Zora and Me: The Cursed Ground

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 18 Dec 2018

Member Reviews

I didn't know that this was a book 2 since it reads like a stand alone. I not only got wrapped up into the story but I really learned a lot about a era I thought I knew quite a bit about. I will be looking for book 1 and seeing if it is just as captivating as ZORA and ME
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Zora & me: The Cursed Ground is a historical-fiction for middle-grade readers, that takes place around the real life of Zora Neale Hurston, the author of Their Eyes Were Watching God, as a child and her best friend, Carrie. The story changes perspective every few chapters between Carrie’s point-of-view in 1903, and a slave named Lucia in 1855, weaving the story of the cursed ground, and the connection between the two time periods. 

Zora & Me is filled with teaching tools and is done so in such a way that will make it fun for young readers (the intended audience) to learn the lessons being taught without realizing they are learning. This is a great book to not only learn some history about the way slaves were treated, but to also help the current and future generations learn and understand what human and moral integrity are, and how to put away the hate, and to honor and love one another.

While I highly recommend that anyone who teaches middle-grade English assign Zora & Me to be read during Black History Month (February), I also highly recommend for it to be read anytime throughout the year and by anyone, no matter your age or race. 

     “‘Why do they hate us so much?”
     Old Lady Bronson reached down and took my chin in her hand, firmly yet gently. ‘They have to hate because you can’t take another person’s freedom with love.’
     It was such a simple answer, yet it contained a universe of truth.”  
                    --Zora & Me: The Cursed Ground, Chapter Twenty-One


Dani's Score out of 5: 📚📚📚📚📚 (5/5)

***This review will also post to my blog on Tuesday, April 30, 2019. (www.danithebookaholic.com)
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I received an Advanced Reader's Copy (ARC) of this novel courtesy of Candlewick Press via NetGalley.

Release Date: September 11th, 2018

Publisher: Candlewick Press

Genre: Children's Fiction, Middle Grade, Historical Fiction

Rating: 5 / 5

Story Line:

Zora and her best friend Carrie discover that the town mute can actually speak after all. They believe this is the biggest secret they could have uncovered, but over time they realize it's just one small piece of a much larger mystery.  This mystery spans generations and alternates between Carrie's point of view and the view of a young girl thrust into slavery many years before Carrie and Zora were born.  Eventually the two stories beautifully begin to come together as the reader realizes how the two narratives are intertwined. 

The Good:

This book was incredible. Historical fiction is not my go-to genre, but this book fully immersed me into the time period and fell in love with the rich history it was able to bring to life.  The target audience is children and middle grade, but it is a great read at any level.  Zora is based on a real person, so this book will introduce many readers to the incredible person that is Zora Neale Hurston.  This book told history in a way that was personal and heartbreaking.  It allowed for a great empathy connection to the characters and amazed me from beginning to end.  

The Bad:

I honestly can't think of anything to say against this novel. I've never enjoyed a historical fiction book more in my life. My only regret was letting it sit on my Kindle shelf for so long.

The Bottom Line:

Give this book a chance, regardless of your genre preferences.  You won't regret it.
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This fictionalized account of Zora Neale Hurston's childhood, told from the perspective of her best friend, is a solid five star read. Carrie's voice is clear, intuitive, and insightful. 

The story begins the night Zora and Carrie discover a neighbor bleeding on his porch after being attacked by white men trying to coerce him into giving up his land.  "It wasn't until that night," she says, "that Zora and I began to forge a real connection with the land, a connection that let us know ourselves through a past we hadn't lived but was inside us all the same." 

Then, the narrative jumps back 40 years to that past, to two girls--sisters-- one enslaved and the other free-- and traces the same story forwards eventually bringing us to the moment they converge.

The whole thing is seamlessly and brilliantly plotted, and beautifully written. I didn't realize until I had already begun that it's a sequel, so I will have to go back and read the first. I dearly hope there will be more.
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Woven in simple yet intricate ways, this is a tale with impact and will stay with the reader long after the last page.

The author has set two stories next to each other and lets them weave back and forth. One concerns Zora and her best friend Carrie as they discover the town's mute can actually speak and try to discover the truth behind his hidden ability. The other takes places around 50 years before as Lucia, a slave girl, struggles to survive and maybe seek her own freedom. The stories flow in two different times, but each one is as grabbing as the other. While Zora and Carrie are a delight to accompany in their adventure and attempt to uncover the truth, Lucia's story pulls at the heart-strings. It's well crafted and draws in.

Each character is to love or to hate. While Zora is willful, full of spice and even humorous, Carrie sits more serious and makes a perfect counter weight. The two have a beautiful friendship, and it's impossible not to wish that both were real and the reader's best friends. Lucia, on the other side, hits the topic of slavery square on. Her life is harsh, and it's impossible not to feel for her and cheer for her even when she faces horrible odds. The other characters each win their own place, and the 'bad' ones definitely are begging to be disliked. It's a lovely cast with tons of heart.

While this is the second book in the series, it can be read as a stand alone (although after reading this, I am going to head back to the first as well). The author has done a fantastic job and bringing two tales together, while hitting the gut and leaving tons of food for thought. It's a series worth reading and one that belongs in the classroom.

I received a complimentary copy through Netgalley and was so engaged in these tales that I had to leave my honest thoughts.
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I thoroughly enjoyed this historical novel and did not realize until after reading it that it was the second in a series. It is perfect as a stand alone. This story is told in two places in time, 1855 and 1907 about the first all-black town, Eatonville Florida. The characters in 1907, through events in their town are learning about the secret history of Eatonville, and slowly the story told in 1855 catches up to 1907. Such a powerful and well-written middle grade book. I highly recommend this story for all ages. 
Thank you to Candlewick and NetGalley for this e-copy, my opinions are my own.
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This story was so creative. I don't think I would have thought of writing a story from this perspective.
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This fictionalized story of the childhood of Zora Hurston is told in two parts, Zora in 1907 and Lucia in 1855.  The two narratives work well to weave a history of the first incorporated all-black township in the U.S.A. through the eyes of these protagonists.  This story does a wonderful job of depicting the wedge between races during these times in history.  The characters are well developed and will keep the reader turning pages to find out what happens next.  The biography of Zora Hurston, at the back of the book, and list of her works was a wonderful addition to this title and for readers who want to learn more.  I enjoyed the  two person narrative, however, younger readers might be put off by this style of writing.
Readers in grades 4 and up could read and enjoy this novel.  The story is fine as a read a loud for younger readers, as long as an adult can explain certain plot points.  Teachers of History could easily pair this book with lessons on Civil Rights, Jim Crow, the Civil War, or Florida history. 
 Readers who enjoyed Elijah of Buxton by Curtis, may also enjoy this title as well as Historic Fiction fans or fans of fictionalized Black History.  A good fit for school curriculum.
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Interesting book about Zara Neale Hurston. She had such an interesting life. Thanks for review copy.
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The second part of a mysteries series (you don't need to read the first), Zora and Me is a fictionalized version of author Zora Neale Hurston’s childhood adventures. The writing was strong and the story engaging, but I struggled with the concept of creating fiction out of a real author's history.
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I don't usually like to read second books in a series before I read the first book, but I made an exception for Zora & Me: The Cursed Ground, and I'm glad I did. I was immediately pulled into the mystery that the two main characters find themselves involved in, but this book turned out to be so much more than just a mere puzzle.

When Zora Neale Hurston was young, she lived with her family in a town called Eatonville, Florida, the first all black community in the United States. The story begins there one night in 1903 when Zora and her best friend Carrie Brown, both 12, discover two loose horses in the Hurston yard. Recognizing the horses as belonging to Mr. Polk, a mute neighbor, the two girls sneak out and head for his place to see what happened. There, they find Mr. Polk injured and a fire in his cabin. But Zora and Carrie aren't the only ones who noticed something happening, so did Old Lady Bronson, the town's conjure woman, who took charge of Mr. Polk's injuries, and to the absolute surprise of both girls, spoke to him in a strange language and heard him answer. When Zora presses Old Lady Bronson for answers about what she and Carrie just witnessed, the conjure lady makes a deal with her: if she keeps quiet about the night's events, she will tell Zora "a story worth hearing."

The story shifts back to 1855 and a young black girl named Lucia begins narrating her story. Leaving her Caribbean island home of Hispaniola with Prisca and her father Master Frederic, her white owners, Lucia finds herself living enslaved on a plantation in Florida named Westin. Up until moving to Florida, Lucia had been treated well by Master Frederic and was best friends with Prisca. But, three years later, Master Frederic has died and Prisca's stepmother decides to sell Lucia, claiming the plantation needed money and it was part of her marriage contract with Master Frederic that Lucia would be sold.

The story continues to alternate between Zora and Carrie's present and Lucia's life of slavery. Slowly, however, the two stories come together in a surprising way as Zora and Carrie learn the truth about Mr. Polk, Old Lady Bronson and their own connections to slavery and Eatonville's past, and that "history wasn't just something you read in a book. It was everything your life stood on. We who thought we were free from the past were still living it out." (pg 174)

Zora & Me: The Cursed Ground is a gripping coming of age work of historical fiction and Simon has done a stellar job bringing the characters, the time periods, and the setting to life. Carries is an intelligent, though somewhat cautious girl, while Zora is an impulsive, curious, and intelligent girl, and Old Lady Bronson knows when she finds the two girls at Mr. Polk's place that Zora won't be happy until she is told the truth about the night's events.

Simon goes easily from time period to time period without jarring the reader, ending each section with enough to really keep the reader going simply by igniting their curiosity to discover, like Zora, what is going on. 

And Eatonville? Setting in a novel is always important, but here so much of the action in this novel centers around the town of Eatonville, founded in 1887, that it actually becomes another important character as Lucia's 1855 story begins to merge with the event's of 1903 Eatonville. I can't say more or I'll give too much away and you definitely want to find out the answers on your own. 
Zora & Me: The Cursed Ground may be difficult for some readers. Simon tackles the brutality of slavery head on and without apology. This may make some white readers uncomfortable, but if you can get past you discomfort, there is a lot of painful truth to be found here. Prisca's stepmother and her children are classic examples of white attitudes about black people, but what is made clear is that this attitude persisted into the 20th century and, I am sad to say, even into 21th century. This is certainly a thought-provoking element in the novel and I hope people do think about it.

Do read Simon's short biography of Zora Neale Hurston at the back of the novel, and check out the timeline of her life. There is also an annotated bibliography of Hurston's work, and a list of children's books that were adapted from the folktales she collected.

You can find more information about the history of Eatonville, Florida HERE 

You can find a useful discussion guide prepared by the publisher, Candlewick Press, HERE

This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was an EARC received from NetGalley

And yes, I can't wait to read the first book, Zora & Me
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Phenomenal book for readers of all ages. 

Simon has penned a work that presents the horrors of slavery in a manner palatable for young readers. 

Highly recommended reading for children of all races. This is a good book for a juvenile book club.
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I absolutely loved this children's historical fiction, with a young and fiesty Zora Neale Hurston solving mysteries with her BFF, Carrie. I did not realize this was book two in a series, but I found it to be fine as a stand alone. I would love my school to consider adding this to the reading list for lower school - perhaps for grade five. You could take it far beyond the storyline in the classroom. Thank you for my review copy!
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Zora Neale Hurston is my favorite author and her book, Their Eyes Were Watching God is my favorite book. I am honored to have been able to read an advanced copy of this book. The first book was a five star read for me and this was no different. I love that these books are for middle grade readers yet they don't hide ugly truths. I will be having my 10 year old read both books soon as I think she will enjoy them as much as I did. 

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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The Cursed Ground is the second book in the Zora and Me series, a fictionalized account of the childhood of African American author Zola Neale Hurston (1891-1960). Hurston was a writer and anthropologist, writing on racial issues in the American South and Haitian voodoo. T.R. Simon creates a world of her childhood in the early 1900s, where Zora and her best friend, Carrie Brown, live in Eatonville, Fla. Eatonville was one of the first all-black incorporated towns in the United States. 

I have not read the first book in this series, but The Cursed Ground is a wonderful, bittersweet and captivating story about racial issues and the aftermath of slavery. The book alternates between Zora's time and 50 years before, telling the story of a young slave named Lucia. The tale begins when Zora and Carrie discover a secret about Mr. Polk, the town mute. Turns out that the mystery of how the mute man can actually speak is part of a bigger secret....one that might threaten the future of Eatonville. 

I loved this book! The storytelling is vibrant and emotional. The characters are beautifully developed and striking. I had never heard of Zola Neale Hurston before I read this book. But I'm definitely going to read about her life and learn more. I'm on the waiting list at the library for one of her books, Their Eyes Were Watching God. 

Lovely book! I will definitely read more of this series!

**I voluntarily read an advanced readers copy of this book from Candlewick Press via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.**
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This is one of the most powerful books I've read in ages. The synopsis doesn't tell anywhere near the whole story. (Which obviously is good; who wants to know everything?)

This is set in two times--the early 1900s and the late 1800s, but pre-Emancipation Proclamation. Zora and her friend Carrie are in the early 1900s; Lucia is late 1800s. Even though Zora has only ever known freedom, it's clear that slavery still has a powerful legacy in her town (Eatonville). Because of this, basically any white face is cause for concern. There are exceptions, but not many.

But the value in this book is the way it lays bare how monstrous slavery was. Most of the white people in the 1880s section are what we would consider kind people. A couple of them are horrible, but most of them aren't. They would never whip a slave. But they would absolutely sell them. One of them says to another white person (and I'm paraphrasing).  "Slaves aren't people and they aren't pets. They're property and they aren't your property. They belong to the plantation."
Read that a couple times and let it sink in. 

It wouldn't even occur to them that Lucia is an actual person, with worth beyond what she can do for the white people in her life. 

This book gave me the bad kind of chills. 

But it's also incredibly well-written and, while it's hard to read, it's also hard to stop reading. We need to remember what we, as a country, allowed to happen in order to keep it from happening again. 

Highly recommended.
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Thank you to NetGalley and CandleWick Press for providing me with a free digital copy in exchange for an honest review.

The Cursed Ground is the 2nd in the Zora and Me series, which is a fictionalized representation of the childhood of Zora Neale Hurston. It can stand on its own though and you do not need to read the first one to appreciate this book. Hurston was an influential author of African-American literature and anthropologist, who portrayed racial struggles in the early 20th century American South. This book is told from the perspective of Zora's best friend, Carrie, in Eatonville, Florida, which is historically significant because it was the first self-governing all African American town in the US. The pair of 12-year-olds work to discover the story behind Mr. Polk's mysterious injury and escaped horses.

Alternating between 1903 and 1855, the narrative goes from vivid accounts of slavery to the hatred and racial tensions of the Jim Crow era. It was heart-wrenching and eye-opening at the same time, with the children so confused on how they could be hated just for the color of their skin. 
	“I don’t know, girls. White folks have a disease. A disease that started with 	slavery. We taught ourselves to see colored folks as inferior so we could enslave 	them. And now we have a need to keep seeing them as inferior. White folks have 	become dependent 	on feeling superior to the colored race; no matter how low 	we fall, we can tell ourselves that the colored man is always lower.”

The antics of Zora and Carrie were a little more light-hearted which balanced the seriousness of the slavery era flashbacks. I was riveted by the 1855 storyline and there was a twist I definitely didn't see coming. I really liked how they blended together in a full circle at the end of the book. It was very well done.

The elevated vocabulary (talisman, truncated, belied, for example) and many beautiful but complicated sentences lead me to categorize it as very high middle grade, probably 12+ at least. I thought this sentence was beautifully written but even as a college-educated voracious reader, I had to read it three times to fully grasp it. “Unfortunately, Zora had caught the split second of my ambivalence and used it as a shortcut across the field of my will to the junction of our compromise.” 

Also, due to the serious subject of slavery and racial tensions, I would not suggest reading it until learning about the history of slavery in America. I definitely recommend it if the reader is mature enough to handle the topic. Below are some of the quotes that really impacted me.

If there is a kindness that can soften the blow of stolen freedom, I have not seen it.
What kind of father raises two daughters, one free and one a slave? What sort of man enslaves his own daughter to be sold? In the very same instant, Miss Alice had given me my father and taken him away.
They could beat us, they could sell our loved ones away from us, but they could not reach our souls. They could not destroy our hope for others even when we could not hope for ourselves.
Horatio’s words came back to me: Hate too hard and it’ll steal the memory of what you love. Hate long enough, and you won’t feel nothing for no one.

I had always thought Old Lady Bronson was a witch, and so I feared her strength and power. But all that time, she was just a woman, filled with the same vulnerability, pain, and misery life holds for each of us.
Lady Bronson thought Mr. Polk’s story and her story were theirs to keep, but they’re not. Don’t you see? Their stories are Eatonville’s stories, Eatonville’s history. I thought history was something in books, but it’s not. History is alive. Old Lady Bronson and Mr. Polk are living history.”
Mr. Ambrose took a full minute to respond. “It would be a lie to say I didn’t. Every white man I know has the seed of race hate planted and rooted in him by the time he’s reached his fifth year. This country is founded on it, and not even a civil war could uproot it. The only way to fight that hate is to consciously decide every day to choose against the hate we’ve been taught.”
These men had fathered and made this town whole in spite of the hate of an entire nation. These men had picked cotton, oranges, and tobacco from sunup to sundown and still came home most days shunning misery and weaving wonder with tales about outsmarting Ole Massa and the devil, too. These men made women laugh at least as much as they made them cry, and they preached sermons so we had a code for living, built houses so we had a place to live, and dug graves so we had a place to rest when we died. These men refused to be hardened by the yoke or the whip of white men or by fear. Instead of being immobilized by their own degradation, they became brave beyond measure. These men had come from places that said our town was something only a fool would dream, then dreamed Eatonville into existence. They then swore a blood oath to protect it with their lives. To take some was to take all. Each man here was ready to hold everything he loved up against the price of losing one square inch of Eatonville. Eatonville represented freedom itself.
The white men found themselves outnumbered three-to-one and looking down the barrels of nineteen rifles and shotguns. Still, the white men sat easy on their horses, comfortable even. A slow, sad awareness began to dawn on me. It didn’t matter how many guns we had. Their whiteness was stronger than our guns. Their skin itself was their power. Even if we shot them dead, the power of their whiteness would live on to see us all hanged. Our men were not real to them; they were mere shadows, without substance or soul.

#zoraandme #netgalley #slaveryinbooks #middlegradelit
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Is it any more perfect that the latest installment in a series starring a young Zora Neale Hurston is out right before Banned Book Month? Zora Neale Hurston's brilliant classic, Their Eyes Were Watching God, is both a staple on high school reading lists AND a book that's landed on Banned and Challenged lists since 1997.

Zora & Me is the story of young Zora Neale Hurston and her best friend, Carrie. The year is 1903, and the two live with their families in Eatonville, Florida, in the first African-American city to be incorporated in the state. Even as a child, Zora is every bit the storyteller, the grand designer of adventures; Carrie likes to play it safer, but always follows Zora into an escapade - or a mystery. In this second novel, author T.R. Simon examines hate, white privilege, and history. It begins when Mr. Polk, their mute neighbor, is attacked and his horses set loose. When the girls go investigate and help Mr. Polk, they discover he can speak - he speaks to Old Lady Bronson, a woman rumored to be a conjure woman. When Mr. Polk breaks his silence, it sets other pieces to a long-unsolved puzzle into motion. The narrative shifts between the events in 1903 and the story of a Lucia, a young woman sold into slavery in 1855. In 1903, Zora and Carrie discover an abandoned plantation mansion on Mr. Polk's property; at the same time, white men come to Eatonville and demand more of Mr. Polk's land, claiming a right to it. Tensions rise, and the people of Eatonville prepare to stand up for themselves and their home. As the narratives move back and forth, the puzzle comes together and everything becomes heartbreakingly clear.

Zora & Me: The Cursed Ground is intense and raw, with brutal honesty about slavery and its aftermath. T.R. Smith writes about the roots of racial violence and the "enduring wounds of slavery" that persist to this day. Zora Neale Hurston is an intelligent, headstrong 12-year-old, and Carrie finds her strength and voice. They're strong protagonists, strong African-American young women, and fully aware of the danger that whites present to them, even if slavery is now something they're only hearing about: many parents were born into slavery, and freed as very young children. This generation knows that they weren't "given" their freedom. They weren't given anything: they will fight for everything that is theirs. Lucia, the third main character in The Cursed Ground, tells a sharp, painful story about family lost and found; about freedom taken; about people who would diminish a whole race's humanity, and about discovering and defending one's sense of self. It's an incredible story. A biography of Zora Neale Hurston and a timeline of her life conclude this story. I hope to read more of Zora's and Carrie's adventures. This is definitely on my Newbery shortlist, and I hope it's on a Coretta Scott King Award shortlist, too. It's a must-add to historical fiction collections and would make a stellar African-American History Month reading assignment for classes.
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*I was provided with an ARC of this book through Netgalley, in exchange for my honest opinion.

I loved this story so much! It was easy to read and had such beautiful prose, that I not only read it, but felt it! The author really blew me away with how simple thoughts and actions could be so cleverly crafted, so that each sentence fully resonated. There were some very difficult topics in this book and the writing did such a wonderful job of making the reader deeply feel. Most of the text had such a playfulness about it, as the characters themselves were such a light-hearted bunch. But the writing still managed to evoke such a strong reaction when it dealt with slavery.

I’m always curious about how children view race and furthermore, racism. Children usually want straight answers for things and with racism there really isn’t a clear cut answer, and so there must be such confusion surrounding it for children of all races. This was evident in The Cursed Ground as the children kept constantly asking why people were racist and not understanding why they were hated simply for the colour of their skin. It was heart breaking to read about how these children had to come to terms with such a harsh reality.

The two stories intertwining was great and each story had me equally engrossed. I was invested in both of the storylines and their respective characters. I honestly can’t say which story I loved more, although Zora and Carrie’s story had such sweet and humorous moments that it might have just taken that extra bit of my heart. Lucia’s story was quite difficult to read and I felt angry and upset on her behalf. People had been cruel to her in many ways and yet she tried continuously, to rise above hate. Her plight documented slavery in a very honest and deeply upsetting way, but even sad stories deserve and need to be told. The way that the two story’s came together was amazing, and it was even more rewarding because it felt like two beloved books coming together, although in this case they were already apart of the same story.

Zora and Carrie’s friendship was so special and I cherished every second of it. They loved each other so fiercely and were definitely partners in crime, no matter how much Carrie tried not to get caught up in Zora’s plans. Zora was by far my favourite character, she was gutsy, stubborn, witty and most of all, deeply caring and protective. She was hilarious and was very much the town busybody, and in her own opinion it’s protector. Her character was a delight and it was magical how well her and Carrie balanced each other out.

I cared for all of the main characters and even some of the secondary characters very much. The only ones that I didn’t like were the ones that I wasn’t supposed to. I was over the moon to find myself with such a likeable cast of characters, Zora’s little town truly means a lot to me. The author created such a luminous glow about the place, as no matter what hate tried to ride in to town, it kept on shining with the glow of love, family, friendship and community.

I wasn’t aware that this was the second book in the Zora and Me series when I requested it, but I don’t think it really mattered, I didn’t feel like I lacked prior knowledge of anything. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I’m very impressed at how well it conveyed that we can’t and shouldn’t forget the past, but rather learn from, grow from and find your own sense of peace and if needs be, justice from it. I definitely recommend it!
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This is a vividly detailed, fictionalized retelling of author Zora Neale Hurston’s childhood.  Interweaving fact and fiction, the author skillfully illustrates the reality of the historical time with fully realized fictional characters.  The mystery that Zora and her friend Carrie pursue is well told and keeps focus where it needs to be in the action.  There isn’t any wandering from event to event; it’s precise and fast paced, yet detailed enough to paint elaborate pictures for readers who enjoy that aspect of a story.  In short, it has something that every reader should like.  This book would make an excellent companion piece to “Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry,” especially as together they cover a good 20+ years of history.  Proper for middle grades and above, if only to be able to fully grasp the long-term effects of slavery.  Thank you to NetGalley, Candlewick Press, and the author for a digital ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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