Ruby on the Outside by Nora Raleigh Baskin (J)

Ruby on the Outside

Ruby on the Outside

Nora Raleigh Baskin (Juvenile Fiction)

Eleven-year old Ruby Danes is caught between two lives:  inside of prison, where her mother is currently serving a 20- to 25-year sentence, and the outside world.  When Ruby is on the inside, the rules are pretty straightforward:  it’s OK to cry, but don’t be too disruptive; mind what you wear; and don’t bring anything with you.  On the outside, the rules become a little more complicated and the lines of right and wrong seem more blurry and inexact.  When Ruby finds true friendship with the new girl in her condo, will the truth about her mother being a inmate ruin everything?

This book had a lot of potential, but unfortunately is beset with quite a few problems.  First, it is billed as a story about friendship and the secrets we think we must keep close in order to preserve it.  This book actually goes deeper and a little darker by exploring justice, fairness, separation, honesty, and loyalty.

Secondly, this book is most likely going to be inappropriate for the age group for which it is intended.  Most juvenile fiction is written for the 7 to 12 age range, but Baskin delves into child abandonment, murder, armed robbery, incarceration, and drug abuse.  These are fairly weighty issues for readers on the younger end of the scale.

Lastly, the copyediting is pretty unforgivable and hard to overlook.  I am willing to ignore the occasional omitted word or misused punctuation mark, but when you find close to a dozen or more occurrences, then it’s just sloppy and careless work.  On a side note, I understand that several of these issues were resolved in the second edition paperback version, so if you avoid the hardback edition, you will not experience this irritation.

In summary, if you’re looking for a book that deals with young children coping with a parent serving time, this might be a good option, but there are better and more appropriate choices out there that discuss children seeking friendships and looking for peer acceptance.

Rating: 3/5

The Year We Were Famous by Carole Estby Dagg (YA)

The Year We Were Famous

The Year We Were Famous

Carole Estby Dagg (Young Adult Historical Fiction)

It’s 1896 and the Estby family is just one auction away from losing their family farm.  They must either raise more than $1,000 or lose everything.  Inspired by her daughter Clara’s story of Nellie Bly, the American journalist who traveled around the world in 72 days, family matriarch Helga begins writing letters seeking a financial sponsor who will pay them to walk from Washington to New York.  When a publisher in New York City offers them $10,000 to make the cross-country trek, the game is officially…so to speak…afoot.

Based on the true story of 17-year old Clara Estby’s walk across America, Carole Estby Dagg gives us the ultimate mother-daughter road trip story.  Using newspaper articles and journal entries, Dagg reconstructs the 4,600-mile journey made by her great-grandmother and great-aunt.  Since the story is based on actual events, the author does take several artistic liberties when presenting us with Helga’s and Clara’s adventures.  I really loved this book until I read the Author’s Note at the end, where I learned exactly what embellishments were made.  I was disappointed when fact and fiction were revealed, but understand how these particular fabrications gave Clara a little more depth of character.  However, the incredible journey these two women embarked upon made these particular elaborations unnecessary.  Helga and Clara survived highwaymen, lava fields, floods, heat, snowstorms, near starvation, personal injuries, and dehydration.  Along the way, they also met Indians, political dignitaries, and managed to make a positive impact toward the advancement of women’s suffrage.

Early in the book, Clara mentions that the only thing she has in common with her mother is the gap between their front teeth.  By the end of their multi-million step journey, Clara realizes that despite their differences, the bond between mother and daughter may be pulled, flexed, and twisted, but will never be broken.

Rating: 4/5