Thursday, May 30, 2013

Book Review #1, Leaving Gees Bend, by Irene Latham

There's an expression heard now and then across the eastern Kentucky coalfields, where here  and there are found urban islands whose best days are in all probability behind them.  Declining populations, declining school enrollments, declining job opportunities and other declinations make a brighter day look starkly unlikely in such places. Such towns, it is said, are "good places to be from," with the barely concealed connotation that they are good places to get out of. Not good in the here and now, but good to have hailed from.

Gees Bend, Alabama, circa 1932, as depicted in Irene Latham's novel, sounds rather like one such town. Physically isolated, its people psychologically isolated, its economy chronically stagnant, Gees Bend is the kind of town that almost any responsible parent would encourage his adult children to forsake at the first opportunity.

Standing amid the sad milieu that is Gees Bend is Ludelphia Bennett. Blind in one eye, this 10-year old sharecropper from a family of sharecroppers has known only hard work, hardship, and determination born of near-desperation. One day that determination is tested like never before when she sets out alone for Camden to find a doctor for her grievously sick mother. Though Camden is only 40 miles away, it might as well be on a different planet, so different is it from the world  Ludelphia has known.  This tale explores the interconnections among situationally compelled travel, cultural difference, and psychological growth, and does so in ways both well told and inspirational, and accessible to young adult readers.

Irene Latham is the award-winning author of two novels for children, the aforementioned Leaving Gee's Bend (Putnam/Pengui, 2010) and Don't Feed the Boy (Roaring Brook/Macmillan, 2012) and two volumes of poetry, The Color of Lost Rooms and What Came Before. She lives with her husband and three sons in Birmingham, Alabama. 

For more information about Irene Latham, go to: