TITLE: The Book of Harlan
AUTHOR: Bernice McFadden
PUBLISHER: Akashic Books
PUBLISHED DATE: May 3, 2016
Ok, so no...this is definitely not YA, and yes I decided to write about this gem because this is my blog, and I can read and write about what I want!
This summer, The Book of Harlan, is inescapable...and once you read it, you'll immediately know why. Spanning several generations, McFadden takes you on a journey through a family tree that spans decades, continents, and lifetimes. I've been a fan of McFadden's work since Sugar, and enjoy the rich descriptiveness she uses to take the mundane and make it marvelous. I shouldn't have been surprised that the book doesn't begin with the title character. McFadden's style is to begin at the source - to tell the journey of the parents as a way of giving the reader a deeper level of understanding of the character. The book was nearly half over before we got into the meat of Harlan. I don't think I've ever heard of a fictionalized account of an African American surviving the concentration camps of the Holocaust. I bought the book on this premise alone, but the book was already halfway through before it really got into that, and I think I'd have liked more of that story. McFadden treats the reader to a buffet of larger than life historical figures prominently rooted in the infrastructure of jazz. Looking for an intellectual travel book for the summer? - This is it. Start by sipping sweet tea in Macon, Georgia, then head up to bustling Chicago. Toast sparkling with the glitterati of Harlem before feeling the warmth of the Barbadian sun. Once you've experienced that, get a short tour of Paris before getting your feelings snatched in the bristling cold of a German concentration camp, and then end this journey struggling back in Harlem in the aftermath of the great black Renaissance.
It's usually a good thing when a book leaves you wanting more, and you will be wanting more. McFadden's voice is strong yet vulnerable - I hung on every word. This book could appeal to the right young adult reader - but it's clearly for grown folks.
Recommendation: Read it!
Audience: Millennials and up and the astute young adult reader. (I'd have read it if I were a teen, for sure.)
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