Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Leaving Gee's Bend

Leaving Gee's Bend by Irene Latham 2010 ARC Penguin

Rating: 3.5/5

IQ "Mama always said you should live a life the same way you piece a quilt. That you was the one in charge of where you put the pieces. You was the one to decide how your story turns out. Well, it seemed to me some of them pieces had a mind of their own." Ludelphia pg. 161-162

Leaving Gee's Bend tells the story of ten year old Ludelphia Bennett who lives in Gee's Bend, Alabama in 1932. Ludelphia's mother gets very sick so she decides to leave Gee's Bend for the first time and go to Camden to fetch the doctor (since Gee's Bend doesn't have one). Camden is over forty miles away and Ludelphia is traveling alone. This book tells the story of her journey and her quilt.

I liked reading Leaving Gee's Bend and only had a few issues with this novel. First of all, the book developed too slowly and I thought some details were tedious. I expected Ludelphia to leave Gee's Bend relatively soon, but no. It took her more chapters than I expected to make up her mind and then head out. Also, I wasn't much impressed with her journey. I didn't think it was that action packed, it seemed rather quick actually. It went like this: she eventually left Gee's Bend, some quick action, oh and now we are in Camden. My other problem with Leaving Gee's Bend is how sharecropping is discussed. That's just it, it's not really discussed. The topic and evils of sharecropping are tiptoed around, never fully explained (like how it was almost impossible to get out of debt often because the sharecroppers were tricked and it was mostly poor African Americans who were sharecroppers). I was especially annoyed with the ending, it details such a rare occurrence, I would have liked to see more realistic behavior from the people the sharecroppers worked for. *SPOILER* Highlight to read: I mean, c'mon. Mrs. Cobb raids Gee's Bend because she thought the girls were witches? More often than not it would be because the sharecroppers hadn't paid back their debt and even then, they most likely would have just been buried under even more debt, not necessarily have had all their possessions taken away. Granted she could have used the girls being witches to justify raiding Gee's Bend, but still. I didn't like how it was handled. **Spoiler ends* Also sharecropping is never explained, why do people have to sharecrop? Especially for younger readers, they might finish this novel wondering why Ludelphia and her family even had to work for Mrs. Cobb and sharecropping doesn't sound so bad, so then why did they have such a hard time paying their debts? An older reader would know why, but this novel is marketed to middle grade readers and they may or may not know. A smaller issue I had was over quilting. Gee's Bend is known for its rich quilting history (not that I know anything about that). I didn't receive that impression from the book, it is apparent that the ladies of Gee's Bend really like to quilt, but why do they like to quilt so much? What is the significance? I think the author could have gone into a bit more detail on that and maybe explain why it has such a rich history of quilting (I still have no idea why). I also thought it was a bit odd that the Great Depression is never really mentioned, no one talks about having to tigthen their belts even more because of hard economic times. Finally, we don't learn much about any other characters except Ludelphia and Mrs. Cobb who owned the land the sharecroppers worked on. I suppose this is because Ludelphia goes on her journey all alone, but I would have liked to learn more about the people of Gee's Bend (Etta Mae, Ludelphia's brother, Ruben, her father, etc.)

I did like one part of the ending that explored an event that I knew absolutely nothing about, that had nothing to do with sharecroppping, more to do with the Great Depression. I thought it was really interesting. I did enjoy reading about Gee's Bend. I think Irene Latham does an excellent job of describing what Gee's Bend was like in the 1930s and how it's different from Camden (a slightly more modernized town than Gee's Bend, for example, until Ludelphia went to Camden she had never had a Coke!). I could see the orange dust rising from the bare feet of Ludelphia and envision her worn eye patch (Ludelphia is blind in one eye). A curious but good part of the story was to the effect of Ludelphia being blind in one eye. I thought it added an intriguing element to the story, (although Ludelphia doesn't have as much trouble as I would have thought since she's only able to see out of one eye). Ludelphia is a well written character, she is brave, determined and has the naivete of youth, an aspect which is handled well in this book (unlike some others were the naive child is just annoying). Ludelphia is easy to relate to and I love how the author relates Ludelphia working on her quilt for her mother to Ludelphia's journey.

I would recommend Leaving Gee's Bend to middle school students because I think it can lead to conversations about sharecropping (and subsequently racism as well) and quilting (why is it so important?). Also, Ludelphia is a good role model for all readers. She willingly sacrifices for her family and she makes mistakes, but then quickly works to fix them. Older readers will be charmed by her and will learn at least two things (instead of the usual one!) from this relatively quick read. 5th grade and up

Disclosure: Received from Penguin. Thanks Stacey!


  1. This does sound like a good read though I'm sorry to hear that there was something missing for you and it went too quick. Some books can feel ruined when they have that but it sounds like a story I'd give a go to if it was good enough to be recommended. :D

  2. Hi! I've heard so much about you because of that cover controversy (I'm totally with you on that, I have to say), especially through the Rejectionist. I want to be like her when I grow up (sort of); I imagine your too? heh The woman rocks!

    See, I love your blog, and I think you're the coolest teenager ever! Books are (one of) the best things around, and it doesn't matter if your friends and family don't get it. Soon enough you'll have bookish friends who get the drill and will support you. If you don't have them already, that is. ;)

    Hey, I don't know you, and you don't know me, but I think I know how you're feeling. :) Bah, all this babbling is because of your interview on the Relectionist's blog. Sorry if I budged in?

    Anyway, I'm following your blog, and so joining Readers Against White Washing. All the best! :)

  3. I'm reading this one now and I can already agree with you that things are moving a bit too slowly to start with. Will weigh in with more thoughts when I'm done. Thanks for posting!

  4. @Abby-Looking forward to reading your thoughts. I agree it's a good book, but it moves a bit too slowly.

    @mariblaser-Thanks for stopping by! I don't mind babbling, it's interesting! I love the Rejectionist! Such a funny, insightful blog. Thank you for the encouragement and i'm flattered that you think I'm one of the coolest teenagers, haha. You definitely didn't budge in and I'm so gald you came out of the shadows and shared your thoughts! And thanks for joining RAWW =D

    @Ceri-I'd say give it a chance. Some reviewers really liked it, others didn't. Check out Maw Books and the HappyNappy Bookseller for some other opinions.

  5. When I heard about this story I got very exited. I love the premise and the cover.

    This book simply did not work for me. I am fine with slow beginnings as long as its leading up to something.

    Ari - You made some great points, that I didn't even think of, like the great depression or why quilting is important to the Women of Gee's Bend.

  6. Thanks Ari, that's very nice of you.:)

    I'll try to stop by more often, and if you thought my (non)babbling, as you say, heh, was interesting, maybe you'll like to stop by my blog? Loads of random thoughts there! ;)

  7. I understand what you're saying about the pacing but need to disagree. Remember it is for middle grader students and the one thing they love most is to get to know the character. I read the first chapter to a fourth grade class and most of them... even the boys.. finished it. Now let me state that Irene is a friend but when I critique a book I'm serious and hard, the book isn't perfect but name one that is. It makes the kids learn about history and culture without knowing they're learning. For that I give it an A+, the dialogue was believable for that an A, for the plot a good strong B+, for character development B+, so I would rate this a 5 star and recommend anyone with a child in the 4th through 6th grade to hand it to their child.
    Now for the critique of you critique... you're great... you don't slam without giving the reason and an author can learn things about her book without bleeding. Thanks and I hope one day soon you'll critique my book... got to get it finished first.

  8. @Doret-Exactly, I never understood why quilting was such a big deal to Gee's Bend vs. anywhere else. The plot didn't go anywhere for me either. I would still recommend this book to MG readers because I'm curious as to what they would say (my MG sister refuses to read any historical fiction so I can't get her opinion. gah)

    @mari-I'll check your blog out!

    @StableGranny-You bring up a good point about how the pacing might fit a middle grade reader just fine. As an older teen, I can't really say but I do agree with you, it's a matter of opinion and a slower pace may be best for younger readers. I do say in my review that this book will help you learn (it's a great conversation starter due to some of the issues brought up). I would recommend it as well because I do want to get some middle grade readers perspective.

    Thanks for the critique of my critique :) I'm glad that comes across, I never want to be unjustly negative and not give a reason. But I wouldn't say I was too negative in this review either (it can be way worse).

    Good luck finishing your book!


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