Online Reading Challenge – April Wrap-Up

Hello Fellow Reading Fans!

How did your  “1800s” reading go in April? Exciting? Interesting? A non-starter?

I struggled a bit to find something to read this month. I think the “1800s”, while full of many excellent titles, was a bit to broad. There was almost too much choice. A more defined time period, while limiting choices, would make it easier to find a real gem. In fact, I had decided I would re-watch some favorite Jane Austen movies, but at the last minute I found a book that grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. That book was The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier.

Honor Bright, a young Quaker woman living in England in 1850, is jilted by her intended and decides, at the last minute, to join her sister who is immigrating to America to marry. The month-long Atlantic crossing is very difficult for Honor and further tragedy strikes during the journey to Ohio. Honor finds herself homesick, alone and struggling to find her place in a strange land.

America is very different from the England Honor grew up in; where England is settled and solid, America is raw and constantly changing. Survival is a constant struggle and comforts are meager. While people are kind, they are not particularly welcoming, absorbed in their own problems and struggles. And political tensions run high, often pitting neighbor against neighbor as the question of slavery begins to reach its boiling point – Honor has landed in a tiny settlement near Oberlin, Ohio, known as a safe stop for runaway slaves following the Underground Railroad.

Honor’s Quaker religion teaches her to despise slavery and she quickly begins helping the runaways that she encounters at her family’s farm. She soon learns that ideals can suffer in the harsh light of reality; her family forbids her from helping the runaways even though they agree with her views and new laws threaten hefty fines and imprisonment if defied. When a crisis is reached, Honor must decide between her beliefs and the law. Which path will she take and at what cost?

Much like Honor, this book is deceivably simple – a straightforward story line with a clearly drawn situation. But also like Honor, there is a lot of hidden depth here. How do you stand up for your beliefs against the majority? How do you battle loneliness and homesickness when you know you can never return home? How do you find purpose and meaning? There is a lot of  rich imagery, of the beauty and harshness of nature, of the quilts Honor expertly sews and the differences from their English counterparts. I enjoyed the view of a mid-1800s life on what was essentially the frontier, and a glimpse of the Quaker religion, practices and principals. Throughout the book, Honor hangs on to the Quaker belief that “there is Light in everyone” even when people are at their worst; a lesson that has never gone out of style.

OK, now it’s your turn – what did you read this month? Let us know in the comments!

 

Banned Books Week: Beloved by Toni Morrison

In honor of Banned Books Week, which lasts until October sixth, I’m revisiting my favorite banned book: Beloved by Toni Morrison. I first read this masterpiece in a high school English course; it’s dense and lyrical and moving. The story is based on a real-life tragedy: an escaped slave woman who murdered her own children to stop her owner from recapturing them. That woman is Sethe, and her life story is one of mingled despair and hope, tragedy and good luck. The narrative is touched by the supernatural: the spirit of Sethe’s murdered baby, whose headstone only reads Beloved, has haunted her house ever since her death. 20 years later, when a pretty 20 year old girl turns up on Sethe’s front step knowing things only a family member could know, it’s unclear what her intentions and her identity really are.

Sethe’s story is magical and moving. It’s been banned or challenged for containing offensive language, explicit sexuality, and being “unsuited to age group,” according to the American Library Association’s list of banned and challenged books. When I read this novel as a teenager, I wasn’t scarred, offended, or damaged: Morrison’s book was, instead, eye-opening and moving. It made me more interested in literature and in history, and it gave my class fodder for discussions that improved our understanding of reading and the way it impacts real life. I hope you’ll check it out: you won’t be disappointed.

To learn more about this book, censorship, and Banned Books Week, check out the ALA Banned Books Week website.

The Road of Lost Innocence by Somaly Mam

submitted by Georgann

road-of-lost-innocenceThis inspiring true story is the author’s experience as a sex slave in Cambodia, how she broke free and how she now helps other girls find freedom. Somaly Mam is a simple woman, not well educated, and she tells her story in simple, frank language. I was hesitant to read it at first because I was afraid it would be too explicit and give me nightmares. Although she tells a heartrending story and she still suffers nightmares, it was not so graphic as to give them to me.

In The Road of Lost Innocence, Mam explains the series of tragic events that lead to her being sold into the sex slave trade when she was about 16. As she relates those years your heart just breaks. What all this woman lived through is just unbelievable.

Eventually Mam escaped and made a life for herself. Now she heads up an organization that helps other women and girls as young as six to also escape. She lives in constant threat to her life and to those of her children, but she perseveres. I was glad I took the risk to read this story. It is a story of hope well worth reading.