Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Braid by Helen Frost

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Frost, Helen. The Braid. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006. Print.

·         YALSA "Best Books for Young Adults, 2007"
·         2007 Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award Honor Book
·         2007 honor book: "Lion and the Unicorn" Award for Excellence in North American Poetry
·         School Library Journal "Best Books of the Year, 2006"
·         Kirkus Reviews "Editor's Choice, 2006"
·         NCSS-CBC Notable Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies
·         Notable Book in Historical Fiction, 2007, for the Children's Literature Assembly (CLA) an affiliate of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE)
·         Bank Street College of Education Children's Book Committee "Best Children's Books of the Year, 2007"
·         Cooperative Children's Book Center "CCBC Choices 2007"
·         Special Recognition: 2007 Paterson Prize for Books for Young People
·         Pennsylvania Young Reader’s Choice Awards Master List
·         Texas TAYSHAS High School Reading List

In alternating poems, two sisters tell the story of a family split by the Highland Clearances in 1850s Scotland, one to Canada and one to the smaller Scottish island of Mingulay.

The Highland Clearances of the 1850s forced thousands of Scots to evacuate their homeland on short notice. The night before their family is due to leave Scotland, bound for refuge in Canada, eldest sister Sarah braids her hair tight together with her younger sister Jeannie. When Jeannie awakens in the morning, Sarah has gone. The braid has been cut from their heads, and all that remains of her sister is half of that braid.

The Braid is beautifully structured. A narrative poem from each sister’s perspective is followed by a praise poem on a subject like boats, feathers, or shadows. All three intertwine, creating a narrative braid. The structure of the book left me hungry to know more about each sister’s story as it slowly unfolded. I was tempted to race through the book simply to learn the plot, but was always brought back to a slower, more thoughtful reading because of the beauty of the poetry.

The Braid follows strong young women navigating their way through difficult times. It follows their path as they grow up, and work to maintain their family ties while seeking independence. In the face of uncertainty, loneliness, and hardship, Sarah and Jeannie weave their stories into something stronger. The poetry is easy to understand, and while the book takes place in 1850s Scotland and Canada, the emotions and problems are universal.

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