- Hardcover: 250 pages
- Publisher: CWP (1 November 2018)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0763643017
- ISBN-13: 978-0763643010
- Product Dimensions: 14.4 x 2.7 x 19.7 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 390 g
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Zora and Me: The Cursed Ground Hardcover – 11 Sep 2018
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--The New York Times Book Review Raw depictions of slavery and its aftermath provide important context as the Eatonville community's resilience is tested in the face of injustice. The voices of Zora, Carrie, Lucia, and their families and friends make for powerful, unflinching storytelling, worthy to bear the name of a writer Alice Walker called a "genius" of African-American literature. An extraordinary, richly imagined coming-of-age story about a young Zora Neale Hurston, the long, cruel reach of slavery, and the power of community.
--Kirkus Reviews (starred review) Simon keeps the plot moving briskly and sustains suspense even as she folds in truly profound, timely, and important themes; and one of the things Zora and Carrie have learned by book's end is that "history wasn't something you read in a book. It was everything your life stood on."
--The Horn Book (starred review) This stunning sequel to Zora and Me is a fictionalized mystery based on Zora Neale Hurston's childhood and includes a biography of Hurston as well as a timeline of her life. T.R. Simon's writing does elegant justice to the grownup Hurston's genius as a writer as well as to the character she apparently was as a child.
--Shelf Awareness for Readers (starred review) The story of a city separated by 48 years and a war--1903 Eatonville and 1855 Westin, as Eatonville was formerly known--is told in alternating chapters. Simon offers keen insight into how the past affects the present, no matter how many years between them. A worthy purchase for all upper middle grade and middle school collections.
--School Library Journal (starred review) A sequel to Zora & Me (2010), which Simon coauthored with Victoria Bond, this story pays tribute to writer and anthropologist Hurston and weaves the basics of her life (she grew up in Eatonville, set many of her stories there, and, as an anthropologist, studied hoodoo practices in the Caribbean and American South) into a plausible fiction...this makes a satisfying read for historical fiction buffs.
--Booklist In this compelling sequel to Zora and Me (both stories fictionalize the childhood of literary great Zora Neale Hurston), two best friends unearth a town's secret...Lucia's story exerts the stronger pull in much of the novel, until the two worlds collide powerfully to highlight the "unfinished business of slavery" and reveal why the town is cursed ground. The result is a thought-provoking look at racially motivated violence and the enduring wounds of slavery.
--Publishers Weekly Zora's mischievous recklessness is a perfect foil for Carrie's more circumspect nature, leading the girls into trouble that is more exciting than dangerous; Hurston herself might well approve of this imaginative riff on her childhood.
--Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books This is a powerful story that will stick with readers. The novel is followed by a brief biography and timeline of Zora Neale Hurston's career as an accomplished author. This stirring sequel to Zora and Me (Candlewick 2010) certainly stands on its own.
--School Library Connection Slipping back and forth in time, layering stories and themes, the book is a lovely invocation of the idea that "however much we were each other's future, we were irrevocably one another's past." It builds to a suspenseful climax: a standoff between white landowners and the town's residents.
--Plain Dealer Goose bumps, tears, smiles, and sighs: these were the rewards I took away from this exquisite read. I feel confident that my aunt Zora, the 'Zora of the Cosmos, ' is quite delighted with the literary enchantment of T. R. Simon.
--Lucy Hurston, niece of Zora Neale Hurston and author of Speak, So You Can Speak Again: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston A stunning work of imagination and a deeply necessary read. Young readers will not only learn about our history of slavery and Jim Crow; they will also ask themselves where they stand in American history. Zora and Me: The Cursed Ground will give rise to rich conversations about the positions we take in the unfinished business of our Civil War.
--Michael Eric Dyson, New York Times best-selling author of Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America Enough can't be said about the goodness of this novel--and readers will yearn for more adventures of these two girls--both young and old readers alike. A solid piece of literature, worth buying!
--YA Books Central (blog) T.R. Simon offers a fascinating exploration of the idea of collective memory and the long shadows cast by the evils of slavery in this second, marvelous, fictionalized account of the childhood adventures of writer Zora Neale Hurston.
--Buffalo News Here's a wise, poetic and galvanizing combination: historical fiction, mystery, and themes so current it's heartbreaking...Simon imagines the writer Zora Neale Hurston as a sleuth of a child in this fictional mystery, highlighting Hurston's capacious imagination and curiosity. Even more probingly, she invites her readers to think hard about the unfinished business of American slavery and today's racism. A thoroughly gripping story and a lively portrait of friendship.
--Toronto Star In a riveting coming-of-age tale, award-winning author T. R. Simon champions the strength of a people to stand up for justice.
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'Simon keeps the plot moving briskly and sustains suspense even as she folds in truly profound, timely, and important themes.' —The Horn Book (starred review)
'An extraordinary, richly imagined coming-of-age story about a young Zora Neale Hurston, the long, cruel reach of slavery, and the power of community.'— Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
'This stunning sequel to Zora and Me is a fictionalized mystery based on Zora Neale Hurston's childhood and includes a biography of Hurston as well as a timeline of her life. T.R. Simon's writing does elegant justice to the grownup Hurston's genius as a writer as well as to the character she apparently was as a child.' —Shelf Awareness (starred review)
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Two very intriguing poignant storylines that meet at the end tackle everything from slavery, freedom, shadeism, the barriers in understanding between the slaves and their masters, family and the meaning of place as identity.
There is good character development, a decent "mystery" and enough going on to keep the interest of both the middle graders and the adults who need to read it too.
Zora and Me: The Cursed Ground is not quite a historical accounting, even though it's drawn from historical events and features a fictionalized version of a Zora Neale Hurston. It's more of a story than an essay, but the book definitely has a formal message. It's a sequel, but I don't think you need to have read the first book to enjoy this one.
T. R. Simon catches up quickly:
I was staying with Zora's family for the week while my mama tended her employer's sick baby over in Lake Maitland. After Daddy died, there was just me and Mama. I was an only child. Alone with Mama I might have felt lonely in the world, but I had Zora, my best friend, my secret keeper, and my talisman against sorrow. From the time I was old enough to have a conversation, Mama always liked to tell how my three-year-old self toddled over to Zora, who was squirming and fussing one pew away from us in her father's church, grabbed her hand, and didn't let go for the next hour. Zora took a long look at me, tried once to shake me loose, then settled right down to the idea of us being joined. Zora's mother liked to say that after I took a hold of Zora, Sunday morning service once again became a place of worship and peace for her. I don't remember that at all. In fact, my own first memory of Zora has the roles reversed: instead of me grabbing her, she's grabbing me and pulling me with her as she scrambles after a lizard that turns out to be a baby diamondback rattler. My screams brought our parents running, and Zora was praised for saving me. Only, I knew there would have been no need to save me if she hadn't taken hold of me in the first place. But I never held the scrapes against Zora. She made life in a town no bigger than a teacup feel like it held the whole world.
Our narrator is Carrie Brown, who is a sort of Watson to young Zora's Sherlock Holmes, or, if you prefer (and I do), her Ellicott Skullworth to Zora's Banneker Bones. Incidentally, I wondered about the aptness of comparing these two young black girls to two older white men (Watson and Sherlock, not Ellicott and Banneker), but after I wrote this, I watched the video below in which the author makes the same comparison, so we're good:).
Zora and Carrie are on a new case, and it's a fun one (from a mystery writer's perspective). Someone has stabbed the local mute man who can't say what happened. The middle grade mystery doesn't open with a body, but there'll be bodies before it's done. Further intriguing, the mute man is able to whisper something to the town conjure woman.
Note how Simon is able to tell us so much about Carrie and Zora's relationship and their motivations in this simple exchange:
The secret Mr. Polk shared with Old Lady Bronson didn't excite me; it frightened me. "Honestly, Zora, maybe it ain't for us to know. Maybe there's some secrets folks just ought to keep."
She looked at me incredulously. "Carrie Brown, you can't be serious. How on earth are we gonna suck the marrow out of life if we just sit by and let questions stroll down our street without inviting them in for a glass of lemonade? Mama always says, 'Ain't no one ever got dumber trying to answer a question.' And I intend to answer all life's questions.
Zora and Me: The Cursed Ground starts out rather tame-ish in 1903 in the town of Eatonville where all the inhabitants are black and doing as well as can be expected in America in 1903. But of course, white folks are at the edge of town conspiring to mess it all up because of course they are. And this is a book that gives us a very specific, and, sigh, accurate view of many white folks at the time (#notallgreatgrandmas):
There's nothing white folks won't do when colored folks have something they want.
No matter how clear our town borders seemed to me, they could be disregarded at any moment by white men who sought to hurt us.
Uneasy whites always bring black death.
Zora and Me: The Cursed Ground isn't going to be a favorite read of our Trump-supporting relatives, but they're not really readers anyway. This is a book for reasonable, thinking folks who can appreciate facts for what they are and an honest discussion of them. If that's not you, go ahead and watch your Fox News.
White people reading this book will be made uncomfortable, even the ones who listen to NPR and voted for Obama twice:) Good. This is uncomfortable stuff and should not be read easily.
If you're a teacher considering not reading this book to your class because some of your students are a different race than you and you don't want things to get awkward, quit being a coward. Read this book aloud. Now. Don't wait until February--this is American history all year round. Awkward discussions need to be had, so fight through it.
Getting back to the book, you'll remember this town has a conjure woman. This is one of my most favorite character introductions of ever:
A shadow fell across the doorway. We looked up to see Old Lady Bronson. She was wrapped in a dark-gray shawl, her giant black cowhide bag hung against her right hip. With soldier boots that stopped below her knees and the still-dissipating smoke rising around her, the town conjure woman looked every bit the part of a witch. The steel-gray hair I'd only ever seen her wear in a in a single tight braid down her back blew wild behind her, gleaming with droplets of rain. Her freckled skin glowed in the lamplight. Silhouetted against the lightning-filled sky, Old Lady Bronson looked electrified.
There's a lot more to Old Lady Bronson than first meets the eye, but I can't tell you much without spoiling. She's an extremely interesting character and I'd like to read a book that was just about her without any children detectives, but that wouldn't be very middle grade:) She's wisely employed here as someone who may or may not have the ability to curse things, which might come up in a book subtitled "The Cursed Ground."
And she's extremely useful as a plot device, again in ways I shouldn't reveal. But authors, take note at the way T.R. Simon deploys Old Lady Bronson to provide necessary exposition rather than flat out telling us how old these girls are:
I always tell folks that twelve is a changeling year, and it looks like you starting to have some sense with your twelve years.
Carrie has developed feelings for Teddy, a friend of her and Zora's, and there's some other drama in the present tense of the story, but we're not going to bother with that. Because just when the reader is settling in for a familiar middle grade read about our young detectives solving a mystery, Simon pulls the rug out from beneath them by flashing back to 1855 to discuss the adventure of two other girls, Lucia and Prisca.
They might almost be Carrie and Zora in another life, save for one crucial difference. Though the girls start as equal, when they move to America, the darker-skinned Lucia is designated a slave and worked to the bone, while Prisca remains free. And the telling of their story is brutal and unflinching:
I was terrified of what Prisca's tears could bring.
And so I shushed her, apologizing gently until her tears slowed.
In that moment I learned to be a slave even with Prisca. To bottle up my feelings and my fears so that she did not unleash the force of her own power, a power she herself barely understood. The power to be a whole person, her whole self, while I was now forced to exist as a fraction of a human being, a slave with no rights to my own self. What Prisca did not understand, but that I now did, was that the past meant nothing.
She answered me in a ferocious whisper. "Out there you're a slave, but in here we are as we always have been. In here, nothing has changed!"
The first year Prisca often pulled me into her bed during the night and wept onto my shoulder. I did not weep with her. I lay still, the flesh and blood doll she turned to when her loneliness became too hard to bear.
Prisca was defending me--not because I was a person and should not be sold, but because I was her property and could not be taken from her.
There are worse passages to follow, but I won't share them all. Lucia is whipped and beaten and subjugated and endures all manner of things that are unpleasant, but which children growing up in Trump country need to be made aware actually happened.
Know, children, just what sort of awfulness that man intends when he says he wants to "make America great again." Know the history his "fine people" marching in Charlottesville would have us repeat.
There is violence in this novel, but it's mostly the emotional kind. And even though there's at least one death that's a bit more graphic than what I'm accustomed to in middle grade fiction, Simon is mindful to explain these complex adult subjects in a manner that's easier to digest for younger readers, without altering the truth of what she's discussing:
Zora's brow creased. "What a horrible choice: freedom for yourself or slavery with the folks you love."
Teddy shook his head and said, "Seems like no matter what you chose, running or staying, you must have had a broken heard your whole life."
As I said, that opening passage at the top of this review reads like the thesis of an academic argument as much as the opening of a middle grade novel, and I dig that so hard. Crank up your Bob Dylan, fellow English majors, and let's discuss the meaning of "The Cursed Ground." Oh, sure, there's a conjure woman, but the curse of this particular patch of American soil has far less to do with magic than the action of our ancestors.
Much of the tension of this story comes from learning how the story of 1855 connects to the story of 1903, which of course it does, brilliantly. Without spoiling, one character late in the novel tells us, "Slavery is over, but tonight you saw how it still haunts us."
Once the reader understands that this book is as much an essay as it is a story, they can fully appreciate the closing arguments:
Zora was right: 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.
Mr. Ambrose rubbed his forehead. "Because slavery isn't far enough in our past yet," he answered. "What we're facing now is the unfinished business of slavery."
"When will it be finished?" Zora demanded.
"That's what I want to know," I added.
"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."
"Do you think that, too?" Zora asked.
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."
Thankfully, in 2008, Barrack Obama was elected president and racism was over forever in the United States and white police never again shot an unarmed black man and evil white people never repeatedly flashed white power hand symbols behind a would-be rapist supreme court nominee put forward by the most evil political party our nation has ever seen.
The past is still very much with us, Esteemed Reader, as we are all living on cursed ground. Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
Zora and Me: The Cursed Ground is an important book that should be made available in every classroom across this country as a primer for American children to learn about this political mess they're inheriting. Don't miss this extraordinary novel.
And don't miss author T.R. Simon's interview on Wednesday. As always, I'll leave you with some of my favorite passages from Zora and Me:The Cursed Ground:
A last flicker of lightning lit up his face, making invisible all the wrinkles of age for a fraction of a second and revealing the face of a troubled boy.
"You know how my mind works--once a question starts a fire inside me, I have to answer it, no matter how bad I get burned. There ain't no pain more painful than the pleasure I get from the light of truth."
For the first two weeks, when the two of us were alone, I allowed myself the fantasy that things between us were as they had been, that we still could enjoy each other's company in a time and place without slavery. It was a useless fantasy and a dangerous one. The present was a hell with no escape, and the past could change nothing about that.
Across his shoulder was slung the rifle he always carried, pressed tight against his lean frame like a second spine.
House wasn't quite the right word. It was more like a shipwreck in the shape of a house.
The gun made the house feel like a cage set with a trap.
I burned with fear, sorrow, humiliation, and helplessness. And not one of Prisca's tears could extinguish that fire.
Zora elbowed me. She loved the way folks whose speech was plain as gray wool in normal times liked to trot out their biggest words on special occasions, as if they had been saving them up and didn't want to waste them on everyday things. We agreed that her father was king of the fifty-cent words, but there were a lot of dukes and earls and counts in the kingdom of Eatonville, too!
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