Bird in a Box by Andrea Davis Pinkney
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Book Source: e-ARC via NetGalley, by request
The only thing folks are talking about is that this will be the fight to end all fights. And nobody seems to care about the tough times we’re in, either. People are putting down their last little bit of money, betting on Joe Louis.
In this moving historical novel, Pinkney introduces three young African-Americans in Depression-era Elmira, New York. Hibernia is a 12-year-old preacher’s daughter with dreams of becoming a famous jazz singer. Otis is trying to keep his memories of his father and mother alive by retelling the riddles his father loved to tell. Willie had dreams of becoming a champion boxer, until his abusive father put an end to them.
The novel opens as Louis is about to take on Braddock in a much-hyped fight for the Heavyweight World Champion title, then jumps back a year to recount how the three main characters’ lives have intertwined. Pinkney presents a coherent, flowing narrative while rotating perspective between three distinct voices. She seamlessly blends real historical figures and events with her fictional characters to create vibrantly realistic scenes. An author’s note provides biographical information about Joe Louis and the members of the author’s own family that she used as models for some characters.
With lively, engaging characters and a skillful evocation of time and place, this is an excellent choice for young readers, even those who might not normally be drawn to historical fiction. Consider introducing de la Peña and Nelson’s A Nation’s Hope: The Story of Boxing Legend Joe Louis to readers interesting in learning more about Louis himself.