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Young readers book reviews for ages 8 to 12 years old

*Tennyson* by Lesley M.M. Blume- young readers book review
by Lesley M.M. Blume
Ages 9-12 240 pages Knopf January 2008 Hardcover    

A beautifully crafted atmospheric novel that takes place in a crumbling estate of old Southern gentility, Tennyson brings to mind the enchantment and cruelty of a world long past.

Hattie and Tennyson Fontaine are sisters who live with their father and writer mother in a shack by the Mississippi River during the Depression. Poor but doing better than many others during that time, life is simple as they play hide and seek and swing on a rope swing hung in the dining room. For mother Sadie, who writes story after rejected story, it is the life of a frustrated mediocre writer who dreams to someday be published in her favorite magazine, the Sophisticate.

One day Sadie disappears, and their father takes the girls to his childhood home, a once-grand mansion called Aigredoux, now a crumbling, vine-covered shadow of its former glory. They are to be looked after by his sister, Henrietta, and he encourages the girls to play along with her strange ways. To be suddenly thrust into such change is bad enough, but Aunt Henrietta is a bitter woman who was forced to sell off first land, then pieces of her family home to pay for food and other necessities. She immediately has the idea that if the girls could attract rich suitors the family home might be saved, but the girls are resistant and quickly make enemies of Henrietta and her bad-tempered housemaid, Zulma. The only relief the girls experience is the weekly visit to the Ascension Parish Post Office to drop off stacks of letters Aunt Henrietta writes to the government every week.

But the house has a magical quality to it, and Henrietta begins to dream about actual people and events that occurred at the time of the Civil War. She sees the magnificence of the plantation home alongside the heartless treatment of slaves and the depravity of war. A gifted storyteller, she begins to write her dreams down and is miraculously published in the very magazine her mother dreamed of. But someone does not like the Fontaine family secrets being held out for public view, and Tennyson finds she must make some tough choices.

Blume uses ethereal imagery that evokes a sense of decay and ruin that are the penalty for a shameful past. I felt right there watching plaster chunks fall from the ceiling, Mason jars fill with rainwater scattered about the dripping house, and the humiliation of precious family marble pried up from the staircase for a few dollars. The tone changes drastically when she introduces Bartholomew Prentiss, the fussy editor-and-chief of Sophisticate and we are treated to some bumbling good humor. He brings some life and color to an old family bogged down in present troubles because they cannot let go of its imaginary past.

The appendix includes the Fontaine family tree, poems and songs by Tennyson, slave songs, and a song from the Depression.
Young readers book reviews for ages 8 to 12 years old

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