Plain City

( 8 )


One of the finest novels from one of the most remarkable storytellers of our time.

Going forward without a past isn not easy to do. But Buhlaine Sims has been doing it for as long as she can remember. Then her father returns to town, and Buhlaire's world is turned upside down.

Twelve-year-old Buhlaire, a "mixed" child who feels out of place in her community, struggles to unearth her past and her ...

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One of the finest novels from one of the most remarkable storytellers of our time.

Going forward without a past isn not easy to do. But Buhlaine Sims has been doing it for as long as she can remember. Then her father returns to town, and Buhlaire's world is turned upside down.

Twelve-year-old Buhlaire, a "mixed" child who feels out of place in her community, struggles to unearth her past and her family history as she gradually discovers more and more about her long-missing father.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
ISBN 0-590-47365-4 In a starred review, PW said, ``With exceptional grace and honesty, Hamilton sketches a vibrant portrait of a gifted 12-year-old of mixed race in search of her identity.'' Ages 12-up. (Mar.)q
The ALAN Review - Lisa J. McClure
Hamilton is an expert in character study. This time, she examines twelve-year-old Buhlaire-Marie Sims in her search for identity, a process complicated by the fact that her mother is hardly ever at home and her father, she is told, was killed in Vietnam. Left to be raised by relatives who refuse to talk about her past, and disquieted by an obvious lack of acceptance by town residents because of "who she was and what she looked like," Buhlaire battles everyone around her for recognition and acceptance. As she unravels family secrets, she must struggle with accepting herself and her family. Hamilton's storytelling has never been better. Her blending of first-person narrative with Buhlaire's stream-of-consciousness commentary invites the reader to relive Buhlaire's struggles and understand them from the inside out. The only flaw is that, at the end, Hamilton's voice overtakes Buhlaire's and indulges in too much analysis.
Children's Literature - Mary Sue Preissner
Buhlaire Sims is a struggling adolescent. She has a mother who works out of town most of the time and she lives on the wrong side of town with two aunts, one bossy and the other blind. She looks different, does not make friends easily, is tormented by a boy named Grady, and sorely misses having a father whom she believes was killed in Vietnam. This is a compelling story of growing up, searching for truth, coping with mental illness, and extended families. It received starred reviews from School Library Journal and Publishers Weekly.
School Library Journal
Gr 6-8-Discovering that her mother and relatives lied about her father dying in Vietnam, angry Buhlaire-Marie Sims, 12, is determined to find and communicate with her dad. When he rescues her during a January blizzard, he leads his daughter to a highway underpass, his space among the homeless of Plain City. Buhlaire learns that her father is a troubled man, estranged from his family because of his mental instability and racially mixed parentage. Although he treats her kindly, she begins to perceive the confusion and unpredictability of his life. Buhlaire has experienced her own ostracization because of her mother's nightclub career, her home among the stilted river bottom ``water houses,'' and her light skin. Although she is loved and cared for, her adolescent sensibilities are aroused when she realizes that her family has shielded her from her own identity. Through candid thoughts, realistic dialogue, and a symbolic blend of setting and self-discovery, Hamilton has created a testimonial on the powerful bonds of blood and ``back time,'' or heritage. Buhlaire emerges from her emotional turmoil and quest with an appreciation for the attentions and personal struggles of a classmate; with renewed affection for her family; and, with a compassionate understanding of hard choices that are part of life.-Gerry Larson, Chewning Junior High School, Durham, NC
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780590473651
  • Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 2/28/2003
  • Pages: 194
  • Age range: 12 - 17 Years
  • Lexile: 490L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 4.24 (w) x 6.76 (h) x 0.56 (d)

Meet the Author

Virginia Hamilton
Virginia Hamilton
Virginia Hamilton’s books, which combined African-American and Native American lore with contemporary stories and characters, are memorable not only for their inventiveness and rich characterizations, but also for their ability to evoke a wide variety of times, places, and historical figures.


A writer of prodigious gifts, Virginia Hamilton forged a new kind of juvenile fiction by twining African-American and Native American history and folklore with contemporary stories and plotlines.

With Hamilton's first novel, Zeely, the story of a young farm girl who fantasizes that a woman she knows is a Watusi queen, she set the bar high. The book won a American Library Association Notable Children's Book citation. Hamilton rose to her own challenge, and every new book she published enriched American literature to such a degree that in 1995 she was awarded the ALA's Laura Ingalls Wilder Award for lifetime achievement.

Born in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and raised in an extended family of farmers and storytellers (her own father was a musician), Hamilton's work was inspired by her childhood experiences, family mythology, and Ohio River Valley homeland. In an article about the importance of libraries in children's lives, she credits her mother and the "story lady" at her childhood public library with opening her mind to the world of books.

Although she spent time in New York City working as a bookkeeper after college, and traveled widely in Africa and Europe, Hamilton spent most of her life in Yellow Springs, anchored by the language, geography, and culture of southern Ohio. In The House of Dies Drear, she arranged her story around the secrets of the Underground Railroad. In M. C. Higgins, the Great, winner of both a John Newbery Medal and a National Book Award, she chronicled the struggles of a family whose land, and life spirit, is threatened by strip mining. Publishers Weekly called the novel "one of those rare books which draws the reader in with the first paragraph and keeps him or her turning the page until the end."

In her series of folk-tale collections, including The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales, In the Beginning: Creation Stories from Around the World, and Her Stories: African American Folktales, Fairy Tales, and True Tales, Hamilton salvaged and burnished folk tales from cultures across the world for her stories; stories that suffused her fiction with its extraordinary blend of worldly and otherworldly events, enchantment, and modern reality. Virginia Hamilton died on February 19, 2002.

Good To Know

Hamilton's first research trip to a library was to find out more about her family's exotic chickens, which her mother called "rainbow layers," because of the many tints of the eggs they laid.

In 1995, Hamilton became the first children's writer to win a John D. and Catherine C. MacArthur "genius" grant.

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    1. Date of Birth:
      March 12, 1936
    2. Place of Birth:
      Yellow Springs, Ohio
    1. Date of Death:
      February 19, 2002
    2. Place of Death:
      Yellow Springs, Ohio
    1. Education:
      Attended Antioch College, Ohio State University, and the New School for Social Research
    2. Website:

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 8 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 8 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 25, 2007

    Fantastic Story

    I really loved this novel by Virginia Hamilton . . . a lot better than 'Sweet Whispers, Brother Rush'. Truthfully, I liked how Virginia Hamilton purposely placed some errors in the spelling, grammar, and punctuation, since it then described the way the characters spoke in the book much better. 'Haha, confusing, huh?' Anyways, a really nice trait that Virginia Hamilton placed inside Buhlaire-Marie Sims was that Buhlaire accepted both of her families' faults, no matter how much they hurt her. That definitely shows how mature Buhlaire is, well, so far, all the books that I read that are by Virginia Hamilton usually have a mature main character.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 10, 2005

    It was a great story

    I don't care what others think, but this story really was a great enjoyment! I suggest you read this because it's great!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 24, 2005

    plain city - 7th grade teachers dont make us read it!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    plain city where do I start,well it has many errors in grammer in puctuaion etc. these errors make understanding this bok very uneasy for us I got until the 28th page I was so bored I almost fell asleep in ssr in school. I think virginia hamilton has created better books than this one.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 29, 2002

    The Plain City Book review

    Plain City, by Hamilton was a really good novel. It's about a girl who thinks she lost her father but she didn't. So she looks for him. The book was very interesting, and had a point to it. I read a folktale by this author; it's called 'The people could Fly'. It was good, but this one is better. This book may help people think that teasing or making fun of people is not nice. In the story, people like Buhlaire get hurt because she was teased and it really hurt her. I was so interesting that I read more books written by this author. Each one I got was better than the other. It's kind of realistic because she's a mix of white and black and people that time were racists. I would suggest people to get the novel because you would like it so much that you'll read all of virginia Hamilton's books.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 30, 2002

    Michael A. student in NY, May 30, 2002,

    Hi, The book plain city is not one of the books i would pick up at the library. but if you start reading the book you will start to get a little feeling inside you that makes you want to read the book till you finish. i would say if you like storys about people and there true life story then this book will be the book for you. the only problem with the book is it has many gramatica-errors.and most of the book is about balaures thoughts. the book is about a girl with has a stronge hope of finding her dad..

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 5, 2002

    A major disappointment

    I was incredibly disappointed in this book. It was boring, full of consistency and grammatical errors, and the plot never takes a direction. I was angry that I wasted my time on this novel.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 25, 2002

    My thoughts on the book

    This book is one I would have never picked up if I were browsing around a store. The only reason why I read it was because of school. Though many parts, to me, were un-interesting, some of the good parts did even it out. All I have to say is if you want to read it in one sit, be very comfortable. Reading about a girl trying to find her dad, while coping with her everyday life can get a little exhausting. Read this book if you like to read about real life situations.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 21, 2002

    Plain City-- Not the greatest book out there

    On one hand, Plain City pretty much didn't meet the high standards set by Virginia Hamilton's previous writing. The book contained grammatical errors, pointed out by my Language Arts teacher. The book was also filled with multiple candid thoughts, some came in the right time, some didn't. I believe it just made the readers more confused. On the other hand, Plain City's basic storyline was good. I felt for Buhlaire-Marie Sims, the main character, during her struggles between herself, society, and her family. At the end, I believe Plain City was a good book, but not the greatest book out there. It's not challenging, nor very exciting compared to other books I have read.

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