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).

A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier

A Single Thread by Tracy ChevalierTITLE: A Single Thread
AUTHOR: Tracy Chevalier
LENGTH: 318 pages
GENRE: fiction/historical fiction (1930s, England, embroidery, single women)
ISBN: 9780525558248
REASON FOR READING: I’ve read a handful of books by Tracy Chevalier and enjoyed them

SUMMARY (book jacket):

1932. After the Great War took both her beloved brother and her fiancé, Violet Speedwell has become a “surplus woman,” one of a generation doomed to a life of spinsterhood after the war killed so many young men. Yet Violet cannot reconcile herself to a life spent caring for her grieving, embittered mother. After countless meals of boiled eggs and dry toast, she saves enough to move out of her mother’s place and into the town of Winchester, home to one of England’s grandest cathedrals. There, Violet is drawn into a society of broderers–women who embroider kneelers for the Cathedral, carrying on a centuries-long tradition of bringing comfort to worshippers.

Violet finds support and community in the group, fulfillment in the work they create, and even a growing friendship with the vivacious Gilda. But when forces threaten her new independence and another war appears on the horizon, Violet must fight to put down roots in a place where women aren’t expected to grow. Told in Chevalier’s glorious prose, A Single Thread is a timeless story of friendship, love, and a woman crafting her own life.

My Thoughts: I feel fairly indifferent towards this book. Firstly, it took a good 50-60 pages to grab my attention. The story was slow and winding; not exactly boring, not exactly enticing. Violet did indeed grow more confident throughout the story, especially at the end when she became that female lead we always hope will do what we want her to do, regardless of the time and place of her story. What drove my interest was the building tension between her and another character–I was interested in what would happen, if anything. However, if I hadn’t had the free time to spend reading, I’m fairly certain this book might’ve ended up sitting by my bed for days, unopened, because it wasn’t enticing enough to pick up too often.

I should like this book more than I did. A female lead with pretty feminist sentiments back in the 1930s–that should be something I’m very interested in. Maybe embroidery and ringing church bells, fairly boring activities in my mind, overtook any excitable feelings I had about the characters and their lives (outside those activities). Bored by context, excited by the storyline? Averaged out to indifference in the end, I suppose.

I imagine, years from now, I won’t remember anything about this book other than the two big things, if even those. It was fine to pass the time, but was unremarkable.