Tag Archives: historical fiction

Interview with Celeste Lim, author of The Crystal Ribbon

In a story set in medieval China, Celeste Lim brings a young girl of exceptional heart together with the animal spirits of ancient myth to overcome a dark fate. Wed at age eleven to a three-year-old,  Jing’s life seems like a dismal sentence, and yet it is full of surprise and adventure.  In the interest of full disclosure, Celeste began weaving her tale while in my class at Manhattanville College’s Graduate Program in Creative Writing. From the first evening she read aloud, her writing voice captivated  me and I felt certain that her tale was destined for publication. And now that it’s here, I get to interview her!

Would you tell us a little about your writing background and early writing experience?

Growing up in Malaysia exposed me to a myriad of languages at a young age. We learned Bahasa Malaysia, our national language, in class; English was a compulsory subject as well because we were colonized by the British; and I went to a Chinese school because of my heritage. Therefore, what I has been exposed to growing up taught me that English books were written for and about Western people; Chinese books were written for and about Chinese people; Malay books for and about Malay people, and so on. So naturally, when I attempted to write my first English novel at age seventeen, I wrote a story about three fair-skinned, red-haired sisters who live in New York City, a place I’d only ever read about in books and saw on TV. That manuscript has been sitting in a hidden folder on my computer ever since.

How did you come to write Jing’s story?

Your first class focused on writing from our unique reservoir of seminal experience. I remember how groundbreaking it felt to me to realize that I was actually allowed to write about what I knew in a language that was supposedly foreign to my culture. That was a huge turning point in my writing journey and was also how Jing’s story was conceived.

The Crystal Ribbon’s magical creatures or jing, are important elements in the story. Could you explain more about them here? Did the jing characters spark your imaginyation as a child? Do you have a favorite jing?

This is one of my favorite things to talk about! Just like beings such as fairies and mermaids, jing are mythical creatures that sprung from the lips of storytellers, and since then have consistently appeared in ancient and medieval Chinese literature. The existence of jing came from the Taoist idea that through enough spiritual training, anything is able to attain a higher level of existence. Jing are non-human creatures that, after a hundred years of spiritual training, have attained the ability to speak, and a human level of consciousness and intelligence.

Because these ideas are so much a part of our mainstream religion, as a child I took them for granted, being more intrigued by gnomes and fairies. But now I do actually have a favorite jing–the huli jing, or fox jing! Other than being a very handsome creature, it feels like a very complex character, having the potential to be equal parts good and evil, which is why I chose it to be my character Jing’s unlikely friend.

Although Jing’s world contains magical helpmates, she couldn’t escape being sold into marriage at age eleven. At the hands of her three-year-old husband’s family, she suffers many cruelties. Were these scenes difficult to write? Explain how you approached them.

The novel actually started out as a third-person narrative. As a person living almost a thousand years later, I found it difficult to write in a way that helped me connect intimately to those experiences. But when my editor suggested I switch to first person, the barrier seemed to disappear. First person is not my writing strength, but in this point of view, I was forced to experience everything as Jing.  I found that the words in these scenes came easier and sounded more authentic, raw, and immediate.

Although The Crystal Ribbon is set in medieval China, Jing could be a role model for girls today. What qualities do you think serve her best?

I’ll name two of the traits that I admire in Jing, resilience and introspection. I believe her resilience stems from hope, something that she carefully preserved and did not let her hardships extinguish. Initially, her hope might be that things will eventually change for the better on their own, but I think it is her introspection, her constant self-examination, that allowed Jing to discover the strength to change the course of her life.

Having a first book published can be both thrilling and daunting. Since this is your first experience with having a book published, what surprised you about the process?

It was surprisingly less stressful than I anticipated! I am admittedly a bit of a Hermione Granger when it comes to things I’m unfamiliar with. I remember researching and reading up tons about the publishing process and hearing many anecdotes of bad publishing experiences from fellow authors. But fortunately, I have a good working relationship with my editor. I believe that is a huge reason why I feel safe and reassured in her hands.

Interview with Caroline Starr Rose

Today we welcome to the blog Caroline Starr Rose, whose rollicking adventure story, Jasper and the Riddle of Riley’s Mine, comes out tomorrow!

Desperate to get away from their drunkard of a father, eleven-year-old Jasper and his older brother Melvin often talk of running away, of heading north to Alaska to chase riches beyond their wildest dreams. The Klondike Gold Rush is calling, and Melvin has finally decided the time to go is now—even if that means leaving Jasper behind. But Jasper has other plans and follows his brother aboard a steamer as a stowaway.

Onboard the ship, Jasper hears a rumor about One-Eyed Riley, an old coot who’s long since gone, but is said to have left clues to the location of his stake, which still has plenty of gold left. The first person to unravel the clues and find the mine can stake the claim and become filthy rich. Jasper is quick to catch gold fever and knows he and Melvin can find the mine—all they have to do is survive the rough Alaskan terrain, along with the steep competition from the unscrupulous and dangerous people they encounter along the way.

In an endearing, funny, pitch-perfect middle grade voice, Caroline Starr Rose tells another stellar historical adventure young readers will long remember.

Why do you write historical fiction? Why do you think kids like to read it?

I always enjoyed history in school, but never felt particularly smart when it came to “knowing” history. There was just too much to master. Historical fiction was my true entry point into understanding the past. It went deeper and wider than a handful of paragraphs in a textbook and made history come alive for me. I’d like to think it does the same for young readers today!

I had never heard of the Klondike gold rush before reading this book. How did you first learn of it, and where did you go to research it?

I didn’t know much about it myself, honestly. When I was researching frontier women for my novel, May B., my mom loaned me a book called Women of the Klondike. My interest was piqued. News that gold had been discovered in this far-off corner of Canada inspired 100,000 people from around the world to try and make the treacherous journey to the goldfields. Somehow, my only school memory connected to this piece of history was Jack London’s short story, “To Build a Fire.”

I start all my historical research by checking out children’s non-fiction on a particular subject. These books provide a quick overview and often point me to more detailed reads through their bibliographies. Jasper represents the very first time I’ve visited a place connected with my fiction. My husband and I took an Alaskan cruise during the summer of 2015. My only request was that we stop in Skagway, a town which is featured in the story. We were able to take a tour around town led by a Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park ranger. Talk about a meaningful moment!

How cool! What are some fun stories or facts you found in your research that you weren’t able to include?

Oh, man. There were so many. I included a good number of real Klondike nicknames in the book, but I collected a whole lot more: Snake Hips Lulu, Limejuice Lil, Billy the Horse, Hamgrease Jimmy, and the Evaporated Kid, who was “so small he looked like a bottle with hips.” Cannibal was the nickname of a man who ate raw moose meat. Old Maiden carried fifty pounds of old newspapers with him because “they were handy to refer to when you get into an argument.”

Swiftwater Bill Gates was so rich he occasionally bathed in wine and presented a dance hall girl with her weight in gold. It’s also been said Swiftwater Bill had only one shirt and had to go to bed while it was being washed. (I’m sure Jasper would have had an opinion on that!)

Those names are fantastic! There are a few scary scenes in this book, and I’m sure in your research you uncovered some tales of violence. How did you decide what was appropriate to include in a middle grade novel?

I can say I wanted to be truthful to Jasper’s experience while also being aware of my audience — what I felt would be appropriate. I know at one point my editor asked me how “dark” I wanted to go, that it would shape the tone of the story, but that I needed to go deeper, whatever direction I chose. My intention was to be truthful but to use a light touch and to always, always end with hope. I hope I’ve accomplished that.

You have written two beautiful novels in verse, Blue Birds and May B., and a poetic picture book, Over in the Wetlands. Jasper is a rollicking, voice-driven prose story. Why did you choose to tell this story in this way?  

I’ve kindly heard people describe my books as beautiful (thank you, by the way!), though this made me chuckle while writing Jasper. This book is decidedly not pretty, but homespun. While the specifics of the story were murky and changed over many drafts, Jasper’s voice was loud and clear. He’s based on Huckleberry Finn, so I knew I wanted to reflect Huck’s colloquial speech, his sharp observations, sweet gullibility, and tendency to speak his mind.

I knew from the beginning verse wasn’t the right fit. The book also wasn’t meant to be epistolary, as I first thought it would be. Jasper didn’t go in much for schooling, so having him write long letters to communicate the story just didn’t feel right. A traditional prose structure felt best.

How was writing this book different from writing your previous books? And how the same?

There are so many ways I could answer this! I’ll keep it simple by saying writing prose was like learning a new language, one I didn’t know very well. Scenes in prose have limitless space. I felt a little at loose ends until my editor reminded me not to rush through the story but to stay present in each moment so the reader could do the same. There was a steep learning curve with this one, and I’m so grateful for the way my editor helped direct my work.

Similarities would be my desire to make the past feel relevant, real, and interesting and to create everyday characters who are nevertheless brave. And full of heart. I love heart.

Did you have a general writing routine for this book?

My general routine for Jasper could be summed up as “write and destroy.” No writing is efficient, and this is the least efficient book I’ve ever written. I tossed two-thirds of it twice and added fifty pages right at the end. Unfortunately, my writing process seems to include understanding the story in the eleventh hour of the eleventh hour. This doesn’t make for easy work, but if I can remember I will connect the dots at the end, it keeps me believing it’s possible!

The voice here, with that striking dialect, is so strong. How did you maintain that?

All I can say is Jasper’s voice was my guiding light. I’m thankful that wasn’t subject to change as the story grew and shifted. Sure, I shaped specifics along the way — making rules for his grammar, picking certain Jasper-y expressions to use throughout, borrowing a Huck Finn word or two as a nod to Jasper’s inspiration (“disremember” is my favorite) — but his voice remained largely the same. It’s easy to slip into, like a worn, warm coat.

The relationship between Jasper and his brother Melvin is central to this story and drives much of the action. What made you want to focus on a sibling relationship? Are there sibling stories that you have enjoyed or that influenced you?

My boys, plain and simple. My husband and I are the babies in our families by a lot. I’ve always described myself as a semi-only child. So it has always been special to watch our boys, who are two years apart, interact with each other. Even when they’re annoyed, it doesn’t last long. They’re a team. They’re friends. They’re brothers. It’s a beautiful thing.

Honestly, I can’t think of any sibling books off the top of my head outside of Ramona and Beezus. In one sense, I had to pave my own way. I wanted devotion and commitment to be key to Mel and Jasper’s relationship and wanted these to remain strong, despite the conflict that comes with being siblings. Mel, as the older brother, has a deep sense of obligation for Jasper’s safety. Jasper wants to prove himself to his brother, first as someone deserving to travel to the goldfields but finally as faithful to his word. The Johnson boys are pretty great, if I do say so myself!

We agree! Thanks so much for sharing your story with us, Caroline!

Caroline Starr Rose is an award-winning middle grade and picture book author whose books have been ALA-ALSC Notable,* Junior Library Guild, ABA New Voices,** Kids’ Indie Next, Amazon’s Best Books of the Month for Kids, and Bank Street College of Education Best Books selections. In addition, her books have been nominated for almost two dozen state awards lists. In 2012 Caroline was named a Publishers Weekly Flying Start Author for her debut novel, May B. She spent her childhood in the deserts of Saudi Arabia and New Mexico and taught social studies and English in four different states. Caroline now lives with her husband and two sons in New Mexico.

*American Library Association – Association for Library Service to Children
**American Booksellers Association

Katharine Manning will henceforth be known as “Snake Hips Lulu.” She blogs here and at The Winged Pen, and is a 2016 Cybils judge for Poetry and Novels in Verse. You can find her online at www.katharinemanning.com, on Twitter, and on Instagram. Her middle grade book reviews are at Kid Book List.

New Middle Grade Books: September 2016

So many new books this month —  and this is just a sampling! We’ve listed 35 novels here. Take a look:

FICTION:


How to Avoid Extinction by Paul Acampora (fiction)
Since the death of his grandfather, Leo’s number one chore has been to chase after his grandmother who seems to wander away from home every few days. Now, Gram’s decided to roam farther than ever. And despite his misgivings, Leo’s going along for the ride. With his 17-year-old cousin, Abbey, and an old, gassy dog named Kermit, Leo joins Gram in a big, old Buick to leave their Pennsylvania home for a cross-country road trip filled with foldout maps, family secrets, new friends, and dinosaur bones.

Insert Coin to Continue by John David Anderson (fiction)
One day Bryan wakes up to find out his life has become a video game. Sort of. Except instead of fighting dragons or blasting bad guys, he’s still doing geometry and getting picked last for dodgeball. It’s still middle school. Only now there’s much more at stake.

Unbound: A Novel in Verse by Ann E. Burg (fiction)
With candor and compassion, Ann E. Burg unearths a startling chapter of American history — the remarkable story of runaways who sought sanctuary in the wilds of the Great Dismal Swamp — and creates a powerful testament to the right of every human to be free.

The Ungrateful Dead by Rose Cooper (fiction)
When a ghost girl named Harper begs Anna to help her rejoin the living, Anna warns her that it’s impossible. Once you’re dead, you can’t just start living again…or can you? Includes morbidly-cute black-and-white illustrations.

William and the Witch’s Riddle by Shutta Crum (fiction/Adventure)
When William is visited by a mysterious witch named Morga, it seems his and his little brother’s lives might be in danger—unless they help the witch solve a riddle and find a dark family heirloom. A charming reimagination of Sleeping Beauty.

Truth or Dare by Barbara Dee (fiction)
When Lia returns after a summer with her eccentric aunt, it feels like everything has changed within her group of five friends. And after playing a game of Truth or Dare, Lia discovers how those divides are growing wider, and tells a few white lies about what really happened over the summer in order to “keep up.”

The Inquisitor’s Tale Or, the Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog by Adam Gidwitz and Hatem Aly (historical fiction)
Adam Gidwitz takes on medieval times in an exciting and hilarious middle grade adventure about class, history, religion…and farting dragons. Featuring manuscript illuminations throughout.

Jubilee by Patricia Reilly Giff (fiction)
Judith stopped talking years ago after her mother left. Now she communicates entirely through gestures and taps, and by drawing cartoons, speaking only when she’s alone—or with Dog. Then she discovers that her mother has moved back to the mainland, nearby. If Jubilee finds her, will her mother’s love be what she needs to speak again?

Children of Exile by Margaret Peterson Haddix (fantasy)
For the past twelve years, adults called “Freds” have raised Rosi, her younger brother Bobo, and the other children of their town, saying it is too dangerous for them to stay with their parents, but now they are all being sent back. Since Rosi is the oldest, all the younger kids are looking to her with questions she doesn’t have the answers to. She’d always trusted the Freds completely, but now she’s not so sure.

George and the Unbreakable Code by Stephen Hawking, Lucy Hawking, Garry Parsons (fiction/adventure)
Banks are handing out free money, supermarkets aren’t able to charge for their produce so people are getting free food, and aircrafts are refusing to fly. It looks like the world’s biggest and best computers have all been hacked. It’s up to George and Annie to travel further into space than ever before in order to find out what—or who—is behind it.

The Forgetting Machine by Pete Hautman (fiction)
Absentmindedness in Flinkwater, a town overflowing with eccentric scientists and engineers, is nothing new. But when Ginger’s true love and future husband Billy Bates completely forgets who she is, things suddenly get serious, and Ginger swings into action.

The Other Boy by M.G. Hennessey (fiction)
Twelve-year-old Shane Woods is just a regular boy. He loves pitching for his baseball team, working on his graphic novel, and hanging out with his best friend, Josh. But Shane is keeping something private, something that might make a difference to his teammates, to Josh, and to his new crush, Madeline. And when a classmate threatens to reveal his secret, Shane’s whole world comes crashing down. A heartfelt story about a transgender boy’s journey towards acceptance and empathy.

One Half from the East by Nadia Hashimi (fiction)
Obayda’s father lost one of his legs in a bomb explosion, forcing the family to move from their home city of Kabul to a small village, where life is very different and Obayda’s father almost never leaves his room. One day, Obayda’s aunt has an idea to bring the family luck—dress Obayda, the youngest of her sisters, as a boy, a bacha posh. Life in this in-between place is confusing, but once Obayda meets another bacha posh, everything changes.

Howard Wallace, P.I. by Casey lyall (mystery)
Twelve-year-old Howard Wallace lives by his list of rules of private investigation. When a hot case of blackmail lands on his desk, he’s ready to take it on himself . . . until the new kid, Ivy Mason, convinces him to take her on as a junior partner. As they banter through stakeouts and narrow down their list of suspects, Howard starts to wonder if having Ivy as a sidekick—and a friend—is such a bad thing after all.

The Most Frightening Story Ever Told by Philip Kerr (mystery)
Billy Shivers doesn’t have a lot of excitement in his life. He prefers to spend his days reading alone in the Hitchcock Public Library. So it is a bit out of character when he finds himself drawn to the Haunted House of Books, and a competition daring readers to survive an entire night inside. But the frights of the store itself are nothing compared to the stories it holds.

Beautiful Blue World by Suzanne LaFleur (historical fiction)
Sofarende is at war. For 12-year-old Mathilde, it means food shortages, feuding neighbors, and bombings. But the army is recruiting children, and paying families well for their service. If Megs takes the test, Mathilde knows she will pass. Her friend Megs hopes the army is the way to save her family. Mathilde fears it might separate them forever.

The Bad Kid by Sarah Lariviere (mystery)
Claudeline Feng LeBernardin learns what it really means to be bad in this colorful and hilarious mystery. When a very strange character by the name of Alma Lingonberry shows up in the neighborhood, Claude gets closer to the crime life than ever. Before long, she’s swept up in a maddening mystery that’s got her wondering: What does it really mean to be bad?

More Than Magic by Kathryn Lasky (fiction/adventure)
Ryder Holmsby is the same age as Rory, the popular TV cartoon character her animator parents created. And then: Shazam! Rory jumps out of the TV into Ryder’s bedroom to tell her that the TV studio behind her parents’ show is trying to turn Rory into a dopey princess—no more adventures. She needs Ryder’s help! The two girls team up with a crew of animated and real-life friends to save the day in both worlds.

Charmed, I’m Sure by Sarah Darer Littman (fairy tales and folklore)
Meet Rosie White Charming. You probably know her parents, Snow and Prince. Yup—that Snow and Prince. You would think that being the only daughter of two of the most famous people in fairy tale history would be awesome. But you would be wrong…

A Long Pitch Home by Natalie Dias Lorenzi (fiction)
Ten-year-old Bilal liked his life back home in Pakistan. He was a star on his cricket team. But when his father suddenly sends the family to live with their aunt and uncle in America, nothing is familiar. Maybe if Bilal can prove himself on the pitcher’s mound, his father will make it to see him play. But playing baseball means navigating relation-hips with the guys, and with Jordan, the only girl on the team—the player no one but Bilal wants to be friends with.

Missy Piggle-Wiggle and the Whatever Cure by Ann M. Martin (fiction)
Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle has gone away unexpectedly and left her niece, Missy Piggle-Wiggle, in charge of the Upside-Down House and the beloved animals who live there: Lester the pig, Wag the dog, and Penelope the parrot, among others. Families in town soon realize that, like her great-aunt, Missy Piggle-Wiggle has inventive cures for all sorts of childhood (mis)behavior: the Whatever Cure and the Just-a-Minute Cure, for instance. What is a stressed-out parent to do? Why, call Missy Piggle-Wiggle, of course!

Enter a Glossy Web by Ruebush McKenna and Jaime Zollars (fantasy)
Twelve-year-old George has no idea what to expect when she’s sent to stay with eccentric relatives following the disappearance of her brother. Soon after her arrival, she learns that Uncle Constantine — the Timekeeper — has been kidnapped. If he’s not rescued, events will cease to happen at their designated times, disrupting the unfolding of the universe.

Going Wild by Lisa McMann (fiction/Adventure)
Charlie Wilde knew her life would change forever when her family moved from Chicago to Arizona—but she had no idea how right she’d really be after she discovers a mysterious bracelet. She’s suddenly able to run across the soccer field as fast as a cheetah and lift heavy objects as if she were as strong as an elephant. Of course, Charlie would be thrilled about her transformation if she had any idea how the bracelet works or how to control her amazing powers. So she and her new friends must work together to figure out what’s happening to her and uncover the truth behind the incredible device.

Write This Down by Claudia Mills (fiction)
Autumn decides that she is going to become a published author–now! She writes an essay about her changing relationship with her brother, enters it in a contest, and wins, and her dream of publication is within reach. But if her essay is published, everyone will know her family’s secrets. Is being published worth hurting those you love?

Fishbone’s Song by Gary Paulsen (fiction)
Deep in the woods, in a rustic cabin, lives an old man and the boy he’s raised as his own. This sage old man has taught the boy the power of nature and how to live in it, and more importantly, to respect it. In Fishbone’s Song, this boy reminisces about the magic of the man who raised him and the tales that he used to tell—all true, but different each time.

The Best Man by Richard Peck (fiction)
When Archer is in sixth grade, his beloved uncle Paul marries another man—Archer’s favorite student teacher. But that’s getting ahead of the story, and a wonderful story it is. In Archer’s sweetly naïve but observant voice, his life through elementary school is recounted: the outspoken, ever-loyal friends he makes, the teachers who blunder or inspire, and the family members who serve as his role models. From one exhilarating, unexpected episode to another, Archer’s story rolls along as he puzzles over the people in his life and the kind of person he wants to become…and manages to help his uncle become his best self as well.

Two Naomis by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich and Audrey Vernick (fiction)
A heartwarming contemporary middle grade novel about two girls named Naomi—one black, one white—whose divorced parents begin to date. Other than their first names, Naomi Marie and Naomi Edith are sure they have nothing in common, and they wouldn’t mind keeping it that way

The Courage Test by James Preller (fiction)
A father-and-son journey along the Lewis and Clark Trail–from Fort Mandan to the shining sea–offers readers a genre-bending blend of American history, thrilling action, and personal discovery.

The Memory Wall by Lev AC Rosen (fiction)
Severkin is an elf who slinks through the shadows of Wellhall’s spiraling stone towers, plundering ancient ruins and slaying mystical monstrosities with ease. He’s also a character in a video game—a character that twelve-year-old Nick Reeves plays when he needs a break from the real world. And lately, Nick has really needed a break. His mother had an “incident” at school last year, and her health has taken a turn for the worse.

The Dark Talent: Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson (fantasy)
Alcatraz Smedry has successfully defeated the army of Evil Librarians and saved the kingdom of Mokia. Too bad he managed to break the Smedry Talents in the process. Even worse, his father is trying to enact a scheme that could ruin the world, and his friend, Bastille, is in a coma. To revive her, Alcatraz must infiltrate the Highbrary–known as The Library of Congress to Hushlanders–the seat of Evil Librarian power. Without his Talent to draw upon, can Alcatraz figure out a way to save Bastille and defeat the Evil Librarians once and for all? Book 5.

Mark of the Plague by Kevin Sands (fantasy)
The Black Death has returned to London, spreading disease and fear through town. A mysterious prophet predicts the city’s ultimate doom—until an unknown apothecary arrives with a cure that actually works. Christopher’s Blackthorn shop is chosen to prepare the remedy. But when an assassin threatens the apothecary’s life, Christopher and his faithful friend Tom are back to hunting down the truth, risking their lives to untangle the heart of a dark conspiracy.

Be Like a Bird by Monika Schroder (fiction)
After the death of her father, twelve-year-old Wren finds her life thrown into upheaval. And when her mother decides to pack up the car and forces Wren to leave the only home she’s ever known, the family grows even more fractured. As she and her mother struggle to build a new life, Wren must confront issues with the environment, peer pressure, bullying, and most of all, the difficulty of forgiving those who don’t deserve it. A quirky, emotional middle grade novel set in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula,

Bounce by Megal Shull (fiction)
Seventh-grader Frannie Hudson wonders what it would be like to trade in her family for a new one. Her big brother ignores her. Her mean older sister can’t stand her. And her parents have just announced they’re going on a last-minute vacation—without her. When Frannie makes one desperate, crazy wish—BOOM!—she magically bounces into a whole new life—with a totally different family. AND. IT. IS. AMAZING! There’s only one catch: waking up as someone else keeps happening. Frannie begins to worry if she’ll ever get back home.

The Secret Keepers by Trenton Lee Stewart and Diana Sudyka (mystery)
When Reuben discovers an extraordinary antique watch, he soon learns it has a secret power and his life takes an intriguing turn. At first he is thrilled with his new treasure, but as one secret leads to another, Reuben finds himself torn between his innately honest nature and the lure to be a hero.

Things Too Huge to Fix by Saying Sorry by Susan Vaught (Mystery)That’s Dani’s Grandma Beans has Alzheimer’s and Dani isn’t sure about anything any more,  like why Mac Richardson suddenly doesn’t want to be her friend, and why Grandma Beans and Avadelle Richardson haven’t spoken in decades. Lately, Grandma Beans doesn’t make a lot of sense. But when she tells Dani to find a secret key and envelope that she’s hidden, Dani can’t ignore her. So she investigates, with the help of her friend, Indri, and her not-friend, Mac. Their investigation takes them deep into the history of Oxford, Mississippi, and the riots surrounding the desegregation of Ole Miss. The deeper they dig, the more secrets they uncover. Were Grandma Beans and Avadelle at Ole Miss the night of the Meredith Riot? And why would they keep it a secret?