Middler Books and More

This blog contains Bruce DuBoff's book reviews, info on other media, and related topics. It is a collaboration between the librarian and both the students of Pennsauken Intermediate School and Phifer Middle School in Pennsauken, NJ, and the general middler book reading community. The books featured here are appropriate for grades 5-8, though not all books reviewed here are appropriate for all of those ages.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Celeste's Harlem Renaissance by Eleanora E. Tate (4 out of 4 stars)--
I read Middle level fiction (grades 5-8) for entertainment, for insight into a genre or style, for familiarity with an author or writing school, and, of course, because it’s my job to buy, promote, discuss, and recommend the right books to the right patrons. I generally do not read YA fiction to learn. However, when a book delights me, sheds insight into all of those literary issues that interest me, and teaches me about some cool history, I get doubly excited. That was my experience with Eleanora E. Tate’s new novel, Celeste’s Harlem Renaissance. It is a fine piece of historical fiction that sent me both dreaming in my recliner about the height of the Harlem Renaissance and running to the library databases at ww2.pennsauken.net/pms to read about and appreciate the people, places and things Ms. Tate alludes to throughout the novel.
The year is 1921 in Raleigh, North Carolina, and Celeste Massey has a problem. Since her mother passed away, Cece has lived with her loving father and her mean, strict Aunt Society. When Dad gets tuberculosis, Cece must live alone with a woman she loathes or try to get her hip Aunt Valentina from Harlem to stay with her. Although she cannot pry her aunt from New York, Celeste is able to travel North to stay with her. Cece imagines Harlem to be full of sparkle and celebrity, with well-dressed sophisticates living in swanky mansions. After a fitful train ride, she arrives not to glittering lights, but to hard theater floors that need to be scrubbed. As she scrapes her knees that first night in the Big Apple, Celeste must face the pain that accompanies the adult realization that nothing is as it appears. Even names can carry a message or a deception: when Cece asks her aunt if she can shorten her name for convenience to Auntie Val, she replies, “‘Sure. But with an ‘i’—not ‘ie.’ Makes me think it’s fancier’” (59). Aunti Val has not been totally truthful with her Southern family, and Cece must pay the price. One of Celeste’s only consolations during her journey is her violin, which she names Dede after the African-American violinist and composer Edmund Dede. When she gets to play at an outdoor café and gain a tiny bit of fame (and money), Aunti Val is jealous: “She grilled me until I was sorry I had even mentioned it. I had thought she’d be pleased . . . She was something all right, but pleased wasn’t the word” (161). Aunti Val clearly has some people-skills issues. When Aunt Society gets sick and becomes so ornery that no one will approach her, Celeste must face a difficult decision: stay and pursue her dream of becoming a doctor, or return to her friends, who she misses, and her Aunt Society, who she fears.
It is a pleasure and a privilege to hang out with Celeste as she grows up. Her world is full of color and music, even when it has to come only from her soul. Cece has an irrepressible spirit that blossoms away from the shackles of the segregated South. She grows to understand that all of the important challenges and obstacles are not imposed on her from White or Black society, but generated from within. She learns to take responsibility for her actions and to understand the consequences of her decisions not from a textbook or parental lecture, but from life. She starts out crawling, but she eventually stands tall because she stood up herself, and she must learn to temper her will so that others may share in her journey. Celeste’s Harlem Renaissance by Eleanora E. Tate is a beautiful literary chord that will resonate empowerment in all young minds; Celeste’s indomitable spirit became the force that survived the Depression, defeated fascism, and made our future possible.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a wonderful book. I loved it!

2:14 PM  

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