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Leaving Gee’s Bend by Irene Latham

February 4, 2010
Leaving Gee’s Bend by Irene Latham
published by Putnam Juvenile January 7, 2010

Ludelphia Bennett is only ten years old and blind in one eye, but that doesn’t stop her from bearing her share of the responsibility in a hardworking family of sharecroppers. It is 1932, and times are hard. Although she has never left the small town of Gee’s Bend, Alabama, when her mother becomes seriously ill after giving birth, Ludelphia sets out, on foot, on a 40-mile journey to find a doctor. She takes a quilt she’s been making for her mother and continues to work on it, adding pieces that chronicle her own story.

This novel is partly an homage to the quilters of Gee’s Bend, which inspired the book. It is beautifully written, and the author does a wonderful job of drawing us into Ludelphia’s mind, letting us feel her love, determination, fear, confusion and courage. The plot was well paced, and while a few things stretched credibility for me, it incorporated many well drawn, believable experiences, including some actual historical events.

The author also did a good job of recreating the setting. While I didn’t see the rich imagery that illuminated Black Angels, there were vivid, well chosen details, such as the description of the river, the feeling of rich, red soil on Ludelphia’s feet, and the abundant pine trees.

I recommend this book, especially for middle grade readers (ages 8-12). It offers a memorable character and a compelling story with several interesting twists. It also provides fertile ground for discussion of quilting and folk art, sharecropping, poverty, racism, courage, and compassion, among other things.

Where I Got This Book: I received a galley from Stacey Barney at Putnam. Thank you!

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