Posts filed under 'Historical Fiction'

“Fallen Angels”

“Fallen Angles” by Walter Dean Myers

309 pp.

Richie Perry is an African-American boy who goes to Vietnam. His experiences there change his perception of the world. On his first day out, another new recruit is blown apart when he steps on a mine. A favorite understanding officer, Lieutenant Carroll, is killed a few months later. Soon after, a favorite companion, Brew, has his leg ripped open and dies during the evacuations as Perry holds his hand. Perry also finds that he often does not understand who is the enemy and is frightened of some of the villagers as they may be part of the Viet Cong. On one trip to a local village to search for VC, a woman hands a baby to a GI. The baby explodes, killing the GI. Other soldiers then kill the women and the other child who was with her.

Periodically, Perry is bored. There often seems to be racial tension in his platoon although it is never explored.

Among his other gruesome experiences, Perry is wounded twice. The book has a lot of suspense and excitement. The view of a young soldier seems to be realistic. Someone interested in what the Vietnam War was like or even what it feels like to be a soldier would “enjoy” reading Fallen Angles. This would work for projects requiring you to began with loosely historical fiction, but you can’t have a weak tummy. War is gorey.

Add comment May 15, 2009

The Rock and the River
by Kekla Magoon

1968: Racial tensions are escalating in cities across America, including fourteen-year-old Sam’s hometown of Chicago. The struggle for racial equality has even divided Sam’s own family—his father is a civil rights activist, but Sam’s older brother, Stephen, a.k.a. Stick, has joined the Black Panthers. Sam respects his father, but as he sees an increasing number of violent acts perpetrated by whites against blacks, he begins to think that Stick has the right idea. Author’s note.

JLG Review: The Rock and the River provides a fresh take on the civil rights movement. Rather than writing only about the division between blacks and whites, debut author Kekla Magoon concentrates on a less-explored aspect of the time period, the split between blacks who practiced nonviolent resistance and those who attempted violent revolution.

NOTE: COHS Titans–The above review is excerpted from the Junior Library Guild. (Meaning that I didn’t write it and don’t want to take credit from something I didn’t do!) We belong to the Junior Library Guild and purchase four books from them each month, so we have access to these reviews. I’m going to start posting excerpts from the reviews in the hope that you will see what great books we get from JLG–and come check them out! If you want to read the whole review, ask your English teacher. I have made copies for him or her to post in the classroom.

April 21, 2009

Ahab’s Wife by Sena Jeter Naslund is the perfect book for the junior English project that starts with a work of fiction. It’s rich with historical as well as fictional characters and takes on several of the social issues of Antebellum New England and America—Transcendentalism, religion (in Unitarianism and Universalism), the rights of women, and slavery. Even so, it’s not a book that all high school students will be able to read. At nearly 700 pages, it’s much longer than the books most read. The old-fashioned writing style and the wood-cut images are delightful in that they pull the reader into the 19th-century New England of the novel, but it is a technique unfamiliar to many students.


For those of you who are good readers, do read Ahab’s Wife. You’ll find adventure as Una, the protagonist runs off to sea aboard a whaler, which sinks after a run-in with a whale (Yes, the book has a connection to Moby-Dick and Una is that Ahab’s wife). She survives the shipwreck, but must live with the dark secret of cannibalism. You’ll meet, if only briefly, many literary giants of the period—Margaret Fuller, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and even Nathaniel Hawthorne, disguised as one of his own characters (“The Minister’s Black Veil”). Any of them will make an interesting subject for later research as will Frederick Douglass, whom Una hears speak. There’s plenty of romance and heart break as well. Though Una seems a bit modern for her time (she easily accepts her neighbor’s homosexuality), she is a bold and kind woman at once, and has characteristics we all would like to emulate.

November 6, 2007

The Known World by Edward P. Jones is a wonderful book for any reader; fortunately, it also works nicely into some of Colony High’s reading requirements.  Taking place in Antebellum Virginia (about 20 years previous to the Civil War), the novel has a historical element that makes it a perfect choice for the junior research project which requires a book of fiction as a beginning. At nearly 400 pages, its length serendipitously equals the length students most frequently request. Best of all, this is a book for critical thinkers as it explores the complex moral ground of slave owning.


Henry Townsend owns 33 slaves and 50 acres in Manchester County, Virginia. He is also Black and a former slave himself. His father, Augustus, purchased himself, his wife and Henry from their master, William Robbins. Robbins has a special fondness for Henry—one might say he loves Henry as a son. Because of this, the two maintain a relationship over the course of their lives. While Henry becomes a shoemaker, Robbins helps him to buy his first slaves. Robbins’ relationships are complex. He loves a black woman and has children by her, but he can be brutal to his slaves.


Henry’s relationship with his own father is strained. The elder Townsend maintains a moral ground against slaveholding and doesn’t visit his son. Henry’s wife, Caldonia has parents who also own slaves and consider them their children’s legacy. Meanwhile, Caldonia’s brother would like to free his future slaves, putting a strain on his relationship with his mother. For all the Blacks—slave and free—life is tenuous. At one point, a slave trader decides to eat the ‘free papers’ of a Black man and then sell him cheaply as a slave to anyone who won’t ask too many questions.


When Henry dies unexpectedly, Caldonia is not capable of keeping the plantation in order. She depends on the head slave for emotional support—while he hopes that she will free him and marry him–and things fall apart. The many vivid characters will keep you involved in The Known World.

November 6, 2007

When I was asked to discuss The Red Badge of Courage with this year’s Academic Decathlon team, it had been at least thirty years since I’d read it. I figured another reading was in order if I hoped to be of any help to the team members. I had only remembered one scene with any clarity—that of the protagonist, “the youth” or Henry Fleming, coming to an opening in the woods to find a corpse. The reason I remembered it well was that there were ants crawling on the lip of the dead man. This was the first time I had read a book that realistically portrayed battle.

The fact that The Red Badge of Courage is one of the first American novels to portray battle realistically is part of the reason it has such staying power. Most critics wouldn’t call it a truly great book, and yet it was, artistically—stylistically–something new and striking when published in 1895. I believe it’s still worth reading and can be a great choice for several COHS projects.

The Red Badge of Courage will work for any assignment which requires historical fiction. If the assignment goes further—as does the Junior Project—in asking that you do research on the time period in which the fiction takes place, then the Civil War is a good choice. It’s interesting, there’s a lot of easily accessible information about it, and it’s one of the most important events in the history of the country. Equally, The Red Badge of Courage is a good choice for literary analysis. You can discuss Realism or Naturalism and examples abound. You can make a careful contrast to Romanticism if asked to write a paper comparing and contrasting.

Basically, The Red Badge of Courage details the events in one battle–presumably the Battle of Chancellorsville, Virginia, near Richmond, in 1863. (Although the novel never states this, there are many geographical clues.) The battle is seen through the eyes of an untried young soldier. After a first skirmish, the youth becomes afraid and flees the battlefield, running through the woods. He is ashamed and doesn’t know how he will manage to return to his regiment. He is struck in the head with a rifle butt by another disoriented soldier and wounded. This ‘red badge of courage’ enables the youth to return to his regiment under the pretense that he was wounded in battle. He then has the opportunity to show his mettle.

In discussing the novel, you have many themes to choose from—man v. nature, the individual v. society, coming of age, appearance v. reality, and alienation and loneliness. However, the thought I’ll leave you with is from critic Sharon Cumberland: “The Red Badge of Courage is a study in what a rational person can do in an irrational situation.”


October 17, 2007


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