Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Back to the Classics Challenge 2018: Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes

This title was recommended to me by blogger Kathy at Reading Matters in her review of The Witch of Blackbird Pond.  In that review, Kathy mentioned that Johnny Tremain was a a children's classic  in which the child protagonist was allowed to be imperfect, which made for a more complex and ultimately more fulfilling reading experience. 

So imagine my surprise and joy when I discovered that I actually had a copy of the book! I am not sure how I obtained it. It might have actually belonged to one of my siblings and just migrated to me. The copy I read does not have the Newbery stamp in gold foil on the front (unlike the pictured version in this post ) and it is priced at only $3.50, so it must have been first purchased sometime in the late 70's/early 80s.   

I agree with Kathy that Johnny is an interesting and realistic character. He is not idealized and he does not always make the "right" decision.  His arrogance gets him into trouble more than once. But he is also quick thinking and loyal which earns him friends and support when he most needs it.

For a book aimed at 12 year olds written 75 years ago, I thought the story was pretty gripping reading it as an adult now!  Only the last chapter sort of loses the plot a bit.  I was a little disappointed that the book completely sidesteps the issue of slavery but I guess that is not uncommon for a book written in the 1940's. 

The story takes place on the cusp of the American Revolution in Boston. Johnny becomes involved with many of the key players in that conflict, such as Paul Revere and John Hancock and he also takes part in certain events like the Boston Tea Party. There were quite a few names that I had to google; if I learned about them in elementary school, I have since forgotten.  

I read this book for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2018 hosted by Karen on the blog Books and Chocolate for the "Children's Classic" category.  

Monday, July 2, 2018

Back to the Classics 2018: Passing by Nella Larsen

For the category “Classic with a Single Word Title” in the Back to the Classics Challenge 2018 hosted by Karen at Books and Chocolate I chose to read Passing by Nella Larsen.  This book had been on my list for quite a while now so I was really glad to use this excuse to get to it. Passing is one of my favorite kind of books in that it is a novella that reveals multitudes in just over 100 pages (114 in the pictured Penguin classic that I read). I am always in awe of authors that can successfully pull that off.

The story is told from the point of view of Irene Redfield, an African American who is light-skinned enough to pass as “white”, though she only occasionally chooses to do so for small things where this gives her an small advantage, such as having a glass of iced tea in a Chicago hotel restaurant that would normally not allow blacks in.   In all other respects, Irene lives what she considers to be a fulfilled life in 1920’s Harlem, NY, an active member of the growing black middle class.  However, while having her refreshing glass of iced tea one hot afternoon, she runs into an old school friend, Clare Kendry.  What Irene soon discovers is that Clare doesn’t just "pass" from time to time but lives permanently as a white woman. No one in Clare’s social circle, particularly not her white husband, knows about her true origins, which means that she has had to cut off all ties with her former black neighborhood and friends. This chance encounter brings Clare back into the orbit of Irene’s life which has both seductive and dangerous consequences for both women.

As previously stated, there is a lot packed in these pages. Clearly the construct of race and racism, both overt and internalized, is the main focus, but there’s a lot of other subtext that can be read between the lines. The introduction by Thadious M. Davis emphasized repressed sexuality between Clare and Irene which isn’t something I picked up on personally, but I did think there were interesting intimations about marrying for security and the roles one plays in marriage as a woman that one can also tease out of the narrative.