Tag Archives: 1950s

Wishes Are Free by Diana Mercedes Howell cover shows a girl holding a dandelion, standing in front of a white picket fence with a cluster of buildings in the distance.

Review: Wishes Are Free by Diana Mercedes Howell

Wishes Are Free by Diana Mercedes Howell cover shows a girl holding a dandelion, standing in front of a white picket fence with a cluster of buildings in the distance.

Wishes Are Free
Diana Mercedes Howell
Published September 15, 2022

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About Wishes Are Free

Friends are everywhere if you have a big heart and know where to look.

California, 1959. Spunky ten-year-old Rose O’Reilly feels abandoned when her best friend from birth moves two thousand miles away. Determined to find a new best friend, she turns to Grandpa, whose wife – his own best friend – has recently died. They hold chat cafes in the kitchen on Sundays and with Grandpa’s help, Rose discovers friends can be found in unexpected places, from a lost dog to a boy with cerebral palsy.

But there is still an achy hole in her heart. She asks Venus, the Evening Star, for a new best friend, for Grandpa to come to live with them, and for a dog of her own. She has nothing to lose because wishes are free.

My Review

Rose is a precocious ten-year-old navigating a new school year without her best friend. Adrift and unsure, she looks to her grandfather for advice and a listening ear. I liked that the story doesn’t revolve around her grandfather’s advice. He doesn’t solve any problems for her; he really just offers her more ideas to think about or a new way to look at something. It’s up to Rose what she does with his counsel.

I also enjoyed the relationship between Rose and her brother, Jeremy. They bicker but share some tender moments, too. Rose also explores a new friendship with Anthony, a boy with Cerebral Palsy who owns a dog she likes. I wish Anthony had been included in scenes other than those in his house. Restricting Rose’s time with him to his own house made it seem like he was shut in or unwelcome in
other parts of her life.

In a couple of scenes, Rose confronts a neighborhood bully, and some of the language used to describe him is a little bit off-putting. He seems to be the only plus-sized character in the book and is always shown eating something as well as being mean to her. It came off as a negative stereotype to me, though
it was probably unconsciously done.

In one part, Rose gets in trouble at school, and her dad feels really disappointed. Her grandfather points out that her dad may feel the pressure of old stereotypes as an Irish man. Not long ago, the Irish faced discrimination and negative stereotypes. That understanding carries forward in the way Rose’s family empathizes with other immigrant workers in their community and values and appreciates them.

On the whole, I thought this was a sweet historical novel about friendship, family, and childhood discovery.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 8 to 12.

Rose’s friend has Cerebral Palsy.

Profanity/Crude Language Content

Romance/Sexual Content
Rose catches a boy and girl kissing in a movie theater.

Spiritual Content
Rose begins making wishes on Venus, the Evening Star. Rose attends a Catholic school. A boy makes a joke that if frogs got married, they couldn’t get divorced if they were Catholic.

Violent Content
Rose worries about a classmate whose father is rumored to have beaten him and his family.

Drug Content
Adults drink beer at a party.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use but which help support this blog. I received a free copy of WISHES ARE FREE in exchange for my honest review.

Review: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (Flavia de Luce #1)
Alan Bradley
Delacorte Press
Published April 24, 2009

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About The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

It is the summer of 1950–and at the once-grand mansion of Buckshaw, young Flavia de Luce, an aspiring chemist with a passion for poison, is intrigued by a series of inexplicable events: A dead bird is found on the doorstep, a postage stamp bizarrely pinned to its beak. Then, hours later, Flavia finds a man lying in the cucumber patch and watches him as he takes his dying breath.

For Flavia, who is both appalled and delighted, life begins in earnest when murder comes to Buckshaw. “I wish I could say I was afraid, but I wasn’t. Quite the contrary. This was by far the most interesting thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life.”

My Review

A long time ago, after I reviewed and enjoyed a mystery featuring a young narrator, someone suggested the Flavia de Luce series to me. I borrowed THE SWEETNESS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PIE from the library but only got maybe halfway through before having to return it. I liked what I’d read, but got sidetracked by other things and didn’t pick it up again until now.

Flavia is spunky and whip-smart. She has an interesting relationship with her two older sisters which mostly consists of giving each other a hard time and playing tricks on one another. There’s an undercurrent of protectiveness and caring in there, too. Sort of the only-I-can-mess-with-my-sister type of thing. It was kind of sweet.

I thought Flavia cleverly followed the thread of the mystery, having her own child-like moments here and there between highly analytical research, experiments and deductions. I feel like it should have been harder to believe that she’s eleven years old, but for some reason, I wasn’t really bothered by that as I was reading.

One section shows her listening to a long recounting of her father’s life at school. It’s interesting because it’s some of the only real interaction we see between them, but it goes on for a long time and sort of shifts the focus of the story to be about him from there on out.

Another thing to note is that there are a couple of racially insensitive (at best) situations or comments in the story. I’ve listed them below in the contents. To be honest, these are the kinds of things I have the most trouble with as a reviewer. This book is set in the 1950s and published in 2009 (which isn’t that long ago). I feel like the face-painting and Flavia’s comment could have been easily left out. They may have been historically accurate representations of ideas at the time, but including them feels insensitive to me, and none of them were critical to the story.

I enjoyed the mystery elements, and felt like the characters are believable and interesting. I wish it hadn’t included those few references.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 12 up.

Takes place in England.

Flavia’s father and a friend had a performance routine in which they dressed up as a Chinese man using make-up and an unflattering accent. Flavia later makes an off-hand comment about colonization “civilizing” the indigenous people– though it’s unclear if she says this sarcastically. These things may have been historically accurate representations of feelings and behavior at the time the story takes place, but are at the least racially insensitive and prejudiced.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Mild profanity used infrequently.

Romance/Sexual Content
Flavia sees a young man kiss a young woman.

Spiritual Content

Violent Content – Trigger warning for bullying, suicide and murder.
Flavia is the youngest of three sisters, and her older sisters boss her around and bully her sometimes. Flavia also commits pranks against her sisters. She also learns of a student her father knew who was bullied.

Description of a man throwing himself from a rooftop. Flavia discovers the body of a stranger in the garden who appears to have been murdered.

Contains situations of peril. Two scenes show Flavia tied up and locked away.

Drug Content
Adults drink alcohol socially.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use, but which help support the costs of running this blog.

Review: The Beat on Ruby’s Street by Jenna Zark

The Beat on Ruby’s Street (Beat Street #1)
Jenna Zark
Dragon Moon Press
Published June 1, 2016 (Originally Published 2013)

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About The Beat on Ruby’s Street

The last thing eleven-year-old Ruby Tabeata expected to happen on her way to a Jack Kerouac reading was to be hauled to the police station.

It’s 1958 and Ruby is the opposite of a 1950s stereotype: fierce, funny and strong willed, she is only just starting to chart her course in a family of Beat Generation artists in Greenwich Village. Ruby dreams of meeting famous poets while becoming one herself; instead, she’s accused of trying to steal fruit from a local vendor and is forced to live in a children’s home. As Ruby struggles to return to family and friends, she learns her only choice is to follow her heart.

Join Ruby’s journey as she finds unexpected friendships, the courage to rebel against unjust authority and the healing power of art in this inspiring middle-grade novel by Jenna Zark.

My Review

Ruby is a precocious girl living in Greenwich Village in the 1950s whose family gets into trouble after she’s accused of stealing. Her parents are pretty unconventional by 1950s standards: not married, sending her to “school” at a store run by some friends, and teaching her about Beat poets and art. Ruby writes poetry of her own, and looks up to other poets like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg.

I enjoyed the writing– Jenna Zark has a way of writing in this rambly, quirky style that reminds me of the way a chatty twelve-year-old would talk. I really enjoyed the descriptions of the antics of Ruby and her friends, and would have liked to have seen them all together on the page more often.

The story was interesting, and I didn’t have a hard time reading it. It wasn’t exactly what I expected. I think the characters kind of outshine the plot. The relationships between Ruby and her parents felt pretty realistic and complicated, and it’s those relationships that really drive the story forward.

The only thing that really gave me any pause is the use of a couple racial slurs. These were probably more commonly used in the 1950s, but they’re not used without offense now. I wish that the author had either just used updated language since it was only a couple places, or had written a note to explain why those words were used.

Other than that, I enjoyed reading THE BEAT ON RUBY’S STREET. If you like the 1950s time period or quirky narrators, this may be worth adding to your shelf.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 10 up.

Major characters are white.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
A few uses of racial slurs. Several references to “gypsies” and once to Asian food as “Oriental.” While these may have been commonly used during the 1950s, I wish the author had used different words or at least written a note in the book explaining why those words were used.

UPDATE 11/10/20: Jenna Zark has added a note in the book explaining the use of the racial slurs that appear in the story.

Nudity/Romance/Sexual Content
A naked man poses for a portrait in Ruby’s mother’s art studio.

Spiritual Content
Some references to Zen ways of thinking.

Violent Content
A woman grabs Ruby, painfully twisting her arm. Ruby and another girl get into a fist fight.

At the suggestion of a Beat poet, Ruby decides to go on a hunger strike after she’s taken from her parents’ home and placed in a Children’s Home. The woman at the Children’s Home describes what will happen to Ruby’s body if she doesn’t start eating– she’ll be sleepy and faint and eventually her organs will begin to shut down.

Drug Content
Ruby’s dad drinks alcohol. Ruby pours a bottle out because she says he’s had enough.

Note: I received a free copy of THE BEAT ON RUBY’S STREET in exchange for my honest review. This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use, but which help support the costs of running this blog.

Review: In the Neighborhood of True by Susan Kaplan Carlton

In the Neighborhood of True
Susan Kaplan Carlton
Algonquin Young Readers
Available April 9, 2019

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After her father’s death, Ruth Robb and her family transplant themselves in the summer of 1958 from New York City to Atlanta—the land of debutantes, sweet tea, and the Ku Klux Klan. In her new hometown, Ruth quickly figures out she can be Jewish or she can be popular, but she can’t be both. Eager to fit in with the blond girls in the “pastel posse,” Ruth decides to hide her religion. Before she knows it, she is falling for the handsome and charming Davis and sipping Cokes with him and his friends at the all-white, all-Christian Club.

Does it matter that Ruth’s mother makes her attend services at the local synagogue every week? Not as long as nobody outside her family knows the truth. At temple Ruth meets Max, who is serious and intense about the fight for social justice, and now she is caught between two worlds, two religions, and two boys. But when a violent hate crime brings the different parts of Ruth’s life into sharp conflict, she will have to choose between all she’s come to love about her new life and standing up for what she believes.

My Review

I found IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD OF TRUE to be utterly addicting to read. I’d sneak a few more pages in while microwaving the baby’s lunch. Or while waiting for my older daughter to finish brushing her teeth before bed. Anytime I had more than 30 seconds free, I jumped right back into the book.

I loved Ruth’s voice. She’s frank, pragmatic and constantly caught me off guard (in a great way) with colorful descriptions of things. At first she doesn’t seem bothered by hiding her identity. She values fitting in so much more than her faith, which feels especially far away after her father’s death. She knows she’s being shallow about it. But as things happen and she begins to form connections within her faith community, the racism in her debutante community only becomes more stark and uncomfortable to Ruth. I thought that progression felt very real, raw, and powerful.

The only thing I didn’t love about IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD OF TRUE was an element of the ending. I don’t want to give anything away, so I’ll add a spoiler section at the end of this post to talk about that. Over all, though, I really enjoyed the book. Check out the content section below for notes on those topics.

Recommended for ages 16 up.

Ruth, her sisters, and her mother are Jewish. Other characters are white. Many of the upscale clubs and community events are still closed to Jews and other races at the time the story happens. The story condemns those attitudes.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
15-20 instances of mild to strong profanity.

Romance/Sexual Content
Brief kissing between boy and girl. Ruth undresses with a boyfriend. She and her sister discuss sex– which her sister, who’s in college, seems to have a lot of. Her sister sends her a box of condoms. Ruth makes plans to have sex with her boyfriend on prom night. The scene describes the lead into the event but not much of the event itself.

Spiritual Content
Ruth attends synagogue services with her mom and sister. Most of the sermon that’s related to us has to do with social justice issues.

Violent Content
Ruth’s mother tells her about a young black man who was lynched. One of the boys in Ruth’s friend circle makes some ugly racist comments. See spoiler section for more.

Drug Content
Ruth’s friends offer her Southern Comfort, which gets her very drunk the first time she has it. She drinks some again another time.

Note: I received a free copy of IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD OF TRUE in exchange for my honest review. This post contains affiliate links, which don’t cost the reader anything, but when used, help support my blog.

About Susan Kaplan Carlton

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Carlton currently teaches writing at Boston University. She is the author of the YA novels Love & Haight and Lobsterland. Her writing has also appeared in Self,ElleMademoiselle, and Seventeen. She lived for a time with her family in Atlanta, where her daughters learned the finer points of etiquette from a little pink book and the power of social justice from their synagogue.

A bomb destroys a building. No one is hurt, but it’s a building dear to many people, and clearly awful and traumatic.

So here’s my issue with the end of the book: I liked the ending as a whole. Ruth does the right thing, stands up for herself and her community, makes a place for herself– her real self. I loved that. But I felt like she ultimately chose sides.

One of her debutante friends continued to reach out to her after the trial and after Ruth goes public with her faith. But instead of acknowledging that reach across the gap, Ruth sort of retreated to her side and said she was too busy for this friendship. It’s a pretty realistic ending, so I get it.

I guess I just wanted those girls to be bigger than the moment they were in, if that makes sense. I wanted them to be able to reach across lines of race and faith and say those things didn’t matter, and I didn’t feel like that was the message there. Seriously, though, I loved the book other than that and of course, some of the content.