Leaving Gee’s Bend
Irene Latham. Putnam, $16.99 (230pp) ISBN 978-0-399-25179-5
Debut author Latham offers an accessible piece of historical fiction, drawn from the real-life quilting traditions of Gee’s Bend, Ala. Ludelphia Bennett—a strong-willed 10-year-old living in the small sharecropping community in 1932—may be blind in one eye, the result of a wood-chopping accident, but she both adores and excels at quilting. “Mama always said you should live a life the same way you piece a quilt,” she says. “That you was the one in charge of where you put the pieces. You was the one to decide how your story turns out.” When her mother falls ill, Ludelphia takes off for Camden to find medical help, while trying to avoid Mrs. Cobb, the widow of the sharecroppers’ boss, who has become unstable after the deaths of her husband and niece. Latham offers numerous heart-stirring moments, though while her story is heartfelt, several characters feel lacking in depth and complexity. Ludelphia is a determined heroine, but her internal monologue—“Mama, if this here needle can make it across the Alabama River, you can make it too”—tends toward the treacly. Ages 10–up.
Reviewed on: 01/11/2010