Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys Philomel/Penguin Bootleg by Karen Blumenthall Flash Point/Macmillan Judged by Gayle Forman
When I hear the word “historical” in the vicinity of the word “book,” especially when we are talking about a young-person’s book, I tend to react like your average 12-year-old reluctant reader: eye-rolling, yawning, maybe some foot-stomping. I recognize that this reflex is unfair. Many historical YA books—fiction and nonfiction—are gripping and moving. (Waves to Charles and Emma, Marching for Freedom). But I’ve read enough that are wheat germ—healthy, chock full of good intention, flavorless—to bring out my inner 12-year-old.
Thankfully, my two selections, two very different kinds of historical books—Bootleg: Murder, Moonshine, and the Lawless Years of Prohibition by Karen Blumenthal and Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys—had nary a hint of wheat germ.
Let’s start with the booze. I must admit, I was skeptical about Bootleg. A book about Prohibition? Would teens care? But then I realized that when you’re a kid, everything is prohibited, and so much of Blumenthal’s lively and often-funny book is about how everyday folk skirted Prohibition’s strictures and how hifalutin folk didn’t have to (during the height of Prohibition, upstairs at the White House was lousy with whiskey). Rule-breaking and hypocrisy? A glossary that includes terms like blind pig? What’s not to love?
Bootleg cleverly chronicles the buildup and fallout from Prohibition by focusing on specific characters. And lordy, what characters they are. We meet Carrie Nation, the Temperance …