Friday, August 13, 2021

Being Clem

Cline-Ransome, Lesa. Being Clem
August 3rd 2021 by Holiday House
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In this companion to Finding Langston and Leaving Lymon, we meet Clem, whose family is struggling after the death of his father in the Port Chicago disaster. His mother is holding on to hope that there will be some monetary compensation from the government, but when this does not materialize, tries to go back to work as a secretary. She has gone to college and worked in Washington, D.C.,where family still lived, but is unable to find similar work in Chicago, and ends up taking work as a maid for the Franklin family. Older sisters Annette and Clarissa try to help out around the house,, but Clem is told to concentrate on his studies. He is a bright student, and even though he is on the smaller side, is advanced a grade. He runs into some trouble from bully Curtis, but has a friend from his apartment building, Errol, with whom he hangs out, and meets Lymon, who is new to the school. Clem's mother prevails upon her employers to let Clem take swimming lessons along with their son, before the pool opens. This is a great opportunity that the mother secures by playing up her employers sympathy for the death of her husband, and unusual because Blacks and whites were often not allowed to use the same pool. Unfortunately, the lessons make Clem extremely anxious, thinking about the death of his father, and he claims illness until the lessons are canceled. The children spend some time visiting relatives, and another attempt at swimming lessons doesn't go any better. When a new boy, Langston, comes to the school, Lymon calls him "country" and gives him a hard time, but Clem finds an unexpected connection with the quiet, book loving boy. After watching a swim meet at his sisters' high school, Clem approaches the coach about his fear of swimming, and gets lessons from one of his sister's friends. 
Strengths: I love all of the details of family dynamics in this series, and the Chicago setting during the Great Migration. Visiting relatives in other cities, hearing about the mother's experiences growing up, and seeing how Langston is perceived by his classmates during the late 1940s is kind of fascinated. There's also a lot about family dynamics; not only is Clem's family struggling with the wartime death of the father, but Errol's father is abusive. More importantly, they are all books about young boys navigating their way through school and friendships, and this really resonates with my readers. Including Clem's attempts to master swimming will add to the appeal, and the cover is fantastic! The short length makes them appealing to those who normally don't pick up historical fiction. I'm looking forward to recommending this series to my students, and can't wait to see what Cline-Ransome writes next. 
Weaknesses: These are short books, so I could have used even more details about daily life at the time. More food, more exploits at school, and more descriptions of the apartment and what Clem wore. I was oddly fascinated by the bathing suit that his mother bought him! Lymon's story is secondary, and while he does spent time in the juvenile detention system in his own book, it seemed a bit abrupt when it happened in this book.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and am glad to have this book to entice readers to pick up more historical fiction. Also, I sort of want to read Enid Blyton's Famous Five series, like Clem does!

All of the students are back today! Hooray! Only two classes scheduled, but hope to see a lot from study halls. 

Petite Sophisticate (RIP 2009) jacket in Blendon Blue, and another Lands End Knit dress in black. I like to think I'm average height, but at 5'1", I am average only in a middle school setting.

Feel particularly clever with my Aesopian choice of jewelry today!

While my mother was a fan of heels, I wear Clarks loafers almost exclusively, since I inherited the foot problems from my father's side of the family. I could run a 5k in my usual outfits, and some days, it feels like I do!


Ms. Yingling

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