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November 28: American Indian Stories by Zitkála-Šá
Bright and carefree, Zitkála-Šá grows up on the Yankton Sioux reservation in South Dakota with her mother until Quaker missionaries arrive, offering the reservation’s children a free education. The catch: They must leave their parents behind and travel to Indiana. Curious about the world beyond the reservation, Zitkála-Šá begs her mother to let her go—and her mother, aware of the advantages that an education offers, reluctantly agrees.
But the missionary school is not the adventure that Zitkála-Šá expected: The school is a strict one, her long hair is cut short, and only English is spoken. She encounters racism and ridicule. Slowly, Zitkála-Šá adapts to her environment—excelling at her studies, winning prizes for essay-writing and oration. But the price of success is estrangement from her cultural roots—and is it one she is willing to pay?
Combining Zitkála-Šá’s childhood memories, her short stories, and her poetry, American Indian Stories is the origin story of an activist in the making, a remarkable woman whose extraordinary career deserves wider recognition. Description courtesy of Penguin Random House.
December 26: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Great Gatsby is a 1925 novel by American writer F. Scott Fitzgerald. Set in the Jazz Age on Long Island, the novel depicts narrator Nick Carraway’s interactions with mysterious millionaire Jay Gatsby and Gatsby’s obsession to reunite with his former lover, Daisy Buchanan.
Gatsby continues to attract popular and scholarly attention. The novel was most recently adapted to film in 2013 by director Baz Luhrmann, while contemporary scholars emphasize the novel’s treatment of social class, inherited wealth compared to those who are self-made, race, environmentalism, and its cynical attitude towards the American dream. The Great Gatsby is widely considered to be a literary masterpiece and a contender for the title of the Great American Novel. Description courtesy of Amazon.
January 30, 2024: The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store by James McBride
In 1972, when workers in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, were digging the foundations for a new development, the last thing they expected to find was a skeleton at the bottom of a well. Who the skeleton was and how it got there were two of the long-held secrets kept by the residents of Chicken Hill, the dilapidated neighborhood where immigrant Jews and African Americans lived side by side and shared ambitions and sorrows. Chicken Hill was where Moshe and Chona Ludlow lived when Moshe integrated his theater and where Chona ran the Heaven & Earth Grocery Store. When the state came looking for a deaf boy to institutionalize him, it was Chona and Nate Timblin, the Black janitor at Moshe’s theater and the unofficial leader of the Black community on Chicken Hill, who worked together to keep the boy safe.
As these characters’ stories overlap and deepen, it becomes clear how much the people who live on the margins of white, Christian America struggle and what they must do to survive. When the truth is finally revealed about what happened on Chicken Hill and the part the town’s white establishment played in it, McBride shows us that even in dark times, it is love and community—heaven and earth—that sustain us. Description courtesy of Amazon.