cover image Francie


Karen English. Farrar Straus Giroux, $17 (208pp) ISBN 978-0-374-32456-8

A keenly perceptive and gutsy heroine narrates this debut novel set in segregated 1940s Alabama. Francie, her mama and brother, Prez (named for FDR), patiently await word from her father, who has been gone for more than a year, to join him in Chicago where he works as a Pullman porter. Francie and her mother continue to make ends meet while bravely fending off the intimations from town gossips that their dream of reuniting their family may not come true. English (Just Right Stew) carefully and subtly plants the seeds for several dramatic scenes in the novel. For instance, Francie notices Holly, from a rich white family whom she and Mama work for, stealing a tube of lipstick; in a later chapter, when the shopkeeper accuses Francie of stealing a book she brought into the store with her, Holly stacks the evidence against Francie. The author effectively builds the rebellious streak in the heroine until Francie cleverly and humorously exacts revenge on the haughty Holly. English thus sets the stage for the moment when Francie comes to the aid of an older boy whom she tutored in reading and who is falsely accused of assaulting his white employer. These winning characters credibly surmount obstacles as a matter of course. In a triumphant and surprising ending, English pointedly leaves a few loose ends, but readers will come away knowing that Francie's spirit and intelligence will get her family through. Ages 10-up. (Oct.)