Tag Archives: Julia Whelan

The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine

Lions of Little Rock1958, Little Rock, Arkansas: A year has passed since nine courageous African American students – history’s “Little Rock Nine” – integrated Central High School. Just days before the new school year is scheduled to begin that September 15, then-Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus closed the city’s three high schools rather than adhere to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling to continue integration.

Not directly affected herself, Marlee, 12, starts middle school. She’s gifted with numbers, but has trouble with words … especially when she has to speak them out loud. Her excruciating shyness keeps her voice locked inside: “… I’m not stupid, I’m scared.” Then she meets Liz, the new girl, who immediately stands up to the class queen bee, but with such delightful aplomb that she is instantly everyone’s friend, including Marlee. In the midst of working on a school project – which Liz has convinced Marlee that Marlee can and will present to the whole class in her own voice! – Liz disappears. The truth is highly disturbing: Liz is barred from school … because in spite of her light skin, she is black. Marlee learns the ugly reality of “passing.”

Life at home becomes increasingly unstable. Her older brother has left home for college. Her older sister – and greatest ally – has been sent to live with their grandmother so she can continue high school elsewhere. Her parents are fighting more and more – seemingly arguing opposite sides of the integration divide. Citing her safety in an already volatile situation, both parents forbid Marlee from any contact with Liz. Then the family’s maid’s teenage son gets arrested for a crime he didn’t commit – and Marlee knows he’s innocent because she knows who’s really guilty. Little by little, she realizes that doing the right thing sometimes means you’ve got to start with doing more wrong.

Kristin Levine – whose mother was born in Little Rock – has constructed a remarkable novel, so intricately layered and yet perfectly pieced together. Beyond its feat of page-turning storytelling (track-whooshing, too, if you choose to listen to Julia Whelan’s excellent narration), Lions also is an outstanding history lesson, made even more extraordinary by its lack of finger-pointing judgment. Beyond the huge public moment in 1957 that was Little Rock integration, Levine returns to the citizens’ everyday experiences after the national news cameras turned off: “Many citizens of Little Rock were embarrassed that the world saw only the hate and bigotry in their town,” she writes in the “Author’s Note” at book’s end. “In contrast, by 1958-59, some people in Little Rock had started to speak out … when the city seemed to find a voice.” That voice Levine entrusts to young Marlee, who learns to use it with deliberate tenacity and unswerving courage.

Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult

Published: 2012

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Filed under ..Middle Grade Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Audio, .Fiction, African American

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Now that we’re in the final weekend of summer, I figured today was the right day to choose what was apparently the title this season (yes, I do open the occasional mega-bestseller, the few times I crawl out from under my rock).

Since Reese Witherspoon’s production company bought the film rights for a reported $1.5 million (“according to a person familiar with the deal,” according to a July 19 article in the Wall Street Journal), Girl will be headed to every multiplex near you … but you still have a chance to go read the book first! Not to mention, I just can’t imagine Witherspoon playing a convincing Amy Dunne, so better to form your own image before Hollywood ruins (whoops!) your experience. One hopeful detail: author Gillian Flynn herself is currently slated to write the script.

I knew little about Girl when I hit ‘play’ on the iPod. And yes, Julia Whelan and Kirby Heyborne make for a fine pair of antagonistic narrators; they’re both quite talented at upping the creep factor in just the right places. I’m convinced the less you know, the better your read is going to be … so don’t go looking for any spoilers!

Amy and Nick Dunne are the beautiful young couple who have valiantly returned from their glamorous lives in New York City to Nick’s hometown of Carthage, Missouri, to help care for his ailing mother. Nick and his twin sister Go have opened a neighborhood bar, with generous support from Amy’s trust fund. All her life, Amy has been the star of her own book series, Amazing Amy, thanks to her writer parents who have gained both fame and fortune with their prolific literary exploits.

Then on the morning of their fifth anniversary, Amy disappears. Signs of violent struggle are left behind in their McMansion on the banks of the Mississippi River. Of course, Nick becomes the primary suspect … and that will be the last ‘of course’ you’ll encounter through the 400+ pages (or 19+ hours if you choose to go the highly recommended  audible route).

As Nick and Amy take turns telling their side of the story, just remember this: trust no one.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2012

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Audio, .Fiction, Nonethnic-specific