- publisher and date: Hyperion Paperbacks for Children, 1998
- genre: realistic fiction
- age/grade: ages 9-12
Synopsis (from www.bn.com)
Nell spends every summer with her aunt Ursa and cousin Foley. This summer she finds she is strongly attracted to Foley’s smooth-talking best friend, Slade. When Slade and Foley beg her to hide Foley’s Raven .25, a pistol her cousin purchased in a gun-running scheme, Nell reluctantly agrees — even though the weapon scares her and hiding it means lying to her aunt. Nell is haunted by guilt when tragedy strikes and Foley runs away. Could she have prevented Slade’s death? Should she have told Aunt Ursa what the two boys were up to? Seeking answers, Nell turns to her father, who must face his own conflicted feelings about his family and his past. In the end Nell learns the importance of making choices for herself, telling the truth, and about the healing power of a strong family.
Author’s Perspective: (from: Voices from the Gaps)
Andrea Davis Pinkney was born on September 25, 1963 in Washington, D.C., the daughter of parents deeply involved in the civil rights movement. As a result, Pinkney was exposed to the movement at a young age and was even involved in the annual conference of the National Urban League during many of her summer vacations. The Civil Rights Movement played a large role in her childhood and its influence is visible in many of her books.
This book is based partly on Andrea’s experiences growing up in Connecticut. She writes from an insider’s perspective.
Character/Theme – Nell, the main character, is a 12 year old girl. When she first arrives at her aunt’s for her summer visit. Many comment on how “grown up” she has become. The story, told through her point of view, follows her throughout the summer where she faces many adult decisions and situations; the “coming of age” theme runs through the story. The growth of her character and other supporting characters is what drives the story.
Setting – Modine, New York, “a town no bigger than a pig’s knuckle.” (page 2) The town has several nicknames. “Some people call Modine, ‘New York State’s Belly’ because it’s nestled right in the middle of the state. Others say Modine is New York’s ‘Black Trap.’ It’s a place where a small group of freed slaves from the South settled after the Civil War ended.” (page 3) It’s tight-knit community, where everybody knows everyone else. Some of the characters are yearning to get away from this small town, while others try to keep everyone together. People have “stayed for generations. Something keeps them in Modine – like they’re trapped. ‘Still enslaved,’ Daddy says.” (page 3)
- Time Line – It was an eventful August for Nell. Plot out the main events of the story while she is at Modine.
- Character change – Many characters go through changes in this story. Choose one of the characters (Nell, Foley, Wes) and show how they have changed from the the beginning to the end of the story.
- Faith vs. Hope – On page 180, the following conversation takes place:
“No, child.” Aunt Ursa shook her head. “Earl’s gone for good. And it’s a false hope to think otherwise.”
“But what about your faith, Aunt Ursa?” Now that I’d seen a picture of Earl, I didn’t want him gone for good.
“I still got me plenty of faith, Nell,” Aunt Ursa said.
What does hope and faith mean to Aunt Ursa? What is the difference between the two?
Publishers Weekly (from www.bn.com)
Grim foreshadowing adds weight and texture to this poignant and ultimately uplifting coming-of-age story set in Modine, N.Y., a town ‘no bigger than a pig’s knuckle’ but home to a long-established community of African-Americans. When 12-year-old Nell Grady arrives for her annual summer visit at her great-aunt Ursa’s house, everyone comments on how much she’s grown up. Aunt Ursa says she’s becoming a ‘fine young lady’; 14-year-old Slade, her cousin Foley’s best friend, calls her a ‘butterscotch babe.’ Nell quickly develops a crush on smooth-talking Slade, but she is shaken when he persuades her to hide a ‘raven’ (pistol) for Foley in her old doll house. Nell’s uneasiness about keeping the gun surfaces in frightening premonitions and bad dreams, preparing the audience for tragedy and trauma. While Nell’s feelings remain the focus of the story, readers will also empathize with Aunt Ursa, who fears abandonment, and with Foley, who feels trapped in Modine. Pinkney’s (Hold Fast to Dreams) characters emerge complex and real in this tale of home-town pride and family loyalty.
School Library Journal (from www.bn.com)
Every summer, 12-year-old Nell visits her Aunt Ursa in Modine, a sleepy little town in upstate New York with a large number of other African-American families. She looks forward to Aunt Ursa’s divine cooking and to being with her cousin, 14-year-old Foley. However, Foley and his best buddy, Slade, desperately want to escape Modine. Slade is a slick talker whose honeyed words give shivers of delight to young Nell and old Aunt Ursa. Unfortunately, he also believes his newly acquired guns are the tickets to freedom and high living. Foley is caught in Slade’s web of words and feels smothered by his well-meaning mother. Communication is lacking-between Nell and her successful father (he is reluctant to return to Modine, she feels shut out of his life), between Foley and his mother, and ultimately between Foley and Nell. Terrified of Foley’s gun hidden in her abandoned dollhouse, she is unable to warn her aunt or get counsel from her father. Tragedy is waiting just outside the dollhouse. Most of the characters are fully drawn, with the exception of Nell’s father. Impatient readers may not buy his change of heart and surprise visit. Shifting moods, increasing tension, and a well-defined setting make this novel compelling and thought-provoking for readers not quite ready for Rita Williams-Garcia’s seering Like Sisters on the Homefront — Marilyn Payne Phillips, University City Public Library, Missouri