Zora and Me: The Cursed Ground by T.R. Simon

Zora & Me: The Cursed Ground

T.R. Simon, Author

Candlewick Press , Fiction, Sep. 11, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 10-14

Themes: Zora Neale Hurston, Jim Crow south, Slavery, African-Americans, Community, Friendship

Synopsis:

A powerful fictionalized account of Zora Neale Hurston’s childhood adventures explores the idea of collective memory and the lingering effects of slavery and the Jim Crow south.

“History ain’t in a book, especially when it comes to folks like us. History is in the lives we lived and the stories we tell each other about those lives.”

When Zora Neale Hurston and her best friend, Carrie Brown, discover that the town mute can speak after all, they think they’ve uncovered a big secret. But Mr. Polk’s silence is just one piece of a larger puzzle that stretches back half a century to the tragic story of an enslaved girl named Lucia. As Zora’s curiosity leads a reluctant Carrie deeper into the mystery, the story unfolds through alternating narratives. Lucia’s struggle for freedom resonates through the years, threatening the future of America’s first incorporated black township — the hometown of author Zora Neale Hurston (1891–1960). In a riveting coming-of-age tale, award-winning author T. R. Simon champions the strength of people to stand up for justice.

Why I like this book:

T.R. Simon skillfully captures the spirit of famous writer Zora Neale Hurston in this gripping and haunting story of her fictionalized childhood. In alternating chapters, he addresses the harsh realities of race in Jim Crow’s south in 1903, and slavery in 1855. Both Zora and Lucia’s stories are masterfully woven together until they culminate into one profound story. The narrative is rich and poetic and the dialogue is suspenseful and humorous. The plot is gripping and dangerous. The book cover is stunning!

The story is set in Eatonville, Florida, the first incorporated all black township in the United States. The historical facts about the town, with the only black mayor, is fascinating. It is out in the middle of nowhere. The black community lives peacefully together for many years enjoying their freedom, until trouble comes calling from some white men in a nearby town.

There are many multi-layered characters that are memorable. In the main story, Zora is bold, curious and an adventurous spirit. Her best friend Carrie knows that what ever problem or mystery they are chasing always “courts trouble.”  Old Lady Bronson, who wears soldier boots, lives in solitude, and is the town healer, seer, wise woman and “witch.” Mr. Polk is mute, but has a gentle spirit and a gift for working with horses. The 1855 story characters are very compelling. Prisca, the daughter of a plantation owner, who seems naïve to slavery at first. Prisca’s best friend is Lucia, who she treats as her sister, even though she is a slave. Lucia shares many of the same luxuries as Prisca and can read and write. The truth about Lucia is revealed when Prisca’s father suddenly dies, and she is torn away from Prisca to be sold. Lucia is angry and struggles to not lose herself in her hatred. Horatio is a kind stable boy who plays a significant role in the story.

Zora & Me: The Cursed Ground is stunning, heart wrenching and inspiring. Simon’s deliberate pacing and tension will keep readers fully engaged. There are many surprises for readers. It is an exceptional story, one I plan to read again.

Resources: Make sure you check out the biography of the remarkable Zora Neale Hurston and a timeline that chronicles her life, which are at the end of the story.

Greg Pattridge is the host for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Review copy provided by publisher.

Copper Sun

Copper Sun

Sharon M. Draper, Author

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2008, Fiction

Suitable for :  Ages 14 and up

Themes: African-American History, Slavery, Indentured Servants, Escape, Freedom

Awards:  2007 Coretta Scott King Literary Award

Synopsis:  “When pale strangers enter 15-year-old Amari’s Village, her entire tribe welcomes them, for in her remote part of Africa, visitors are always a cause for celebration.  But these stranger are not here to celebrate.  They are here to capture the strongest, healthiest villagers and to murder the rest.  They are slave traders.  And in the time it takes a gun to fire, Amari’s life as she’s known it is destroyed, along with her family and village.”  

Amari is beaten, shackled and herded with other survivors to the ocean, where she is branded and dragged on to a slave ship bound for the colonies.  Sailing on this ship of death is full of unimaginable horrors.  Survival is for those who are strong.  Upon landing in the Carolinas, Amari faces even greater  humiliation when she is forced to stand naked in front of buyers and is auctioned to the highest bidder.  Amari is purchased by a plantation owner, Percival Derby, who gives her to 16-year-old son, Clay, for a birthday present.  Mr. Derby also buys a white indentured servant, Polly.

This unlikely pair, Amari and Polly, become friends on the rice plantation, Derbyshire Farms.  They endure the daily hardships, back-breaking work, emotional turmoil, fear, and brutality beyond their imaginations.  When things couldn’t get any worse, a murder occurs on the plantation.  Amari and Polly have no choice but to escape and run for the freedom they both seek.  Freedom is found in a very unlikely place.  This novel celebrates the strength and spirit of Amari, and the thousands of slaves like her.

Sharon Draper has written a compelling, realistic and action-packed novel that will keep you in a state of suspense.  Draper is a skillful author whose writing is so vivid that you will find your senses heightened.   You smell the foul odors of the ship, feel the burn of the branding and beatings, and hear the screams of a child being torn from a parent.  Copper Sun is historical fiction and it took Draper 10 years to research and write her novel.  Copper Sun is a masterpiece in children’s literature.  It is also an important book for Women’s History Month.

Sharon Draper is the granddaughter of a slave.  She wrote Copper Sun after visiting Ghana years ago.  She “knew she had to tell the story of one girl who might have made that harrowing journey through the door of no return.”  “This book is dedicated to all the millions of girls like Amari who died during that process–as well as those who lived and suffered, but endured,” said Draper. “I also dedicate this to all those who came before me–the untold multitudes of ancestors who needed a voice. I speak for them. Amari carries their spirit. She carries mine as well.”

Draper has also won the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent for Fears of a Tiger.  She won the Coretta Scott King Award for Forged by Fire, and the Coretta Scott King Author Honor for The Battle of Jericho.  For more information about all the books she’s published, resources, activities, interviews and information on school visits, click here to visit Draper’s website.  I reviewed Draper’s latest novel, Out of My Mind,  Jan. 23, 2012.