Reviews for Finding Family

Booklist Reviews 2010 September #1
"*Starred Review* Set in Charleston, West Virginia, in 1905, this novel builds a story around real-life antique photos collected by Bolden. After the great-aunt who raised her dies, 12-year-old Delana takes to heart a comment by another great-aunt ("meek ain't weak") and works to find the truth behind the stories she's been told about her family. Delana's grandfather saw his father hung and family sold apart; bought his own freedom; and became a successful businessman determined to preserve his future family and legacy. In the years after emancipation, he managed to make contact with lost relatives, who were successful in their own ways. When Delana's mother died in childbirth, he and his sister raised the baby to be a good but sheltered girl. However, no one can keep children and grandchildren cocooned forever, and a wayward aunt reveals a secret: the father that Delana has never known is still alive. This moving, first-person narrative is told in the convincing voice of an educated child using the language of the time. The black-and-white portrait photographs bring life to the richly imagined historical details and characters, and readers will sympathize with the grandfather as well as Delana, who takes her first steps out of her privileged but constricted world by going downtown on her own to have her picture taken. Much more than just a tale of finding oneself or one's family, this novel is a powerful, unique, and satisfying story of African American lives." Copyright 2010 Booklist Reviews.

Horn Book Guide Reviews 2011 Spring
Delana, who is being raised by her grandfather and aunt in the early 1900s, has very little knowledge of her family history. When her aunt dies, Delana begins to discover secrets about her relatives that change the way she views them forever. Period photographs are interspersed throughout the text, helping further draw readers into this engaging story. Copyright 2011 Horn Book Guide Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews 2010 August #1

Set in 1905 Charleston, W.Va., this richly lyrical and historically persuasive coming-of-age story explores the ties that bind, break and renew an affluent African-American family. Narrator Delana, 12, lives with her aloof grandfather and his overprotective sister Tilley, who has raised her with a long list of "bewares." Hungry for family connection, Delana is drawn to Aunt Tilley's assortment of family photographs and listens avidly to her summary, often harsh judgments on their kin; but where Tilley sees "trash and trouble," Delana spots "a hiding kindness." After Tilley dies, Delana summons the courage to probe the secrets that have divided her family and governed their choices and her life. How did the young man who labored to buy his freedom and secure his family's future change into the remote guardian she's grown up with? As she learns to trust her own heart, Delana uncovers the joyful, painful connections between Grandpa's journey and her own. Period photographic portraits from Bolden's personal collection illustrate the book. Each carefully posed subject is a fascinating enigma. (author's note) (Historical fiction. 8-12)

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Publishers Weekly Annex Reviews

Bolden's (FDR's Alphabet Soup) historical novel about family roots revolves around a series of collected photographs from the 1900s. Raised in Charleston, W.Va., by her withdrawn grandfather and prudent Aunt Tilley, both liberated slaves, 12-year-old Delana finds her family history to be a mystery. And when Aunt Tilley dies suddenly, Delana struggles more than ever to grasp onto an identity. After her cousin Ambertine (a wild woman, traveler, and pawnbroker) shows up, revealing surprising information about Delana's parents, Delana begins to distrust everything she has been told. As Delana imagines herself in the photographs and collects insights from family members--many of whom speak in expressive Southern dialect--she begins to understand the role that imagination and personal prejudice can play in coloring the past ("Was this how it started with Aunt Tilley? When she couldn't remember or didn't know or didn't like a truth, she just made things up?"). In the end, Delana learns to disregard Aunt Tilley's cautionary "Book of Bewares," and to embrace her own life. While the overlapping histories can be hard to follow, the visual relics function as poignant patchwork pieces in Delana's self-discovery. Ages 8-12. (Sept.)

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School Library Journal Reviews 2010 September

Gr 5-8--Delana lives in Charleston, WV, in 1905 with her grandfather and great-aunt. She has never known her parents. Aunt Tilley is a bit eccentric and likes to "visit kinfolk" by showing Delana pictures of her African-American family, telling her stories about each one. When Tilley dies suddenly, Delana's world is turned upside down. On the night of the funeral, she finds her mother's long-lost wayward cousin in her bedroom. Cousin Ambertine begins to tell Delana about her mother, opening her eyes to the reality of her parents' past and the stories Tilley spun for her over the years. As Delana slowly begins to unravel the truth, she finds new understanding of herself and forgiveness for her family. Stories of family secrets always hold a certain allure, and this one is no exception. Bolden spins a unique tale by interspersing antique photographs in her story, weaving the plot around them and using the people in the pictures as characters. While this is a wonderful device, it doesn't quite work, mostly because the denouement falls rather flat and is too quickly resolved. The writing is lovely and poetic with phrases like "sunshine smile," giving the story an incandescence that doesn't quite shine the whole way through. Thoughtful readers will find much to ponder here, but this is a story that may appeal more to adults than children.--Necia Blundy, Marlborough Public Library, MA

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