Tuesday, September 11, 2007

History Lesson for Girls
by Aurelie Sheehan

Published in 2006. 352 pages.

I was not familiar with either this novel or the author when I was offered a copy of the recent paperback release for review. I was intrigued by the title, however, so I was pleased to have the chance to read and review the book.

First line: One day I saw them, our dream horses, and on that day I pulled over to the side of the road and cried.

Brief summary of the plot: Eighth graders Alison and Kate, both lovers of horses, meet when Alison and her parents move to a small Connecticut town. It's 1975, a time of social and political upheaval, as well as a time of preparations for the upcoming bicentenial celebration. Told by a now grown-up Alison, this is the story of a year of growth and change for both girls.

What I related to in this book: While never a horse lover, I was an eleven-year-old girl in 1975 and I could relate to much of what was happening in and around Alison's and Kate's lives. I was more insulated than Alison and Kate are from prevalent drug use and I was sixteen before my father moved out of our home, but I related to the effects the upheavals of society in that period have on the girls. I also related greatly to Kate's stand for social justice - and to her teacher's reaction to it. The preparations for the bicentennial are also something I remember well from my childhood, along with some references to popular culture. Beyond the time period, though, I also related to the need for belonging and the desire to understand who we are. I think those themes of "growing up" transcend time and place. (Obviously, I also related to Alison's name!)

Something I loved about this book: Each chapter of Alison and Kate's story is preceeded by a paragraph or two from an account of "the lost heroine" - a story they are writing as a school history project dealing with their town in 1776. I loved the juxtaposition of the tale of this character they've invented with the events of their own lives. I also loved the way that these paragraphs seemed actually written by thirteen-year-old girls.

Something I didn't like as well: Sometimes I felt a little lost as I read, as if the author had forgotten what she was actually trying to do. For example, the voice of the grown-up Alison, which appeared only occasionally, was sometimes jarring, as I'd forgotten that we were supposed to be looking back at the events of the book from the future. A little more focus, a little tighter editing could have strengthened what I see as the poignant message of the book.

A favorite passage from the book:

What is history? When does it begin? Surely it begins yesterday. But can that yesterday be really yesterday, not yesteryear, not back in the olden days when they wore lederhosen and said "ye" this, "ye" that, and smoked corncob pipes? And if yesterday can really be just yesterday, a day in the life of a thirteen-year-old girl, then what matters most - is it all about numbers? True enough, they had only twenty-one slaves in Weston, but there were - as Kate pointed out - only a thousand poeple total. If there are two people and one of them is miserable, or exploited, or destined to failure, or breathlessly excited, or beautiful, doesn't that still matter - statistically, I mean?

For more information: Check out the author's website here and the Penguin Readers Guide here.

To share in the joy of a good book: I would love to pass my copy of History Lesson for Girls to another interested reader. Leave a comment if you'd be interested, and I will randomly pick one lucky reader from those who comment by Monday, September 17.



  1. I was never a horse person either, but I was (also) an 11-year-old girl in 1975 (and living in Connecticut, too!), and this book sounds very much like one I'd relate to and enjoy reading. If I don't get your copy, I'll look for one myself.

    I really like the way you structure your book reviews, by the way.

  2. Oh....I loved horses when I was that age. Both of my grandfathers had them, and I was able to ride a lot of the time.

    Great Review!

  3. Ooh! Ooh! Pick me, pick me! Do you see how high my hand is raised?

    I was never interested in horses, either, but it might be that I knew I had horse AND hay allergies, so I never really got close enough to fall in love with them!

    I love the passage you quoted.

  4. I am beyond interested in this book as I have a horse loving daughter and I also loved (still do) horses! "one day" we will have one!

  5. I'm in for anything you liked! By the way, did I tell you I finished Replay and it was awesome!! Loved it.

    Loved your review, great insight and descriptions, it is always fun reading your reviews.
    :) Jennifer

  6. I was born in 1975 - so I think I deserve this book :) Seriously, I woul love it. Thanks for another great review.

  7. Could I read the book first, before you send it on to one of these lovely bloggers? Please?


  8. I was a horse lover in 1975, even though I was only 4, I remember watering the horses.

  9. It's so nice to see that I'm not the only girl in world that didn't get the whole horse thing! And I was also 11 in '75

    I would love to read this book. And from the review I think both of my kids would too! (one of whom is an 8th grader right now!) How am I doing to persuade you to pick me?!

    Changing the subject slightly,and not just sucking up, but in all honesty, I really like this book review blog. I see a lot of my favotites in your sidebar and the format is awesome. Thanks for mentioning it on your other blog!

  10. I love the idea of passing along books this way. What a great idea! I think I'll borrow it if you don't mind.

  11. This is Amy from Blokus. I'd love to read it, and I sure do enjoy your book reviews. I may soon ask for help to start this type of blog on my own. I find it inspiring.