Saturday, April 23, 2011

Finding Family

Finding Family by Tonya Bolden 2010
Bloomsbury Books for Young Readers

Rating: 3/5

IQ "'People like to talk about how the truth set you free. Truth can come with burdens.' [Grandpa]

'But Grandpa, is a burden worse than mystery?'" Delana pg. 106

Twelve year old Delana has been raised by her quiet Grandpa and her talkative Aunt Tilley. Her mother died giving birth to her and she knows little about her father. And while Aunt Tilley talks plenty, she has nothing to say on the subject of Delana's father. Aunt Tilley has a Book of Bewares, detailing all the things Delana must avoid (boys, fairs, peeling a potato, certain kinds of clothes etc). Aunt Tilley does teach Delana about her family ancestors, they look at photos everyday. However when Aunt Tilley dies, Delana learns that Aunt Tilley may have mixed up family history and that everything is not as simple as it appears. Delana finally feels free enough to start slowly enquiring about her parents...

The ending was unsatisfactory. Delana sends a postcard to a certain family member but the book ends before she gets a response. I didn't think I had enough of a grasp on the personality of that family member to be able to decide how they would have responded. As a lover of historical fiction I wanted to know the exact time period the story was set but it's not clear, only that it's the early 20th century. The biggest problem I had with the book is that there is no plot and the problem is exacerbated by the lack of development of the characters (except for the main character). The book starts off slowly and there's a bit of mystery about halfway through the book, but if I wasn't the type of reader who has to finish every book (and who loves historical fiction) I probably wouldn't have finished it. It's too short of a book for there to be no plot or development of the other characters (for example the story between Grandpa and Miss Ida is predictable but so little mention is made of Miss Ida that it came off seeming random).

The most appealing part of this book is the concept behind it. The author collects photographs and gradually decided to write a story based on the photos she found. Delana is drawn to the photos and she imagines their stories and personalities based on how they appear in the picture. Delana has a voice. As the main character, I was relieved that she at least had some significant character development. At first, Delana accepts everything her Aunt Tilley tells her, once she dies, Delana feels lost. "Why didn't Ambertine just lay everything out for me, like Aunt Tilley and now Miss Ida laid out my clothes. What did Ambertine want me to decide-and want me to want?" (pg. 94) Delana feels lost without her Aunt Tilley not just because Aunt Tilley was fiercely protective of her and had lots of rules for her to floow but also because Delana's grandfather basically ignored her. Once Aunt Tilley has passed away, Delana is essentially all alone since her grandfather rarely talks to her. It's rewarding to see Delana growing more confident in herself. She works up the courage to talk to her grandfather along with other adults in her secret-filled family.

Finding Family suffers from little plot (and the little there is develops very slowly) and second dimensional characters but Delana as the main character avoids being presumptuous, instead she is refreshingly average if not a little timid. Her timidity/naivete are understandable since she's been reared by a domineering woman and once Aunt Tilley is gone, both her grandfather and herself are rather stupefied. Delana's growth is shown and that makes the book much more interactive. Plus learning about the members of Delana's family through the photos included makes this book unique and kept me turning the pages. Through the stories of Delana's family, more unusual (or at least less-well-known_ aspects of the Black experience are presented, reaffirming that there is no one universal Black experience. However, my guess would be that if you don't like historical fiction, you wouldn't be particularly drawn to this book. I wish though that we could have delved deeper into the stories of Delana's relatives (especially Ambertine, Emma and Grandpa).

Disclosure: Received from Lyn. Thank you <3