Crystal Allen’s new book, The Laura Line, was another book that I heard about at Winter Institute this year and was extremely excited to read (Balzer + Bray, $16.99). Overall I think this book has a lot of important things to say and for the most part, I appreciated Laura’s narrative voice; however there was one major plot point that didn’t seem right. Laura’s parents leave for two weeks for military duty. The aunt who usually takes care of Laura can’t make it this time, and she has to go live with her grandmother instead. Laura hates visiting her grandmother because she’s inordinately embarrassed by the slave shack that sits on the grounds. Laura doesn’t think that this part of her family history should be glorified in any way and she refuses to step inside or hear the stories about why it’s there. As the narrative continues, Laura finally does open herself up to the shack and it’s significance to American history. She finally recognizes that the shack holds generations of stories about the Lauras in her family who have lived before her and she is proud of their accomplishments.
I love the idea of the shack embodying the horrors from American history and how its physical presence forces Laura to struggle with the past and the shack’s place in her own life. She wants to forget slavery happened and live her own life, which makes a lot of sense and I appreciate Laura’s conflict between ignoring the past and being defined by the past. This conflict is particularly acute in middle school, when kids are simultaneously working to define themselves outside of their families as they also try to figure out their place within their families. What doesn’t make sense to me is that Laura has never engaged with the shack. She’s close to her mother and her mother is close to her grandmother. Surely as a young child, Laura would have wanted to hear the stories, feel connected to her mother, or be curious about the shack. She wouldn’t have yet felt the socio-historical implications of the shack, have been embarrassed by what her classmates think, or have been so afraid of something that her mother and grandmother obviously cherish. Again, there are a lot of excellent attributes to this book and it is a solid introduction to the personal history of slavery, as well as a great companion novel for studying family history. I think, perhaps, I would have enjoyed it just a little more if the story narrated Laura’s return to her family rather than a first discovery.
Laura is a spunky character who loves both fashion and baseball; I fully appreciate this fluctuation between gender norms. She’s smart, capable, and resilient. She cares about what her peers think, but she also stands up for herself and her best friend. She follows her intuition and accepts the consequences when she ignores it. There is a lot of life, character, and history in this book. Teachers and librarians take note.