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Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2011-06-13
- Reviewer: Staff
This rich historical novel offers an unsentimental and sometimes humorous glimpse into the Great Depression. Pinkney (Sit-In) alternates between the first-person perspectives of three resilient and tenacious protagonists—12-year-old minister’s daughter Hibernia, aka Bernie, who dreams of becoming a jazz singer like her absent mother; 13-year-old abused and abandoned Willie, who must relinquish his dreams of boxing after his father burns his hands; and orphaned 12-year-old Otis, who comforts himself with the riddles his parents loved. Both Willie and Otis live in the Mercy Orphanage, where kind, spunky manager Lila Weiss is both a child advocate and motherly figure. Famed African American boxer Joe Louis, whose matches Bernie, Willie, and Otis listen to on the radio, serves as both a powerful symbol and unifying thread in the story (“When Joe Louis fights, it’s more than just throwing punches,” Otis’s mother tells him. “That boy’s fighting for the pride of Negroes”). Pinkney enlivens potentially remote historical circumstances through her sympathetic characters who, despite the constraints of their era, struggle for dignity and human connection on their own terms. Ages 8–12. (Apr.)
The big fight
It might seem impossible that one man could bring together an entire community, but Joe Louis, the “Brown Bomber” of pounding punches and focused fighting, did just that. At the height of the Great Depression, Louis’ big fight warbled through just about every radio in America, and for the three kids in Andrea Davis Pinkney’s new novel, it changes their lives forever.
Bird in a Box is told through the voices of three youngsters in Elmira, New York, in the months leading up to the big fight. Hibernia, Otis and Willie, who come from different worlds, are thrown together by tough luck and the power of the True Vine Baptist Church. Each has lost someone, and each has a seemingly unobtainable dream. Their stories converge at the center of their world: the radio.
Through the voices of the children, Pinkney creates a triumphant tale of accidental friendships and repaired lives. An appendix adds interesting historical context on the “real people and real places” in the book. The stories of Hibernia, Otis and Willie, accompanied by the backdrop of the championship fight, will have young readers rooting for a win all the way to the end.