It's 1921, and when Celeste Lassiter Massey goes to stay with her Aunt Valentina in Harlem, she is not thrilled to trade her friends and comfortable North Carolina surroundings for scary big city life with a famous actress. While Celeste absorbs the excitement of the Harlem Renaissance in full swing, she sees as much grit as glamour. A passionate writer, talented violinist, and aspiring doctor, Celeste eventually faces a choice between ambition and loyalty, roots and horizons. The decision will change her forever.
Tate's (Don't Split the Pole) latest offering, a historical novel set in 1921, stars 13-year-old Celeste Lassiter Massey, who lives in Raleigh, N. C., with her father and his cantankerous sister, Aunt Society ("She was the only person I knew who loved to sit in a wheelchair, even though she didn't need to"). Celeste often plays the violin with her father, a former soldier with lingering health problems, and she dreams of becoming a doctor. But when her father enters a sanitarium after being diagnosed with tuberculosis, Celeste is sent to live with her Aunt Valentina in Harlem. Celeste-who has been told that Aunti Val lives in a mansion and sings and dances-is unprepared for what she finds. Rather than starring on Broadway, Aunti Val makes her living scrubbing floors, unable to secure stage work. Celeste is angered that she is expected to work too, though over time, the two make peace and Celeste's musical abilities earn her praise as a neighborhood prodigy. (A local caf� proprietor gushes, "When you play that violin it's like you're just strollin' down a Harlem street on a fine Saturday afternoon, and we're all just strollin' with you.") Unfortunately, just as things are looking up, Celeste must return to Raleigh to care for Aunt Society, who has suffered a stroke. In Celeste, Tate has created a fully realized heroine, whose world expands profoundly as she's exposed to both the cultural pinnacles and racial prejudices of her era. Readers will likely happily accompany Celeste on her journey. Ages 8-12. (Apr.)
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Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
March 31, 2007
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