Sophia’s War by Avi (J)

Sophias War

Sophia’s War 

Avi (Juvenile Historical Fiction)

It’s 1776 and the War for Independence has arrived at Sophia Calderwood’s front door.  Before long, New York City is occupied by British troops and every citizen chooses a side: loyalist or patriot.  To be a patriot is dangerous, but to be a spy is a death sentence.  They hang spies.  But Sophia needs to do something to help and, despite the risks, she utters four words that would change the course of her life, and possibly, the revolution: “I wish to help.”

Avi has given us a compelling and dramatic story that is about as close to an actual history book as you can get.  Other than Sophia and her family, every character in this book is real; however, what I appreciate most about this story is the light Avi sheds on the darkness that was the British prisons.  Those that lost their personal freedom fighting for their country’s freedom endured starvation, disease, cold, filth, and neglect.  A soldier whose life was spared on the battlefield most likely lost it while in prison.  Evidence points to the fact that nearly 18,000 people died in Britain’s New York prisons, while some 7,000 died on the battlefield.  And this was in New York alone.

This book is targeted for ages 7 to 12, but there are sections that tend to get a bit weighty with the names of numerous battles and their commanders.  This might prove a little overwhelming for readers on the younger end of the scale, but for those in the upper elementary-age bracket, this book provides an informative glimpse into the Revolutionary War and one of history’s most famous traitors.  Truly a thrilling and worthy read that ends with highly dramatic, parallel storylines that serve as an 18th century version of Spy vs. Spy.

Rating: 4/5

Posted: 7/31/2018

* Book cover image attributed to http://www.simonandschuster.com

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