Finding Family by Tonya Bolden
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
One of the most appealing aspects of Tonya Bolden's YA novel Finding Family is how it came to be put together. Bolden writes that she has collected all sorts of things over the years, but most notably she has collected old photographs. Several of these photographs have been pieced together to create a fictional family and history--a history which has been kept a secret from her young female protagonist Delana Hannibal.
The author writes, "So in the making of Finding Family I had the great thrill of combining my passion for history with my wonderings about long ago lives: the millions of every day people from the past..."
"Thankfully in museums and historical socities, in libraries and private collections, we have people's diaries, family Bibles, handicrafts, letters, and other artifacts--like photographs. Such treasures not only give us insights into history but also allow our imaginations to take flight."
This use of old photographs is particularly appealing to me because I keep many old photographs around my home. They are filled with pictures of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins--some date as far back as the early 1930s as far as we can tell. I've found myself staring at them wondering what they were talking about, what was in the news that day, or even who took the picture and what they were thinking when they snapped it.
Regarding the writing style, Bolden's strength is the voice she creates with her pen. Voice is powerfully strong in this novel. I plan on using an excerpt or two with my own creative writing classes. Written from Delana's perspective, we seem to cover several years of her young life. We settle in around her 12th and 13th year when family secrets begin to unravel in front of her. This is a novel of discovery...an emotional journey where a young girl begins to learn the truth about her mother and father. She doesn't know either, and can't remember ever being with either.
Here is an example of the entertaining and vivid voice established in Finding Family:
Aunt Tilley had only let me have candy once in a blue moon. Said too much would curdle my mind. Cousin Richard didn't think candy was bad for me--or him, I learned when I helped him tote his things down to the library. I held my candy bag open to him, and he took a whole handful.
He popped jelly bean after jelly bean into his mouth as he swiveled in the chair before the rolltop desk. He was smiling at everything in the library, from the little table and chair by the window to the tiny maypops dotting the wallpaper. Scanning the bookshelves, he smiled even more. "I can still see her in here, curdled up in the chair, nose in a book, lost in some adventure."
I had a little bit of difficulty getting into the story early on, but the whole thing felt like a freight train taking off as it gained incredible momentum once Delana's family secrets came to light quickly. Delana didn't know any secrets existed--we learned with her. Truly, I hung with the story at first because of the wonderful storyteller's voice. Then Delana's journey kept me straight through till the end. Once it took off, I didn't put it down.
The fact that the novel ends a little open-ended...we are left to wonder something for ourselves...works well. Delana finds acceptance with herself and her family secrets and makes the determined first steps to reach out and confront them. What happens next is left to us to consider.
Add Finding Family to the ever-growing list of great stuff going on out there in the YA market and add it to your classroom. It is a clever story written from a great place within the author:
"As for your life, I hope you will take good care of artifacts from it, along with your family stories. A century in the future, what you have left behind may very well be prized by a writer working on a book of nonfiction. Or fiction."
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