Zora And Me by Victoria Bond and T.R. Simon is a coming of age middle grade fictionalization of Zora Neale Hurston’s childhood. Hurston is perhaps one of the most famous female writers to come out of the Harlem Renaissance.Alright, I am putting on my history teacher hat. The Harlem Renaissance was a time of great cultural achievement for Black culture. You’ve got Duke Ellington making awesome music, Langston Hughes dropping mad poetry, and Billie Holiday’s crooning, not to mention the Apollo Theater, where all the cool cats hang out. I have read Their Eyes Were Watching God, Hurston’s seminal work, and rather enjoyed it. However, as with most authors, I do not know a whole lot about Zora Neale Hurston’s past. I don’t know what she did prior to the Harlem Renaissance.
I felt that Victoria Bond and T.R. Simon capture the whimsy of childhood, where you believe the town recluse is a secret monster and the world holds just a bit of magic. However, Zora And Me does not shy away from heavy topics. Lynching is briefly mentioned. Racism is glossed over, as in there is a subplot revolving around a woman who can pass for white, yet brings trouble with her wherever she goes. I thought this was done artfully. It’s there. It fits with the story, but doesn’t beat you over the head with it, which I think is an effective way of teaching children a message. I mean, kids are smart. They will understand if you allude to something.
I know I threw out a lot of history up top, but I have a bit more history to lay on you. Zora and Me is set in the first African American founded township. The residents of Eatonville, Florida had no fear of white. There is a whole passage on this, which again, I think is important to highlight. I think teaching children about their heritage is such a great way to instill pride. After all, African Americans did WAY more than be slaves and fight for civil rights, yet it seems that is all they are recognized for in children’s historical fiction, so YAY for a book that shows a different era of history than the stand-by.
I felt the writing style was engaging. The language flows. If you’ve read Their Eyes Were Watching God, you may remember that book being written in dialect. Zora and Me, however, is not written in dialect, so you don’t have to decode what is being said. I thought this book was a fine example of writing and middle grade fiction.
However, there are a few scenes in which the N-word is used. One such scene has a good guy who is white dropping the N-word, which I question. I understand going for historical accuracy, because people really did use that word back then, but should this be in an elementary/middle grade book? PERSONALLY, I think there are alternatives. And, I’m not sure it’s a great word for kids to come across without guidance. I get that Huck Finn, etc use that word to illustrate a point, but I can’t help that it bothers me as an adult. Now, I am sure kids these days are equipped and know a lot more, but I still just can’t help but question the appropriateness of that word. NOW please don’t get my words twisted, I don’t call to ban this book based on that little tiny word selection, I am just mentioning what made me uncomfortable, not saying this book sucked don’t read. That is not my intent by a long run.
Right-o. As for characterization, I thought Zora was presented as being confident and talented. She is a real hero to look up to. I think that this book is a great way to engage with African American history. It definitely makes me want to re-read Their Eyes Were Watching God as well.
Disclosure: Copy obtained at BEA.
Haven’t seen any yet. If you have reviewed this, drop me your link and I will add it!