On her tenth birthday, Leah receives a surprise gift from glamorous Aunt Olivia, Mama's only sister, who lives in Los Angeles. It is a red rose box. Not many people in 1958 Louisiana have seen such a beautiful traveling case, covered with red roses, filled with jewelry, silk bedclothes, expensive soaps...and train tickets to California. Soon after, Leah and her sister, Ruth, find themselves in Hollywood, far away from cotton fields and Jim Crow laws. To Leah, California feels like freedom. But when disaster strikes back home, Leah and Ruth have to stay with Aunt Olivia permanently. Will freedom ever feel like home?
Woods's moving first novel opens in sleepy Sulphur, La., in June 1953, when Leah receives a 10th birthday present from her estranged aunt in Los Angeles: a traveling case covered with red roses. The gift holds treasures the likes of which Leah has never seen: costume jewelry, a pink silk bed jacket ("like what rich white women wears b'fore bed at night," her grandmother tells Leah and her sister), pink satin slippers, nail polish, lipstick. A letter of apology from Leah's aunt to Leah's mother occasions a visit to L.A. with her mother, grandmother and younger sister, and Leah revels in the luxuries of her aunt's privileged world, a stark contrast to the subsistent lifestyle the child knows. Exposure to the freedom from segregation that exists south of the Mason-Dixon line also makes a dramatic impression on the heroine. After the girls' parents perish in a hurricane and the siblings move into the elegant home of kind Olivia and her husband, the youngsters want for nothing. Yet Leah's thoughts of her parents and past haunt her constantly: "It felt like I was a million miles from Sulphur and crayfish, cotton fields and hand-me-down clothes, a one-room schoolhouse, segregation, and Jim Crow. But I knew one thing. I knew that I would gladly give up this new comfort and freedom to be in my mama's arms, to feel the tenderness in my daddy's touch one more time." Though the repetition of similar reflections occasionally slackens the pace of Woods's narrative, she creates some memorable characters, especially Leah, and probes historical events in a personal context that may open many readers' eyes. Ages 10-up.
Customer ReviewsSee All
#flawless great storytelling and description but sad but showing you can overcome