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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Harlem Summer, written by Walter Dean Myers. Scholastic, 2007. $20.99 ages 9 and up

"Mr. Dill made out the checks for the May issue. Langston Hughes got two dollars for a poem that had only twenty-five words. That was eight cents a word! The writing business was starting to look better."

I thoroughly enjoy historical fiction when it leads me to new discoveries. While I have read a few books about the Harlem Renaissance, none have introduced me to the many characters portrayed in this wonderfully funny and telling book about the summer of 1925. New York is a city of excitement and danger and our endearing main character learns much about both sides.

Mark Purvis needs a job that will save him from working at his uncle’s funeral parlor. When he signs on to work at The Crisis, a magazine designed to honor the work of the ‘New Negro’, he wonders if he has made a mistake. Wanting to play jazz and having met "Fats' and been offered a job loading trucks, he takes it in hopes that Fats will be impressed and willing to listen to the music that he and his jazz band play. Now, he’s on the run from Dutch Schultz who thinks he’s responsible for a missing shipment of bootleg liquor. A record deal now seems a distant dream, and that is what he wants more than anything else.

In a series of hilarious scenes, we meet some of the movers and shakers of the era. We celebrate with Mark when he makes the decision not to be a criminal, a “New Negro” or an undertaker but to follow his own path to happiness and freedom.

Walter Dean Myers is an articulate and honored storyteller. This story is proof that all the accolades are 'spot on'! I cannot imagine anyone not loving this story. Parents and librarians will love that their is no harsh language or sexual innuendo. Adolescent readers will love the humor, the fast-paced plot and all the action. Mark Purvis is such a memorable character. He is carefree and at times, without a clue about what is happening. He is also happy, loyal to his friends and has a good dose of common sense. It is a great read!

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