Thursday, March 07, 2019

How High the Moon

Parsons, Karyn. How High the Moon
March 5th 2019 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Copy provided by the publisher

Ella is being raised by her grandparents in small town South Carolina during World War II, since her mother long ago went to Boston to pursue a singing career and is now also working as a shipfitter. Her grandmother took in Myrna after her mother showed up wanting help from a midwife and died after giving birth. Along with Henry, her best friend, Ella enjoys church socials and playing outside, but doesn't enjoy the mean girls in town who make fun of her for being light complected. When her mother finally agrees that she can spend Christmas in Boston, Ella is very excited and hopes to remain with her mother indefinitely. The way that African-Americans are treated in Boston is very different from how they are treated in the South, and Ella is pleased not to have to use "colored" water fountains and to hear her mother being treated with respect. Her mother is as beautiful and fashionable as ever, but her apartment is small and dingy, and she has a roommate, Helen, who is also a shipfitter. Ella's mother is very busy with work, and Ella is supposed to spend her days in the apartment reading, which gets to be boring. The group spends a nice Christmas together, and Ella hopes that she will soon start school, but when her mother gets the opportunity to sing in New York City, Ella finds herself suddenly delivered by a friend of her mother's back to Alcolu like a package. Ella still wants to know about her father, and neither her mother nor grandparents will give her any information, leading her to speculate that everyone from celebrity Cab Calloway to local store owner Mr. Parker might be her father. When local teen George Stinney is arrested for the murder of two young girls, Ella's friends and neighbors are all fearful of the outcome, and rightly so. The 14-year-old is framed and executed, and the community struggles to deal with this injustice while World War II is challenging everyone.
Strengths: This had some intriguing things to do: children being raised by grandparents, life in the South, traveling on the train, life in Boston (somehow Christmas was particularly charming), and the real life connection to the accusations of George Stinney. The inclusion of Henry's father off fighting was good, and there could be an entire book about Henry and his father's experiences.
Weaknesses: The details of daily life are a bit weak; at one point, paper plates are used at a church picnic, which seems unlikely. No, young readers won't be at all bothered, but I always like a bit more period feel in the small details. There was also a somewhat confusing moment where Ella comes across Helen and her mother cuddle up in bed-- I thought we were going to find that they were in a romantic relationship, but nothing else was ever discussed.
What I really think: Glad to have for both the World War II and Civil Rights historical tie ins, and I love that the title is from a song from this time period.

And... well, when DON'T we all need some Ella Fitzgerald?

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