic encounter with the enemy.

If all this sounds a bit oddball, it is – deliciously so. Flora & Ulysses is the geek’s version of Judy Blume’s middle-grade problem novels. The characters are all a little wonky, comics and superhero references are everywhere, the kids are incredibly smart, and there’s a touch of magical realism to boot.

Overlaying it all is DiCamillo’s classic wry humor and barely self-conscious lyric phrasing. Campbell’s beautifully-shaded, animation-style pencil illustrations are the perfect accompaniment.

Being a geek myself, I would have loved this book even if there were nothing inspiring about it, but of course it is inspiring, or I wouldn’t be writing about it here.

Flora’s friendship with Ulysses calls out all the best in her. It opens her heart, commands her courage, and pushes her intelligence to its limits. It also leads her to call out the best in others: she gives Tootie a chance to be decisive and brave, her father a chance to reforge their bond, Dr. Meescham a chance to nurture others, and William Spiver the chance to belong. By book’s end, she’s even pulled her own denial-steeped mother back to reality.

This all happens through means that are kooky rather than heroic, but perhaps the quirkiness is what helps make the messages unforgettable. Flora & Ulysses tells girls that changing things for the better – whether in their own lives or the lives of others – is not just for superstars, the popular, or the beautiful. However “outside” they may think themselves, there are people waiting to welcome them in and befriend them. Hope is for everyone. And extraordinary opportunities to become an even better version of themselves are waiting right in their own backyards.

Which all means that, for ordinary girls facing ordinary problems, Flora is a heroine for the books.

 

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Lord of the Rings

by J.R.R. Tolkien

Allen & Unwin, 1954-55

I don’t just talk about Lord of the Rings, I gush. J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic fantasy about the fictional realm of Middle Earth is one of my desert-island books, a work of art that comes closer to my own personal definition of literary perfection than does any other book I’ve read. (See? Gushing. I told you.)

My infatuation with this incredible story has nothing to do with the book’s genre, or even with the specific plot, though I like both quite well. It’s more about the craft: the fully-realized universe, the luxurious descriptions, the way Tolkien somehow holds onto subtlety as he dances around the edges of allegory and archetype.

It’s also about the characters: their backstories, their secrets, their choices, their surprising depths. There’s Gandalf the wizard, whose true identity and role in the drama are half-veiled even to himself, and who continually surprises his companions with his humor, compassion, and power. There’s Aragorn, the secret heir to an ancient line of kings, who is both intimidating and endearing, a peerless warrior and a gifted healer. Or Sam, whose rough appearance and speech hide a deep appreciation for beauty and a profoundly loyal, courageous, and noble heart.

And then there are the women. LoTR is predominantly male, to the point that there are really only two significant female characters in the entire 1,000-plus-page epic. But what characters they are! Of all the Super Secondaries I can imagine profiling, these two lead the pack.

First there’s Eowyn, niece and adopted daughter of King Theoden of Rohan, the nation of Gondor’s chief ally in the fight against the dark wizard Sauron. Strong and valiant, she yearns for battle, but cultural norms keep her trapped at home. So she disguises herself as a man and rides with her countrymen to war, where she plays a key role in the climactic battle against Sauron’s forces.

Critically wounded and disillusioned by violence, she finally returns to wholeness through the wise care of Gondor’s Healer and the gentle Lord Faramir (himself wounded in the war). She decides to become a healer herself and, after marrying Faramir, becomes co-ruler of one of Gondor’s provinces.

On the surface, Eowyn’s inspirational value may seem dubious. After all, she gives up her warrior ambitions, marries her Prince Charming, and settles down to a happy princess life. Except that it’s not quite that simple.

In the LoTR universe, war is not an occupation but a tool, waged only for a time and at greatest need. The ultimate good is lasting peace and active participation in it. So Eowyn’s trajectory matches that of the book’s two great leaders, Gandalf and Aragorn, who both become men of peace after Sauron’s defeat. Her choice to become a healer is a sign of great wisdom; and because of it, she maintains an active and important role in the restoration of Middle Earth.

Galadriel the elf-queen is the other strong female character in Tolkien’s saga. Along with her husband Celeborn, she rules the hidden forest sanctuary of Lothlorien. She is the most powerful and one of the oldest of her people in Middle Earth, and it is her magic that maintains Lothlorien as a refuge from and center of resistance to Sauron’s destruction and power.

Her story is harder to follow than Eowyn’s, especially for those who aren’t familiar with The Silmarillion, a separate book that outlines Middle Earth’s beginnings. But for very astute readers, the clues are there to follow. Galadriel is so powerful that even the demi-gods fear her; they test her loyalty even as they use her as an ally. She is the only character who can read Sauron’s mind and see into the future. And even objects that bear her magic have the ability to repel Sauron’s darkness and ancient evil.

She is, quite simply, one of the most inspiring female characters I’ve ever encountered. Tolkien is abundantly clear that the fight against Sauron would have failed without her – when the story ends, she ranks with the greatest champions of Middle Earth.

Even without Eowyn and Galadriel, Lord of the Rings is inspiring. It has a unique blend of humanity and earthiness coupled with epic themes of good vs. evil, monumental sacrifice, loyalty, and love. And there is simply no one else who can write like Tolkien. His love for his work oozes out of every word.

But these two strong women – their fearlessness, their power, their dedication, and their amazing accomplishments – mean that girls can find inspiration just for them in the pages of one of English literature’s greatest classics.

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A Train in Winter: An Extraordinary Story of Women, Friendship, and Resistance in Occupied France

by Caroline Moorehead

Harper, 2011

374 pages

I don’t really remember when I first learned about World War II. Probably very early in childhood, since I grew up with a grandfather who often told stories of his time in “The War.”

I also don’t really remember when I first learned about the Holocaust, but I remember being well aware of it by the time I was in junior high.

That was when I read Anne Frank’s diary, which honestly didn’t have much of an impact on me. But Elie Wiesel’s Night, which I read in high school, affected me deeply. So did a trip to a Holocaust lecture series at a local university. I still remember, with crystal clarity, attending a survivors’ panel where a white-haired man slowly rolled up his shirt sleeve to reveal the number tattooed on the inside of his arm.

Both subjects – the Holocaust and the war as a whole – fascinated me, and I learned quite a bit about them on my own. I realized not long ago, however, that all my investigation had fallen between fairly narrow parameters: I had studied the Holocaust as an event in Jewish history, and World War II as it related to Americans and Britons.

I knew there was a lot more to the story, and I was especially curious about the French Resistance and about non-Jewish victims of the Holocaust. So when Caroline Moorehead published A Train in Winter: An Extraordinary Story of Women, Friendship, and Resistance in Occupied France, it caught my attention.

The book’s title refers to a train that left Paris for Auschwitz in January 1943. On board were over 200 women arrested by the Gestapo for working with the French Resistance. The women were a diverse group, in terms of profession, age, and the activities that led to their capture.

After a stint in two French prisons – where many of their husbands, lovers, brothers, and fathers were beaten and executed – they were deported to Auschwitz as a symbol of the Nazis’ “indulgence” toward women. Because the women weren’t Jewish, they weren’t marked for immediate extermination; instead, their guards intended to literally work them to death.

And that’s what happened in most cases. The women performed sometimes back-breaking labor under horrific conditions. Sanitation was nonexistent, food and water rations virtually so. Those who didn’t die from sheer exhaustion succumbed to conditions like dysentery, typhus, dehydration, or gangrene. Others were beaten to death for sport or as punishment for defiance.

Of the 230 women originally arrested, only 45 survived.

If this book sounds like a heavy read, it is. It’s one of those books you can’t finish in one sitting. Some days, I did well just to get through a few pages. Moorehead’s account of the women’s suffering, particularly in Auschwitz, is graphic and brutal.

And because Moorehead tells their individual stories, in many cases beginning in childhood, you’re invested in their fates. Like the man I saw at the Holocaust conference, they are much more than the numbers tattooed on their arms. So when you realize that only 45 survive, and learn that many of those 45 lived shattered lives after the war, it’s devastating.

But here’s the thing: that survival rate of 20% was very, very high. Groups brought into Auschwitz typically died at a rate of 90-100%.  The difference between 10% and 20% is what makes this book worth the effort – is what makes it inspiring.

As Moorehead shows in heart-wrenching detail, the French women’s high survival rate was a direct result of their conscious decision to look after one another. Beginning in the French prisons, they chose to protect the oldest and youngest and weakest among them.

When they reached Auschwitz, they continued to help one another. While most inmates ultimately turned to aggressive self-preservation, the Resistance women took a different path. Because illness or weakness attracted beatings (which were usually fatal), and incapacitation meant a trip to the gas chambers, the women went to great lengths to protect their sick or fatigued compatriots. The “healthy” ones shared their meager rations with their sick friends, hid them behind curtains and under bunks, and lied about their whereabouts. Stronger women propped up weaker ones at roll call and secretly completed work assignments for them.

It was often a fruitless endeavor, and sometimes earned death for the protectors. But they continued to do it until the day the survivors went home.

In the face of the ultimate dehumanization and a concerted effort to wipe them out, they stood strong – not just for themselves, but for others. They kept small, flickering flames burning in the midst of one of the deepest darknesses history has ever seen. So when I finished A Train in Winter, I was glad I’d read it. And I think you will be, too.

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Journey

By Aaron Becker

Candlewick Press, 2013

40 pages

Wordless picture books fascinate me. Perhaps because words are my “thing,” I’m somewhat in awe of someone who can tell a story – a fully-realized, rich, deep story – without them.

I didn’t read (is that the right term?) wordless picture books as a kid. In fact, I read very few picture books at all. I started with A Child’s Garden of Verses at age 3, but by age 7, I was reading A Christmas Carol. And once I’d discovered novels, I almost never looked back. Something about the immersiveness of fiction pulled me in and held me.

I rediscovered picture books as a high school senior, when I was looking for inspiration for an assignment. I remembered how much I had loved A Child’s Garden of Verses and went back to it. There was something entrancing in the spareness of the words and the way they nevertheless managed to tell an entire story. Intrigued, I started reading the occasional picture book in between my dates with Dickens and Steinbeck and other “grownup” favorites.

Then, my first year in college, I encountered my first wordless picture book (really). It was David Wiesner’s Tuesday, one of the wittiest, most imaginative works in the genre. I was hooked. Ever since, I’ve kept a weather eye out for more.

And that’s how I discovered Aaron Becker’s Journey. I was reading the ALA’s announcement of this year’s Caldecott books, and the description caught my eye. A wordless picture book that had nabbed a Caldecott Honor? Count me in! And there was a girl on the cover – bonus! (Yes, I’m a geek.) So, the next time I went to the library, I picked it up.

Journey is the story of a bored, lonely young girl who discovers a magical red crayon and uses it to create an adventure for herself. She visits an enchanted wood and a sprawling castle, rescues a beautiful bird from a greedy emperor, takes a magic carpet ride through the desert, and makes a new friend.

The book is full of clever allusions, some that older elementary-age kids might catch, and others probably only apparent to grownups. I saw shades of Harold and the Purple Crayon, Where the Wild Things Are, M.C. Escher, and Lord of the Rings, to name a few. The characters and settings are a fascinating blend of steampunk and medieval-cum-early-20th-century Asian, Middle Eastern, Far Eastern, and European.

Yet Becker somehow combines all these elements into an original, integral, captivating whole. I was virtually on the edge of my seat, waiting to see what the girl would do next, how she would solve a particular problem, or where she would go.

And that’s partly where the inspirational aspect of Journey lies. Becker’s heroine is a true adventurer – and girl adventurers still aren’t all that common in picture books. This little girl is curious, bold, and inventive: just the role model to encourage little girls to get out there, discover, and do.

The art is inspiring, too. And I’m not just talking about Becker’s breathtakingly beautiful illustrations. The heroine moves from place to place by creating art of her own, always in a blazing shade of red. Her art is elegant in its simplicity, but forceful and active. She’s an encouragement to girls to make and create, to let art take their spirits to new and wild places.

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Bone

by Jeff Smith

Graphix/Cartoon Books

11 volumes

If ever there was a graphic-novel epic, Bone is it. This fantasy saga spans nine main volumes, plus two prequels. It’s a true Tolkienesque fantasy, complete with a fully realized universe, gripping action, and a nail-biting quest for truth and victory over cataclysmic evil.

Bone is primarily the story of three cousins: Fone Bone (the main character), Phoney Bone, and Smiley Bone. As their names imply, Fone Bone is plain but genuine and loyal, Phoney Bone is a selfish charlatan, and Smiley Bone is a happy but brainless goofball.

The story begins with the three cousins wandering in the desert–they’ve been run out of Boneville by citizens who are sick of Phoney’s endless schemes. Trying to find their way home, they stumble instead into a lush valley where fierce rat creatures roam the woods, a force called “the dreaming” underpins the universe, and dragons and a special race of humans called Veni-Yan-Cari maintain the dreaming’s balance.

Fone, separated from his cousins, falls in with Gran’ma Ben and her granddaughter Thorn, who live alone on a cow farm in the forest (more about them later). Phoney and Smiley, meanwhile, fall in with Lucius Down, a gruff behemoth of a man who owns a tavern not far from Gran’ma Ben’s farm.

The three cousins soon reunite and, together with their new friends, face down the mysterious Hooded One, who is plotting to unleash the evil Lord of the Locusts on the valley.

Fone is himself an inspiring character. He begins the story as a frustrated hand-wringer, angry with Phoney’s schemes but powerless to effect real change. By epic’s end, however, he’s become a quietly courageous hero and the leader of his family. He is an Everyman who rises to challenges he didn’t even know existed.

But he, of course, is not my focus. Which brings me to Bone‘s super secondaries, Gran’ma Ben and Thorn. Over the course of the story, Fone discovers that both these women (as well as Lucius) are not what they seem: each has a deeply hidden history that proves crucial to the outcome of the story.

That hidden history is immediately apparent when we meet Gran’ma Ben. By the end of the first volume, we know that she can wrestle full-grown cows, kill rat creatures with her bare hands, and run at racehorse speeds. In other words, she’s tough to the point of being superhuman. There are also hints of a complicated past involving Lucius, who turns out to be a powerful warrior in disguise.

I won’t spoil the surprise of Gran’ma Ben’s true identity, but suffice to say that her concerns range far beyond the borders of her little farm. She’s something of a Gandalf figure: wise, with hidden connections to the unseen, but fallible and saddled with the heavy task of inspiring a new generation to finish the fight she started years before.

Gran’ma Ben is an inspiring reminder that age and experience are relevant and often game-changing. She’s the kind of character who might prompt girls to seek out strong female mentors–or even one they can remember decades later, when they’re entering middle age and wondering if they still have value in our youth-obsessed culture.

As for Thorn, she turns out to be the lynchpin of the entire story. Like her grandmother, she has a secret identity; but unlike her grandmother, she doesn’t know it. And when her true identity comes to the surface, she’s not entirely sure she wants to accept it.

For girls facing an unexpected ordeal–the death of a parent, serious illness, a sudden cross-country move–Thorn is inspiration incarnate. Her transformation from unassuming farm girl to capable leader is gradual and authentic, full of plenty of missteps and backward glances but ultimately successful.

If Fone is the story’s Everyman, Thorn is the Everywoman: the ordinary person who proves to be extraordinary. She’s the classic everyday-citizen-turned-questing-hero(ine), the character who makes girls stop and think, “Maybe there’s more in me than I thought.”

Ultimately, Bone is a worthwhile read on any account–but these two strong women elevate it to must-read status.

Smith has now published a second saga set in the same universe, Bone: Quest for the Spark.

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