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Review of American Ace

nelson_american aceAmerican Ace
by Marilyn Nelson
Intermediate   Dial   122 pp.
1/16   978-0-8037-3305-3   $17.99   g

Nelson’s talent for undergirding her poetry with historical empathy (Fortune’s Bones, rev. 1/05; A Wreath for Emmett Till, rev. 5/05) is once again present in this verse novel. In forty-five poems, Nelson tells the story of Connor Bianchini, who finds out that his paternal grandfather wasn’t his Nonno but rather an American WWII pilot. He researches the mysterious figure, eventually discovering that the pilot was most likely a Tuskegee Airman, and thus African American. It’s somewhat exciting for Connor, but his father suffers an identity crisis as he processes the fact that his Irish-Italian heritage is not what he thought it was; that he is, in fact, biracial. However, the more the family learns about the Tuskegee Airmen (several sections are styled as part of Connor’s history paper), the more proud they become: “Black warriors. Potential grandfathers. / Imagine: Heroes in our family!” Throughout, the poetry is unusually standardized in form for Nelson, with the title on the left-hand page and two stanzas of twelve lines of unrhymed poetry on the right. Several photographs of Tuskegee Airmen in action plus a concluding author’s note polish off the book — written, she says, “for readers who know nothing about the Tuskegee Airmen.”

From the January/February 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

About Jonathan Hunt

Jonathan Hunt is the coordinator of library media services at the San Diego County Office of Education.

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