Leaving Gee's Bend by Irene Latham. Grades 4-7. G.P. Putnam's Sons, January 2010. Reviewed from ARC provided by publisher.
It's 1932 and life isn't easy in the small town of Gee's Bend, Alabama, but Ludelphia gets by, stitching her quilts and helping her mother with the chores. Then Ludelphia's mama gets sick. Very sick. And since there's no doctor in Gee's Bend, Ludelphia only has one choice - to leave Gee's Bend and travel the 40 miles to Camden in search of help. It's no easy feat and what happens to Ludelphia on her journey will change her - and the town of Gee's Bend - forever.
Inspired by actual events, this is a story that will bring the Depression era South to life for young readers. Ludelphia is a character who is easy to like, she's high-spirited and imperfect. When she figures out that her Mama needs a doctor, she doesn't let anything stop her getting to Camden to fetch him. But it's not as easy to get to Camden as Ludelphia predicted. She's been sheltered in her African-American community of Gee's Bend and now she'll find out what the world beyond the river bend can be like.
Throughout the book, as Ludelphia makes her way to Camden, she's stitching on a quilt. Quilting comes naturally to her and stitching helps calm her nerves. Ludelphia is always on the lookout for a bright scrap of fabric that will find a place in her quilt. This tribute to the quilting heritage of Gee's Bend (located in what is now Boykin, Alabama) weaves its way through the plot, adding nice cultural detail. Check out the Quilts of Gee's Bend for more information on that.
I thought there were some problems with the pacing - the story takes awhile to get going and I felt the action dragged in some places. Also, Ari at Reading in Color points out that there's not any discussion about sharecropping and how the way the sharecropping system was set up kept people in debt. A little more historical detail and information would have gone a long way. Still, I think Irene Latham is definitely a debut author to watch and you may want to grab Leaving Gee's Bend to pair with Mildred D. Taylor's Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry for your units on African-American history or The Depression.
Read more reviews at Maw Books Blog, Crazy Quilts (warning: spoilers), A Patchwork of Books, and Reading in Color.