Zora and Me

Zora and Me

3.8 34
by Victoria Bond, T. R. Simon

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Racial duplicity threatens an idyllic African American community in the turn-of-the-century South in a dazzling debut inspired by the early life of Zora Neale Hurston.

Whether she’s telling the truth or stretching it, Zora Neale Hurston is a riveting storyteller. Her latest creation is a shape-shifting gator man who lurks in the marshes, waiting

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Racial duplicity threatens an idyllic African American community in the turn-of-the-century South in a dazzling debut inspired by the early life of Zora Neale Hurston.

Whether she’s telling the truth or stretching it, Zora Neale Hurston is a riveting storyteller. Her latest creation is a shape-shifting gator man who lurks in the marshes, waiting to steal human souls. But when boastful Sonny Wrapped loses a wrestling match with an elusive alligator named Ghost — and a man is found murdered by the railroad tracks soon after — young Zora’s tales of a mythical evil creature take on an ominous and far more complicated complexion, jeopardizing the peace and security of an entire town and forcing three children to come to terms with the dual-edged power of pretending. Zora’s best friend, Carrie, narrates this coming-of-age story set in the Eden-like town of Eatonville, Florida, where justice isn’t merely an exercise in retribution, but a testimony to the power of community, love, and pride. A fictionalization of the early years of a literary giant, this astonishing novel is the first project ever to be endorsed by the Zora Neale Hurston Trust that was not authored by Hurston herself.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Debut authors Bond and Simon do their subject proud, spinning a tale about the childhood of writer Zora Neale Hurston, who "didn't have any trouble telling a fib or stretching a story for fun." So says her friend Carrie Brown, who narrates this novel as an adult looking back on a tumultuous and momentous autumn. Set at the beginning of the 20th century in Hurston's childhood home of Eatonville, Fla., one of the nation's first all-black towns, the story follows Carrie and Zora as events--including the gruesome deaths of two men--fuel Zora's imagination and love of storytelling; the truth behind one of the deaths proves more difficult for Carrie to accept than Zora's frightening yet mesmerizing stories of the supernatural man-gator she claims is responsible. The maturity, wisdom, and admiration in Carrie's narration may distance some readers from her as a 10-year-old ("The bad things that happen to you in life don't define misery--what you do with them does"). Nevertheless, the authors adeptly evoke a racially fraught era and formative events--whether they're true or true enough--in Hurston's youth. Ages 10–up. (Oct.)
Children's Literature - Shirley Nelson
Ten-year-old Carrie narrates this story of the adventures she and her best friend Zora Neale Hurston, had in the summer before fourth grade. After chores, the two spend their time visiting the Blue Sink to swim and the Loving Pine where Zora loves to tell stories. (Hurston was, of course, the acclaimed writer and folklorist who became a pre-eminent figure in the Harlem Renaissance). But their lives are changed by two violent acts in their small town of Eatonville, Florida. Looking for answers in the "gator lore" of the area, the pair come face-to-face with issues of racial prejudice and hatred. While this story presents a view of life before the Civil Rights movement, young readers may be confused because the actual time of the story is not clearly defined. The reader learns there are only forty-five states; however, that may not be enough information for some readers. The short biography of Hurston at the end provides necessary information and so, perhaps, should be read first. A timeline of Hurston's life and an annotated bibliography are also included. Reviewer: Shirley Nelson
School Library Journal
Gr 4–7—A spirit of gentleness pervades this story, along with an air of mystery and natural magic. The novel is set in Eatonville, FL, and imagines Zora Neale Hurston's life from about fourth to sixth grade. The narrator, Carrie Brown, is probably based on the Carrie Roberts in Hurston's autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road (1942). Other major players such as Zora's family, Joe Clarke, and the kindly white man who bestowed Zora with the nickname Sniglets, are also drawn from Dust Tracks, and the history of Eatonville. With its combination of adventure, history, and introspection, Zora and Me will work best in classrooms—perhaps where an enticing read-aloud is needed but the audience is somewhat captive—for the times when the narrator sounds more like an adult than an 11-year-old, commenting about how "stories guard the pictures of the selves," memory can be one-sided, and "good things alone don't make up a person who's real." The authors have taken great care with historical accuracy, and the book is endorsed by the Zora Neale Hurston Trust. Zora's reputation for tall tales and her urge to see the world are directly tied to the real Hurston's natural storytelling ability and desire to travel. A brief biography, time line, and annotated bibliography are included.—Maggie Knapp, Trinity Valley School, Fort Worth, TX
Kirkus Reviews
The childhood of African-American literary giant Zora Neale Hurston is brought to life with this fictionalized account. At the turn of the 20th century, in the all-black town of Eatonville, Fla., Young Zora is considered both a brilliant storyteller and the town liar. Her best friend, Carrie, the "me" of the title, is drawn into Zora's family and story world after her father leaves for work and never returns home. Zora's stories about a shape-shifting alligator take on a life of their own when two murders occur around Eatonville. The suspect is a reclusive neighbor, Mr. Pendir, whom Zora is convinced is the "gator man." Yet the answer is much more prosaic, as the segregated world outside Eatonville encroaches upon their town in the form of traveling man Ivory and the preternaturally beautiful yet mysterious Gold. The brilliance of this novel is its rendering of African-American child life during the Jim Crow era as a time of wonder and imagination, while also attending to its harsh realities. Absolutely outstanding. (Historical fiction. 10-16)
Mary Quattlebaum
Move over Nancy Drew. There's a new girl sleuth in town…This mystery not only thrills and chills but vibrantly evokes a small Southern town in the early 20th century.
—The Washington Post

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Product Details

Candlewick Press
Publication date:
Zora and Me Series
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
7.66(w) x 11.28(h) x 0.72(d)
860L (what's this?)
Age Range:
10 - 14 Years

Read an Excerpt

It's funny how you can be in a story but not realize until the end that you were in one. Zora and I entered our story one Saturday two weeks before the start of fourth grade.

That Saturday, while our mamas were shopping, Zora and I were sitting under the big sweet gum tree across the road from Joe Clarke's storefront making sure we were in earshot of the chorus of men that perched on his porch. We sat under the tree, digging our feet into the rich dark soil, inviting worms to tickle us between the toes. We pretended to be talking and playing with the spiky monkey balls that had fallen from the sweet gum branches, but we were really listening to the menfolk's stories and salty comments and filing them away to talk about later on. That's when Sonny Wrapped strolled up in his Sunday suit, strutting like he owned the town and not just a pair of new pointy shoes, and calling for folks to come watch him whup a gator.

Sonny was a young welder from Sanford who had come to Eatonville to court Maisie Allard. For three weekends straight, he'd been wooing her with sweet talk and wildflowers. When he wasn't with her, he was shooting his mouth off about how tough he was. That particular day, Sonny had managed to track down the king of the gators, the biggest and oldest one in Lake Maitland, Sanford, or Eatonville. The gator's name was Ghost, and for good reason. One minute he was sunning on a mud bank or floating in the pond, his back exposed like a twenty-foot-long banquet of rocks; the next minute he'd have disappeared, and the pond would be as still as a wall.

Anyway, Sonny got a couple dozen men to walk the short distance to Lake Hungerfort to watch him wrestle the gator. Zora's father, her eldest brother, Bob, and Joe Clarke were among them. Nobody was thinking about the two of us, but we still had sense enough to lag behind and make ourselves invisible. Everyone stood a good ways back from the lake—close enough to see but far enough to have time to scoot up a tree if Sonny lost control.

Ghost lay still as death, but as Sonny approached, his eyes were like two slow-moving marbles. Before Sonny could jump Ghost from behind, the old gator swung his tail around and knocked Sonny off his feet.

To this day, I can still see Joe Clarke running toward Sonny, yelling, "Roll! Roll!" If Sonny could tumble out of the reach of Ghost's jaws, he might have a chance.

But Sonny was too stunned to get his mind around Ghost's cunning. He gaped, wide-eyed and mute, as the gator clamped down on his arm and dragged him into the water.

People began to scream. I think I remember screaming myself. One thing I remember for sure is Zora, just standing and watching without a sound, tears streaming down her face.

Joe Clarke is a big man, but he hesitated for a second—a grown man paying respect to his fear—before diving into the water. Two other brave men—Mr. Hurston and Bertram Edges, the blacksmith—dove in a moment later.

It took the three of them to drag Sonny back on dry ground. I'll never know how. They were bruised like prizefighters. But they were better off than Sonny, whose arm had been mangled past all recognition.

Back in our homes, we chewed on silence and thought about Dr. Pritchard, awake all night trying to patch up Sonny and make him right.

The next morning, Joe Clarke rode to all the churches in his capacity as town marshal and gave the pastors the news: Sonny didn't make it.

For two weeks after that, you would see pairs of grim men with shotguns scouring the ponds for a sign of Ghost, but they found nothing.

In the days that followed, Zora's father said it "wasn't fitting" to talk about what had happened to Sonny in front of women and children. Even Joe Clarke, who loved a story better than almost anyone, refused to talk about Sonny and Ghost.

Sometimes when I think back on that steamy afternoon, I can see my own father emerging soaking wet from Lake Hungerfort, Sonny's broken body in his arms. But that was impossible, because my daddy had already been gone six months by then. And that's another reason I remember that summer so clear: it was the summer my mama gave up believing my daddy would come home. She had cried just about all a person can cry.

As for Zora, while every kid in the schoolyard could talk of nothing else for days and pestered Zora and me for eyewitness reports, she quietly closed in on Sonny's death, like an oyster on a bit of sand. A week later, she had finally turned that bit of sand into a storied pearl.

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