If you have been reading the blog long enough, then you know what time it is. Yep, it the end of the month and it’s time for some good ‘ol book reviews. I’m quite impressed with myself this time because I have two books to present this time around as I managed to finish more than one book in a month’s time, which is pretty impressive for me. Now grant that this book that I’m about to talk about is under 200 pages (and was really captivating if I might add) might have something to do with me being able to knock out two reads in one month, then fine, so be it.
And captivating this first book is indeed. It’s called A Friendship For Today by Patricia C. McKissack.
It is about a young 10 year old African American girl living in the 1950s in Kirkland, Missouri (real town name, Kirksville) and her struggles to adjust going to an all white school after her school, Attucks Elementary, closes.
Rosemary, our young protagonist, faces many challenges when the new school year begins for her. Her closest and best friend, J.J. Stenson (James Johnson Stenson) is suddenly struck with Polio (remember, this story is set slightly before the Polio vaccine was fully developed) and is hospitalized, her parents’ marriage is deteriorating and fights often occur in her presence. But probably the biggest challenge of all that Rosemary must face is attending Robertson Elementary school and having to face the ongoing prejudice of being the only African American student in her class. Her friend, J.J., would have been in her class as well, if not for his sudden illness. At first, it is very difficult for her, as you can imagine. It is particularly difficult when her next door neighbor, Grace Hamilton (nicknamed, “Grace The Tasteless” by Rosemary), is in the same class as her, and is not shy or timid about displaying her racist feelings towards her. But as time goes on, both she and Rosemary begin to see eye to eye when they discover that they share many of the same troubles such as broken family relationships and being excluded by others, particularly by a little snot nosed uppity girl named Katherine Hogan, who I can guarantee that you will not like as you read about her in the story. Both Rosemary and Grace eventually become friends and start hanging out more and more. And when some of the other kids in Rosemary’s class see this, they too begin to join them and begin forming friendships with the two girls. By the end of the story, both Grace and Rosemary go their separate ways, but each takes with them a good lesson, which, from what I can gather, is that there is more to a person than just outside appearances and that they are not so different after all.
This was a nice story overall and it had a fairly happy ending. Actually, it has several small happy endings as the book has a few mini subplots that all basically focus on one theme: hope. One of these subplots is the appearance of “Rags”, a battered cat found on some railroad tracks by Rosemary and J.J. that appears to have been struck by a moving train. By all rights, “Rags” should have died, based on the grisly description of her appearance when Rosemary and J.J. find her. But Rosemary stalwartly cares and nurtures her back to health and by the end of the book, ends up having 3 kittens! Awww….!
So that’s one subplot. Another is the correspondence between Rosemary and J.J. by letters when J.J. is being treated for his Polio illness in the hospital. They both remain hopeful that he will recover and be able to come home. And sure enough, by the end of the book, J.J. is out of the hospital. And with the help of leg braces, he is able to move around on his own again, which makes for another mini happy ending here, sort of.
There are a few more subplots in the story that you’ll see as you read the book. These were just two of the major ones that I found to be prevalent to the book’s overall theme. How many more can you find?
This was a quick read as I finished more than half of it in one day (it’s only 172 pages). The author, Mrs. McKissack, writes a small note at the end of the book, stating that much of Rosemary’s life reflected her own life growing up in the 50s and having to deal with prejudice and racism. And after reading so many memoirs and biographies the past few months, I felt that this story, though a work of fiction, was like a sort of memoir of the author. And while not as heavy on the horrible concepts of racism and segregation (this is a children’s book after all) as an adult book would probably be, it still makes a point to demonstrate that the struggles that Rosemary faced were real and that kids today need to be aware of it.
And speaking of the author, I discovered something both interesting and shocking right after I finished reading her book. I finished this book on April 16th, Easter Sunday to be exact. And as I always like to do when I finish a good book, I look up the author’s name to find out more about them. Well, to my horror, it is with great sadness that I discovered that Mrs. McKissack had just passed away a little over a week before I finished her book. She died on April 7th, 2017. I just couldn’t believe it. It’s like one chance in a million that I would pick a book randomly, out of the blue (as how I usually do, working in a library), decide to read it, and finish it shortly after the author of that book has died, without even knowing that this happened prior to my choosing it and reading it. I mean, what do you call that?!?…
Well, I hope that I am honoring Mrs. McKissack’s life by writing my review and publishing it on my blog here. It was a good story and I think that she would be pleased to know that I enjoyed it.
In closing, I give A Friendship For Today a 4 out of 5. I really liked the story and now knowing how much of Rosemary’s life reflects that of Mrs. Mckissack’s, I have an even greater admiration for this story and its powerful message. I bumped it down one rate as I feel like Rosemary’s and Grace’s relationship, though special, was too one dimensional. I think that more of their story could have been told and explored so that we, the reader, could truly get to know both girls, their similarities and differences, and really help guide their friendship into something great. But besides that, it was well written and I would recommend it to anyone, especially to young readers. Great book! R.I.P. Mrs. Mckissack…
My second book for this month, Valkyrie: The Runaway, is the second book of Kate O’Hearn’s new Valkyrie series, that I started last June (seen here), which was outstanding.
I literally couldn’t put that book down. While the ending of the first one sounded like it was the end for the two main characters, the indication that a second book coming out to continue their story, excited me immensely.
In this second book of Kate’s new saga, our heroes, Freya and Archie (who is now a “ghost” living in Asgard), are sent down to Midgard (Earth) by Odin to retrieve a Valkyrie that was banished there centuries ago. But this is not so simple a task as a war between the realms (10 in all with Midgard and Asgard being two of them) is nearing. The frost and fire giants from their respective realms, wish to wage war with the people of Asgard, and Odin, the leader of Asgard, seems to constantly be in contention with those living in these other realms.
To make matters worse, the lost Valkyrie that Freya and Archie are searching for, has been living in Midgard for so long that she has started a family of her own among humans and some real “family mess” takes place when Freya discovers that she has family among them and is torn between carrying out Odin’s will and protecting her newly discovered relatives.
Overall, this was an enjoyable read, not quite as excitable as its predecessor, but it is nice to see all the main characters return in this book, as well as learn about some new ones that made an appearance in the first book but were not named. One example of this is the Dark Searcher (beings who sort of serve as Odin’s “police force”) that mercilessly chased after Freya when she was in Midgard without Odin’s permission. In the first book, he killed Archie, Freya’s best friend, while trying to fight him. In this book, we learn the Dark Searcher’s name is Dirian and that his beef with Freya is only the beginning. He was dishonored (had one of his wings clipped off) and forever confined to Utgard (mentioned next) by Odin after the events of the first book. Near the beginning of the second book, he kills her! But because she was in Asgard at the time, and is practically immortal, she is revived.
We also learn that there is indeed a sort of “purgatory” or “shadow realm” that was not mentioned in the first book. It’s called Utgard (mentioned above) and is the place where the Dark Searchers, frost giants, dark elves and other diabolical denizens reside. But based on how it is portrayed in this story, it doesn’t seem to be the same as how we would think of as being a sort of “hell”, in which evildoers go to be punished. Like with Asgard and Midgard, and the other not yet known realms, Utgard is just another place where certain beings live in and is not a place of eternal torment and damnation.
So I found these elements to be quite interesting. I also learned something quite gripping that I wasn’t aware of when I was reading the first book. Many of the characters in the story are based off of actual Norse myths, which the author makes note of in her brief explanation of some of the characters and places mentioned in her books. She notes that many of the characters in her books are based off of the old Norse myths, with the exception of the Dark Searchers, whom which she claims that she could not find any reference to Odin having any sort of “police force” in the original myths, Archie of course, and a few other characters that are introduced in this book. But characters like Freya, Thor, Loki; are all from Norse Myths. And similar to the Greek Myths that many of us are probably more familiar with, these characters were made into gods and had incredible powers and interesting personalities similar to the Greek gods (Thor being compared to Zeus with their theme being thunder, or Loki being compared to Hermes as both are considered “tricksters”, etc.) And I must admit that after reading these first two books, I am finding that I want to know more about Norse mythology and will probably present a book here on the blog later on at some point. We’ll see.
One thing that bothered me about this book is how it ended. A battle was about to take place between a group of Dark Searchers led by Thor, the Angels of Death led by Azrael (the leader of the Angels) and part of Freya’s family, with her uncle Vonni (introduced in this book) as the leader. And while the battle never took place (thanks to a speech made by Vonni), the ending was so clichéd that it may as well have been a freakin’ episode of Full House (which by the way, I can’t stand to watch, though it’s better than shows like Big Bang Theory, which I hate even more). As I was reading the ending, I could just hear the sappy music playing in my head as it’s supposed to help make us feel like we’ve actually learned some moral lesson about life that our parents should have taught us in the first place. Ugghh…
So I have to give this one a 3.5 out of 5. Like I said, it’s not as good as the first one, where the focus was on Freya and her human friend, Archie, but on Freya’s uncle discovering who he really is, as he was born from a Valkyrie and has a VERY close connection to the Dark Searchers, which you’ll learn about if you read this book. And learning about Freya having a twin brother adds a bit of excitement to the mix as well, though it’s not quite as good as the Freya/Archie relationship from the first book.
Still, I look forward to the next book in the series. And if Kate’s Valkyrie series is anything like her previous one, Pegasus (which I haven’t read but there are 6 books total), then I have the feeling that Freya and Archie’s adventures are far from over. I can’t wait!
And that’s all for me. Two books in one month; that’s like some sort of a record for me. Perhaps next month, I’ll try for three? No? Okay, I won’t hold my breath. But we’ll see what I can do! Be sure to tune in next month to see what I’m reading next! I’ve already got my stack of books ready to go! Hope you got yours! And be sure to check out Salazar’s and Kezzie’s respective blogs (14 Shades of Grey and Kezzie AG) to see what books they have been reading lately. Our book club is growing!!! 🙂