Tag Archives: Laurie Halse Anderson

Forge

As I was saying the other day, I took my time over reading Forge. But that was probably for the best, as I was much better prepared for The American Revolution by now. I haven’t read much fiction set during this period (apart from Chains, the first book about Isabel and Curzon), and looked at from my comfortable perspective 200 years later, I always reckoned America ‘simply freed itself.’ You know, because it wanted to.

Laurie Halse Anderson, Forge

Chains was mostly Isabel’s story, and Forge is more about Curzon. They have finally escaped, but things don’t go well. Curzon ends up enlisting to fight for the Patriots, and most of the book is set in Valley Forge, where George Washington set up his headquarters.

Black soldiers were unusual, but not as rare as you might think. So when the soldiers freeze and starve and nearly kill themselves just trying to survive the winter of 1777-78, at least white and black suffer equally. It’s not even only the poor, as many better off men fought for freedom from the King of England as well.

On the other hand, the leaders at Valley Forge have food to eat, and beds to sleep in.

Laurie Halse Anderson, Forge

Forge is mainly about Curzon and his fellow soldiers, and about being black and being a slave. Neither Curzon nor Isabel are as free as they would like, and far too many people believe slavery is perfectly all right.

Laurie has put a lot of real people and real battles and real conditions into her book. It’s actually quite interesting to find out that so many of the characters were not made up, and that those who were, were based on real people. Each chapter begins with a quote from something written by leaders of the revolution, as well as by soldiers and others.

If you – like me – hoped for a resolution to Isabel’s and Curzon’s problems, you will find that you have to read one more book first, Ashes. And it’s not been published yet. (At least me being late means my wait will be shorter…)

Maybe there is a lot of young fiction about this period in America. I hope so, because it’s an interesting time. In a way it’s surprising I’ve not come across a lot more, unless very little has actually been written.

Now, before and much earlier

At the same time as I read Tanya Landman’s Buffalo Soldier, which briefly featured the men who built the railways across America, I was facebook stalking Son and Dodo on their travels across America on possibly the very same rails. Or maybe newer versions of what was being built 150 years ago. It felt like one of those odd coincidences.

Amtrak

Besides, modern people don’t usually cross that vast continent down at ground level, taking days travelling at speeds of 40 mph.

Crossing America

After Reading Buffalo Soldier, the one unread book which I suddenly felt I must read was Laurie Halse Anderson’s Forge. It was the ‘black soldier in American history’ theme, although I had actually forgotten that Laurie’s characters lived a hundred years before Tanya’s.

They too were slaves, and the war is America versus England, instead of North versus South. I did find the war in Buffalo Soldier very harsh, but it is nothing compared with the war to free ‘the country of the free’ from European rule. The conditions were atrocious.

The place names have only ever been names to me. Yes, maybe someone fought a battle there, but it’s history. Now I can put so much misery to the small gains made with such great sacrifice by all the soldiers involved, whether English or American, free or slave.

Son and Dodo are back home, and they turned up yesterday, telling us all about the trip and giving us a picture show on two laptops simultaneously. And they’d visited Concord, one of those places where much blood flowed and people suffered. Because it’s what you do as a tourist.

Without Forge, I wouldn’t have given it a second thought.

Boston

It’s strange how the realities between the three centuries have changed. Freedom fight in the 18th century. Civil war in the 19th. Leisurely travel, accompanied by digital cameras, laptops and facebook in the early 21st century. I wonder what Tanya’s and Laurie’s characters would have thought if they’d had an inkling of what was to come?

Twelve don’t go to Anglesey

Or ‘how to fail at getting Daughter to read’. Something. Anything.

She went on a Geology field trip to Anglesey last week. So obviously they were going to spend lots of time staring at rocks. And other geological things. But you just never know what you might want if you wake up in the middle of the night in a strange place. Or if your room mates are boring.

Small luggage allowance in the college minibus meant we decided on just one very good paperback. But which one? Daughter wanted it to be adventurous. ‘It will be, dear’ I said. ‘Oh, the book you mean?’

Nothing girlie. Not too long. Not scary.

I dug out twelve contenders to share with the waterproofs and thick socks. They were: Between two Seas, Burn my Heart, Chains, Crossing the Line, Halo, Hootcat Hill, Ondine, Revolver, The Cat Kin, The Night of the Burning, Time Riders, When I Was Joe.

Having lined them up (sorted according to colour of the covers) on the piano, we met and she pruned. Oh how she pruned. Too pink. Too chavvy (cover). Scary dragon. No. Don’t get it. Too political. No. No religion. Prefer to read this at home. (!) Don’t think so.

Then it was down to two. Halo and Between Two Seas. Hard choice, but Between Two Seas ‘spoke’ to her.

So this historical tale set in Jutland was the one that got squeezed into her bag. The one she would have read, had she read a book there.

Oh well.

(Looking on the bright side, at least she didn’t tear the pages out and stuff them inside her boots to make them dry faster. Seeing as they had no newspaper to stuff with.)

Speak

This is a supposedly controversial book. Some American wants to ban it on the grounds that it’s soft porn. I had never heard of Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson before the furore a couple of weeks ago. It was suddenly all over the internet and facebook spoke of little else. Lots of people seemed to know it already, and those who didn’t, quickly read it.

So I’m in the last category, and I have to say that there is no soft porn in this book at all. It features a rape, and it does so in the discreetest possible way. But it’s the rape that is behind everything 13-year-old Melinda does – or most importantly doesn’t – do in her first year in high school.

We only learn that something very bad has happened to her. She can’t speak of it, even to herself, let alone to her dysfunctional parents. Her old friends shun her, not knowing what happened to Melinda. So this young girl has a whole year at school with no real friends and no parental support. School staff complain about her behaviour and her lack of effort with school work. And her rapist goes to the same school.

What is shocking is the crime committed against Melinda and the lack of understanding from responsible adults. It makes this an incredibly strong and thought provoking book. It’s not soft porn. That this book exists is because rape exists, and it’s a most necessary story that needs telling.

Few books deserve to be banned, and anything less needing banning would be hard to find. Almost more worrying than the rape is the attitude of narrow-minded people the world over.

I’m not going to go into this in any great detail. Lucy Coats was one of those who spoke up, and her blog posts are far better than anything I could write. Read those and then read Speak if you haven’t already. It’s not a new book, and the only positive aspect of this banning idiocy is that it’s surfaced again and more people will read it.

2010 Carnegie shortlist

At last! I kept checking and checking, until the shortlist snuck in the back door while I wasn’t looking at all.

ANDERSON, LAURIE HALSE  – CHAINS

GAIMAN, NEIL  – THE GRAVEYARD BOOK

GRANT, HELEN  –  THE VANISHING OF KATHARINA LINDEN

HEARN, JULIE  – ROWAN THE STRANGE

NESS, PATRICK –  THE ASK AND THE ANSWER

PRATCHETT, TERRY –  NATION

REEVE, PHILIP –  FEVER CRUMB

SEDGWICK, MARCUS –  REVOLVER

Of the eight I have read six and they are all excellent, as is to be expected. I have never read either Julie Hearn or Philip Reeve, but I’m fairly certain they are equally good.

Which book will win? So far Neil Gaiman seems to have won everything with The Graveyard Book, so there may be no stopping the man. Will they go for old established, like Terry Pratchett, or new like Helen Grant? And Patrick Ness has won quite a bit in a short period of time.

Or they could simply surprise me if they feel like it.

Chains

This book has waited faithfully for me to have time for it, and now that the paperback is freshly out I’ve at long last sat down with the book. It’s as great a read as I always thought it would be. Chains also provided that kind of strange connection with the book I read just before it. Laurie Halse Anderson’s story is set in New York in 1776 and Isabel is a young black slave. It’s tempting to think that it wouldn’t be long until things were better for the slaves, but reading Sara Paretsky’s Hardball which features black people in Chicago in both the 1960s and today, you wonder why so little has happened to improve people’s lives.

For a European Chains makes interesting reading simply for its American history lesson aspect. You think you know, but there is so much that I didn’t know at all. At the back of the book Laurie has ten pages of facts, which unlike many such pages are both interesting and pertinent. I would have appreciated a map of Manhattan, though.

Isabel and her little sister Ruth are sold to a new owner at the start of the book, and taken to live in New York. Their lives and living and working conditions are grim. They were under the impression that at the death of their former owner they were to become free, but this little fact is overlooked. The war between the British and the Americans divides New York and its people, but what Isabel finds is that neither side wants to be nice or fair to slaves.

Their owner is loyal to the British King, but Isabel finds herself helping the cause of George Washington through the people she meets. She keeps thinking she will achieve justice one day, but how can that happen?

This is a good length story at 300 pages, and it moves swiftly so that you just want to read on and on. I worried in my usual fashion that it was beginning to look like a must-have-a-sequel kind of book towards the end, but it doesn’t, in actual fact. It could have one, but that’s different.

Very, very good.