The Red Pencil - Andrea Davis Pinkney

One--thud!--then another,
then one more,
until many men
and women
and boys and girls
littered our land.

What fell
was anyone
who tried to flee
on that violent day
when bullets flung
from no place I know.

Anyone who knows me will understand that while I don't automatically dislike novels in verse, I am rather picky when it comes to such texts. That being said, I was delighted with The Red Pencil and hope that many more will pick up this book when it comes out in September!

Andrea Davis Pinkney is a remarkable author. I don't say that lightly, either. Not only does she give incredible speeches at various conferences and at other author events, but she is a gifted writer of the highest degree. Again, I do not say this lightly. Her descriptions and turns of phrase truly enveloped me into the narrative of The Red Pencil. This story is uncomfortable and will many will find it difficult to read without at least a few tears.

When it comes to schooling,
my mother is the most tight-minded of anyone.

She does not like the idea of Gad*
or any place where girls learn
to read
or write,
in Arabic or English
or think beyond a life
of farm chores and marriage.

Muma, born into a flock of women, 
locked in a hut of tradition.

The book follows Amira, twelve-years old and hopefully mature enough to attend Gad, a a school that would allow her to learn to read and write and understand more about her world. But her dreams are just that, for now. Her mother is very much against the idea of education, desiring instead that Amira get married and learn to love motherhood and being a wife: "Someday, / when you marry, / you will not need to read. / A good wife lets her husband do the reading." Amira isn't convinced.

When her father gets killed in an ambush from the Janjaweed, a notorious militia group, Amira, her mother, and a few surviving villagers evacuate their homes and move to a refugee camp for protection. And even though they're protected from the Janjaweed, they are living under horrific conditions, leaving Amira with little opportunity to become better educated. That is, until she finds a tutor in the camp, and finds inspiration to set out for a better life.

Though I'm not entirely convinced of the necessity of the illustrations which accompany Pinkney's text, I'm not against them either. It could be that I'm just not a huge fan of Shane Evans' style for this specific novel, even while others may be. I'm not an art major, so I don't always know what works and what doesn't, only what I prefer and what I don't. In this case, I'm not a huge fan, but I'm totally willing to see the necessity/benefit if someone wants to talk to me more about this particular style.

Pinkney's writing is both spare and beautifully descriptive, and I can't recommend this The Red Pencil enough.

Highly Recommended

(Note: This review is from an Advance Reading Copy - Out September 16, 2014)

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