From the Publisher
"[A] poignant and ultimately uplifting coming-of-age story. . . Pinkney’s characters emerge complex and real in this tale of home-town pride and family loyalty."—Publishers Weekly
"Shifting moods, increasing tension, and a well-defined setting make this novel compelling and thought-provoking for readers. . . . A good read."—School Library Journal
"A rare look into the heart of a twelve-year-old girl as she balances the very real dangers of modern living against the unabashed joys of being in a close-knit black family. The author allows her characters to walk that dangerous edge between morality and adventure, which leads to insight."—Walter Dean Myers, Printz Award-winning author of Monster
"It’s easy to fall in love with Nell and all the Gradys. Ms. Pinkney has the touch for healing and family recognition. . . . She makes you know that after tears, there’s laughter, and everything else is bound to be all right."—Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Grim foreshadowing adds weight and texture to this poignant and ultimately uplifting coming-of-age story set in Modine, N.Y., a town 'no bigger than a pig's knuckle' but home to a long-established community of African-Americans. When 12-year-old Nell Grady arrives for her annual summer visit at her great-aunt Ursa's house, everyone comments on how much she's grown up. Aunt Ursa says she's becoming a 'fine young lady'; 14-year-old Slade, her cousin Foley's best friend, calls her a 'butterscotch babe.' Nell quickly develops a crush on smooth-talking Slade, but she is shaken when he persuades her to hide a 'raven' (pistol) for Foley in her old doll house. Nell's uneasiness about keeping the gun surfaces in frightening premonitions and bad dreams, preparing the audience for tragedy and trauma. While Nell's feelings remain the focus of the story, readers will also empathize with Aunt Ursa, who fears abandonment, and with Foley, who feels trapped in Modine. Pinkney's (Hold Fast to Dreams) characters emerge complex and real in this tale of home-town pride and family loyalty.
Children's Literature - Heidi Green
Pinkney writes about a tumultuous time in a small New York town through the eyes of 12-year-old Nell Grady. As she has for the last six summers, Nell has come to visit her Moline family, but things aren't as calm as they've been in the past. Aunt Ursa is smothering her son with love, cousin Foley is yearning to make a break for the big city, and his friend Slade plans for the boys to sell guns (the 'ravens' of the title) to get the money they'll need in the city. Nell becomes an unwilling accomplice and helps to conceal the weapons from her unsuspecting aunt. Then, tragedy strikes, forcing all involved to come to some startling and long-overdue conclusions about life and love. Pinkney's novel is truly a tribute to goodness of family. Her descriptions of home cooking and family love are vivid; the text is alive with sensation.
VOYA - Faye A. Powell
Twelve-year-old Nell spends one month each summer in upstate New York with the aunt who raised her father, Wes, a big city lawyer who has since left the depressed town and rarely returns. Unlike her father, Nell loves the town, and has a crush on her cousin Foley's "number-one brother man," Slade. Both boys are fourteen and also want to leave town. Slade comes up with a plan to escape: he gives Foley one of two Raven.25 guns and explains that the two can go to New York City and sell the guns for cash to last until they get jobs. Slade then sweet talks Nell into hiding Foley's Raven in her old dollhouse called "Dove House." When Slade is killed by the teen who sold him the guns, Foley hops a train to the city, taking along his Raven.25, and the house that was once filled with love suddenly begins to disintegrate. Aunt Ursa despairs over her three men: Foley's father, who left her; Wes, who hates coming home; and now Foley. At the conclusion of the story, Wes returns with Foley, and Nell (the narrator of the story) believes that all will be well. The conflict here stems mainly from the relationships: between Wes, his girlfriend, and Nell; Aunt Ursa and the men in her life; and the secret gun shared by Nell, Foley, and Slade. The tension between Wes and his aunt is never fully explained, although Wes definitely has an attitude, speaking curtly to his aunt and allowing his girlfriend to voice disgust at such a dead town. Pinkney's first novel is not as violent as the hidden gun leads the reader to believe, as the presence of the Raven.25 indicates a greater climax than actually occurs and Pinkney does not graphically describe or dwell upon Slade's killing. However, although teens will stay with this story just to see what happens with the guns, the reunion at the end is predictable. VOYA Codes: 3Q 4P M (Readable without serious defects, Broad general YA appeal, Middle School-defined as grades 6 to 8).
School Library Journal
Every summer, 12-year-old Nell visits her Aunt Ursa in Modine, a sleepy little town in upstate New York with a large number of other African-American families. She looks forward to Aunt Ursa's divine cooking and to being with her cousin, 14-year-old Foley. However, Foley and his best buddy, Slade, desperately want to escape Modine. Slade is a slick talker whose honeyed words give shivers of delight to young Nell and old Aunt Ursa. Unfortunately, he also believes his newly acquired guns are the tickets to freedom and high living. Foley is caught in Slade's web of words and feels smothered by his well-meaning mother. Communication is lacking-between Nell and her successful father (he is reluctant to return to Modine, she feels shut out of his life), between Foley and his mother, and ultimately between Foley and Nell. Terrified of Foley's gun hidden in her abandoned dollhouse, she is unable to warn her aunt or get counsel from her father. Tragedy is waiting just outside the dollhouse. Most of the characters are fully drawn, with the exception of Nell's father. Impatient readers may not buy his change of heart and surprise visit. Shifting moods, increasing tension, and a well-defined setting make this novel compelling and thought-provoking for readers not quite ready for Rita Williams-Garcia's seering Like Sisters on the Homefront -- Marilyn Payne Phillips, University City Public Library, Missouri
NY Times Book Review
Nell, who is 12. . .this summer [undergoes] a crisis of conscience involving an illicit favor her cousin Foley asks. Engrossing.
A surprisingly awkward novel from Pinkney (Bill Pickett) about the comings and goings in an African-American family; it captures the pace of life in a small town in upstate New York at the cost of losing readers along the way. As she has for the last six summers, Nell, 12, enjoys staying with her great aunt, Ursa, and her 14-year-old son Foley, especially this year, when Foley's friend Slade Montgomery has blossomed into a handsome, smooth-talking charmer. The idyll goes sour when Slade produces a Raven 25 handgun, persuades Nell to hide it in her old dollhouse, and is shortly thereafter found dead. Just before the funeral, Foley takes the gun and is seen hopping a train, leaving town just as his father, Slade's father, Nell's father Wes, and Wes's father had done. Nell narrates, and Foley obviously suffers a profound shock, but Ursa's losses and internal conflicts occupy the story's emotional center. Talky, slow, and off the mark, this tale requires readers to get past the plot contrivances and logical gapsUrsa opens the dollhouse but doesn't find the gun because the dog has removed it, and is unaware that Slade is the third teenager in the county shot in the past yearand to penetrate Ursa's wooden, long-winded utterances for the genuine emotions beneath. Cumulatively, the adults have far more presence than the younger generation; several important events are reported rather than seen, and Nell is largely an observer. Ages 11 - 14.
Read an Excerpt
“Your old dollhouse ain’t nothing but a box of dust. Mama don’t ever pay it no mind.”
I nodded, too flustered to argue. Slade gently uncurled my clenched, sweaty fingers. “Here,” he insisted, lifting the gun from Foley’s hand and wrapping my fingers around the weapon’s short barrel. “You’re Fo’s only cuz, Nell. This is family helping family, kind of like your aunt was talking about the other day. C’mon, Nell, be good to your own flesh and blood.”
Foley was breathing heavily. His hands, now firmly wrapped around the can of night crawlers, were twitching.
I swallowed again, harder than before. The Raven .25 was heavy as a rock, and cold against the clammy skin of my palm. My whole body had gone stiff, and something had snatched my voice right out of my throat. I couldn’t speak. But like a puppet’s arm on a string, my hand lowered the gun into the pocket of my sundress.