Saving Savannah by Tonya Bolden

TITLE: Saving Savannah
AUTHOR: Tonya Bolden
LENGTH: 252 pages
GENRE: young-adult historical fiction (post-WWI/influenza pandemic, women’s suffrage movement, pre-Harlem Renaissance, Red Summer)
ISBN: 9781681198040
REASON FOR READING: I found this title on a list of YA books by Black authors about Black stories and it sounded like an interesting setting I’ve never explored before

SUMMARY (book jacket):

“There must be a change! And if last night taught me anything, it’s that I must be part of that change! Part of making the world as it ought to be!” 

Savannah Riddle is lucky. As a daughter of an upper-class African American family in Washington, DC, she attends one of the most rigorous public schools in the nation–black or white–and has her pick among the young men in her set. But lately the structure of her society, including the fancy parties, the Sunday teas, the pretentious men and shallow young women, has started to suffocate her.

Then Savannah meets Lloyd, a young West Indian man from the working class, who opens Savannah’s eyes to how the other half lives. Inspired to fight for change, Savannah finds herself drawn more and more to Lloyd’s world.

Set against the backdrop of the women’s rights movement, the Red Summer, and the anarchist bombings of 1919, Saving Savannah is the story of a girl who must decide how much she is willing to risk to “be the change” in a world on the brink of dramatic transformation.

My Thoughts: I really loved this book. I love history, and this is a point of time that I don’t know much about, especially from a Black perspective. And reading it at this point in history–with a new pandemic and a resurgence in the much needed Civil Rights movement–is so apropos. The setting is 100 years ago, and yet, the story seems so fitting for our current time.

Savannah is almost done with school and ready to be her own independent woman. And yet, she wants more out of life than the life she’s currently living. She feels her social circle is shallow and tedious, and she, having kept up on current events during WWI and the influenza pandemic, knows there are bigger and more important things out there. Spurred on my her uncle’s advice–“Purpose is a powerful antidote to the doldrums. Get engaged with something, take hold of life, stop being a mere observer” (p35)–she looks into how the other half lives, as they say. Seeing how the poor are living, and how Blacks of any class are being treated during this Red Summer, opens her eyes and encourages her to get involved and make change.

One of my favorite parts of the book is the author’s note in the back. It is FULL of information Bolden used when creating her story. And all of her sources–it feels like a goldmine to me, a starting point of people and events I need to research more. This is a book I plan to buy and I plan to use this in our homeschooling when my kids are at the right age to read this. As a person who graduated with a bachelor’s degree to teach social studies, and a minor in history, I did not ONCE learn about this “Red Summer”, nor how Washington DC had been the “Black mecca” in the US. And that is a problem, in my opinion. The most I learned about Black history and POC was in my Intro to Ethnic Studies course as a university freshman which I don’t believe had anything to do with my degree. It was my favorite class in all four years. But I digress…I think this is an excellent book to read in whole or take in part for this time period of US history (1918-1920).