Friday, May 4, 2018

Crossing Stones by Helen Frost

With care and precision, Frost deftly turns plainspoken conversations and the internal monologues of her characters into stunning poems that combine to present three unique and thoughtful perspectives on war, family, love and loss.  West Texas Bookworm (also in Kirkus)

I seem to be reading Young Adult books right now but I thoroughly enjoyed Crossing Stones by Helen Frost so I thought I would share a few thoughts here.

When I read Applesauce weather also by Helen Frost I went in search of more books by this talented writer because as you may know I do enjoy verse novels. I found a used copy of Crossing Stones (2009) for a very reduced price. Mine is a discarded library book from Gilmer Public Library in West Virginia. I love their address of Walnut Street. It actually looks as though this book had only one loan which is sad.

The setting for Crossing Stones is from April 1917 to January 1918 - yes it is World War I. This is also the time women are fighting for suffrage. America joined World War I in April 1917.

"We've all heard what is coming: we know
        the president will take us right into the middle
              of this war they're fighting overseas, yet I can't help
                   hoping against hope that someone, somehow
                        might find a way to keep us out of it."

Muriel Jorgensen is eighteen. She lives on one side of Crabapple Creek with her family - mother, father,  little sister Grace and younger brother Ollie. On the other side live Emma Norman, her brother Frank and their parents. Just as Muriel starts to realise she is falling in love with Frank he enlists. There are letters and small gifts but sadly he is killed. Ollie is too young to sign up but he lies about his age and he is sent off to fight too. Ollie does return but he is badly hurt. As all of this is happening Muriel's aunt Vera is in Washington DC on the picket line fighting for the right to vote. She has been arrested and has been on a hunger strike. Muriel goes to Washington to bring her aunt home after her release from jail. It is from this experience that Muriel discovers a little more about the wider world and the possibilities for women which could mean a different future she had imaged only last year.

There is so much in this book - history, a love story, politics, women's suffrage, self discovery, grief and family love. I recommend this book for age 12+.  High School English teachers will find lots to explore in the form of these poems - Muriel's are shaped like the river while the other poems look like the stones. These are "cupped hand sonnets" fourteen line poems with complex rhyming patterns which are explained at the back of the book.

Take a look at this review by Anita Silvey. You can listen to an audio sample from page 19 onwards. Here is a set of teaching notes.

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