Bethany's Readers' Advisory

The place to go for readers' advisory on books for children, teens, and adults

Jefferson’s Sons by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley November 9, 2012

Beverly, Harriet, Madison, and Eston Hemings have a complicated family.  Their father is president Thomas Jefferson and their mother is his slave, Sally Hemings.  They must keep the identity of their father a secret and he does not acknowledge them as his children- what would people say if they knew?  The kids live with their mother in a cabin on Mulberry Row, the location of the slaves’ quarters at Monticello.  They are treated better than the other slaves- better clothing, violin lessons, even the promise of freedom when they turn 21.  Some of the children have light enough skin that they will have no problems once they are free, but one of the children is not so lucky.  Narrated by Beverly, Madison (called Maddy), then later Peter, another boy who is a slave, they tell of life as a slave with a father so close, yet so far away.

This is an interesting piece of historical fiction.  The author carefully researched Jefferson’s family tree and the history of Monticello and filled in the gaps with her imagination.  An afterword identifies the facts in the book and explains why the author chose to write the story.  Jefferson’s Sons taught me about Monticello and Thomas Jefferson’s secret life and is great for discussion.

4 out of 5 stars


Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple

When her 15-year-old daughter announces she’d like to go on a family trip to Antarctica, life takes a turn for Bernadette.  She hates Seattle and is content staying home, away from people.  Bernadette hires a virtual assistant in India to make arrangements for the trip and to stop her pesky neighbor’s nagging about their yard.  When a harmless prank against said neighbor goes wrong, it starts of chain of events unknown to anyone until it’s too late.  When Bernadette disappears, her daughter Bee collects a paper trail of information to try to find her mother.

After an interview with the author on NPR and a review in Entertainment Weekly, I was chomping at the bit to read this book.  It was just as bizarre and interesting as I thought it would be.  Told in somewhat of an epistolary format through emails, conversations, faxes, and Bee’s narration, the reader learns about Bernadette’s hatred of Seattle, her past as a famous architect, her pesky “gnat” neighbors, and the culmination of events that leads to her disappearance.  Quirky, funny, sad, intriguing.

5 out of 5 stars


The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

Harold Fry is recently retired, living alone with his wife who can barely tolerate him.  One day he gets a letter in the mail from a former coworker.  She is near the end of her life, in hospice care after a battle with cancer.  Harold is so moved by this letter, from a woman he knew so long ago, that he decides to reply.  He puts the letter in his pocket, slips on his shoes, and tells his wife he is going to the mailbox.  However, when he gets to the mailbox, he doesn’t stop walking.  He goes to the next mailbox, and the next, past the post office and keeps going.  He doesn’t want to stop.  Eventually Harold is hungry and stops at a garage for a burger.  There he meets a young woman who tells him about the healing power of belief and faith.  Harold makes a big decision.  He will walk to Queenie and she will not die before he gets there.  He calls the hospice and leaves a message for Queenie to wait for him.

The journey is difficult.  Harold’s wife doesn’t believe he’ll make it a day.  His only exercise has been to walk to and from the car.  He doesn’t have proper shoes or equipment.  But with positive thinking and support from strangers, Harold’s pilgrimage turns into a life-changing journey for many.

I love a good travel book where I can entertain my fantasy of breaking away from the everyday monotony of life.  Harold’s journey shows that it’s never too late to make changes in life and that sometimes it takes a change of scenery to put things in perspective.  This is a quiet story of redemption and forgiveness.

4 out of 5 stars


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