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Review of Zora and Me: The Cursed Ground

Zora and Me: The Cursed Ground
by T. R. Simon
Intermediate, Middle School    Candlewick    261 pp.    g
9/18    978-0-7636-4301-0    $16.99

This second novel featuring a young Zora Neale Hurston and her friend Carrie Brown is once again set in the girls’ hometown of Eatonville, Florida, in 1903, less than forty years after the end of the Civil War. A year has passed since the events of Zora and Me, with bold, curious, story-loving Zora still as leader and narrator Carrie as follower (albeit an appreciative one; Zora “made life in a town no bigger than a teacup feel like it held the whole world”). As the twelve-year-olds are pulled deeper into a mystery involving their tight-knit African American community, the narrative begins to alternate with that of Lucia, a girl enslaved on a Florida plantation in 1855. When the stories begin to merge — the tone shifting from suspenseful to eerie to tragic to downright terrifying — the friends are brought up against some hard truths concerning race and power, hate and love, slavery and freedom. The climactic scene — with a posse of armed white men set on taking by force the “cursed ground” of the book’s subtitle and killing the land’s owner — is heart-stopping; that it ends happily with the villain vanquished, given the realities of Jim Crow America, is not a foregone conclusion. 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.”

From the September/October 2018 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Martha V. Parravano About Martha V. Parravano

Martha V. Parravano is book review editor of The Horn Book, Inc., and co-author of the Calling Caldecott blog.

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