Sunday, December 27, 2015

Currents - Jane Petrlik Smolik

Title: Currents
Author: Jane Petrlik Smolik
Publisher: Charlesbridge Publishing, 2015 (Paperback) (Review copy is an ARC from the publisher)
Length: 318 pages
Genre: Children's Historical Fiction
Started: December 22, 2015
Finished: December 27, 2015

From the back cover:

Old Mistress doesn't make Bones' life easy. When the eleven-year-old finds her real name in the plantation owner's slave registry, she tears it out. She decides to set her name free by placing the slip of paper in a bottle and setting it afloat on the James River.

The bottle drifts across the Atlantic and lands on a beach in England where twelve-year-old Lady Bess finds it. As her conniving stepmother pilfers their estate piece by piece, Bess saves her mother's pearl-encrusted cross. She seals it in the bottle with Bones' name, and the ocean currents carry it back to America.

The bottle makes its way into the hands of twelve-year-old Mary Margaret in Boston. She keeps Lady Bess' heirloom safe in the bottle until she and her family figure out a way for it to change all their lives.

The is uplifting tale proves that every action has an impact - even across oceans.

I love it when historical fiction for kids is done well, especially from the point of view of girls and women in history. This book definitely falls into that category, and was quite an engrossing read.

We begin in 1854 on a plantation in Virginia. Bones is a young slave girl who knows how to read, courtesy of Miss Liza, the master's daughter. When Bones finds her birth record and her real name in a book in the library, she decides if she cannot be free, at least her real name will be, and she rips out the page and places it in a bottle in the James River. Lady Bess on the Isle of Wight finds it a year later. When her stepmother tries to sell off the family's possessions and tries to frame Bess' friend Harry for it, Bess manages to rescue both her friend and a piece of jewelry gifted to her by her mother. The bottle with Bones' name and Bess' cross finds its way to Mary Margaret in Boston, the daughter of Irish immigrants escaping the potato famine. Mary Margaret is a gifted writer and longs to go to school, but with a sick little sister her family needs her work earnings. The lives of all three girls are intertwined by the end and it's quite nice to see how the author weaves the stories together.

The author really did her homework for this. Not only did she research plantations and the lives of African slaves in the 1850s, she also had to research Irish immigrants and the potato famine and how they were treated when they immigrated, as well as the lives of the English gentry and explorers into British colonies. This was a veritable treasure trove of historical information. The stories for each girl start out a bit slow, but then quickly develop to the point where I was genuinely invested in the outcomes and was really rooting for all three in their individual sections.

A really engrossing historical fiction middle grade read about girls in the 1850s from various backgrounds and circumstances.

Thoughts on the cover:
I like how the portraits of the girls are against the background of the ocean with the bottle. I also like how the portraits look realistic as opposed to overly cartoon-like.

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