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16 / 30 books. 53% done!

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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

An Excellent Historical Novel—Much to My Surprise

(Image from

Minnie Bonner knows her father has a gambling problem.  This isn't the first time he's disappeared, chasing grander dreams than any of them can afford.  But, this time is different.  This time, he's not coming back.  This time, a stranger is taking the family tavern and home to pay off her dad's gambling debt.  Because of his carelessness, 14-year-old Minnie and her mother are not just penniless, but homeless, too.  How will they live now?

Mr. and Mrs. Sump, the pretentious new owners of everything the Bonners had in the world, offer the only viable solution:  they will hire Minnie to be a lady's maid for their 16-year-old daughter, Lily.  Minnie can't stand the thought of working for the snobby family, but she doesn't have much choice.  Even when the Sumps announce they'll be leaving Philadelphia to chase their own dreams in San Francisco—the greatest, most progressive city in the West.  Minnie's furious with her mother for "selling" her to heartless Mrs. Sump, but that doesn't mean she wants to leave her only family behind.  And yet, what choice does she have?

It's only when a massive earthquake rocks San Francisco, leveling the city, and setting it ablaze with raging, unquenchable fires, that Minnie's finally able to decide something for herself.  With the city in a chaotic mess, she has a golden opportunity to take on a new identity, one that could change her whole life, not to mention the fate of her fractured family.  But assuming a new life of luxury does not come without a price.  Can Minnie sacrifice her integrity in exchange for a brighter future?  Is the cost truly worth it?  Alone in a broken city, Minnie must make some tough choices.  And soon, before everything she's ever dreamed of is snatched right out of her hands.

I've enjoyed other entries in the Dear America series, but I was a touch leery when Scholastic sent me A City Tossed and Broken for review.  It wasn't because of the format—I usually enjoy epistolary storytelling, which allows for a more intimate reading experience.  It wasn't because of the subject matter either—I like historical fiction and haven't read many (if any) books about the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco.  So, I was game for that.  My only hesitation on this one had to do with the author, Judy Blundell (who also writes as Jude Watson).  I've read several of her books, all of which left me feeling ... underwhelmed.  Imagine my surprise, then, when A City Tossed and Broken turned out to be a fast-paced, well-plotted historical novel featuring a vibrant, expertly-crafted heroine.  I know!  Took me by surprise.  I ended up really enjoying this one.  It's an excellent novel about a fearless young woman who must make some difficult decisions in the wake of a vicious disaster that rocked a city to its very core.  

(Readalikes:  Other books in the Dear America series; also, American Girl's historical novels)

Grade:  B

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  PG for scary images

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of A City Tossed and Broken from the generous folks at Scholastic.  Thank you!



  1. Don't you love good surprises?! This one sounds like one I would enjoy.

    1. You probably would! I've got a copy -- feel free to borrow it when you get back ...

  2. What do you think of it as a possibility for my 4th grade higher reading kiddos??

    1. Yeah, it could probably work. The Dear America series is intended for older middle graders, so there's nothing offensive in the books. My 11-year-old daughter starting reading them in 4th grade. Overall, it's a really good historical fiction series and there are tons of books, so it covers a wide range of events in American history.

  3. I love it when a book takes me by surprise and I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would.


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