69. Grease Town by Ann Towell

Grease Town by Ann Towell (US) - (Canada)

Pages: 232 pages
Ages: 8-12
Finished: Apr. 20, 2010
First Published: Feb. 9, 2010
Publisher: Tundra Books
Genre: children, historical fiction
Rating: 3.5/5

First sentence:

I live in a swamp.

Acquired: Received a review copy from Library Thing's Early Review Program.

Reason for Reading: I'll pretty much read any juvenile/YA Canadian historical fiction on topics which are new or interesting to me.

Summary: Loosely based on a true incident in the Sarnia area of Ontario, Canada, this book tells the story of an oil boom town, the people who fled there and focuses on the friendship between a white boy and a black boy. The book's main historical event is a race riot which left the blacks homeless and very little actual information survives of it today.

Comments: I really enjoyed this book aimed at pre-teen children set during the 1860s. The descriptions of an oil boom town and both the shady and eccentric characters it attracted are wonderfully described. The atmosphere is not unlike that of the Goldrush towns. What makes Oil Springs different is that it is populated by both whites and escaped American black slaves. The author shows how the practice of the times, paying the blacks less money than the whites, became easy fodder for insurgents to come in and stir up dangerous feelings with the less desirable characters in town. While not only describing the horrifying results of a senseless race riot the author also shows how easy it is for someone determined enough, in this case a pair of American bounty hunters, to create a mob mentality and control it by preying on their insecurities. Very insightful and at a level that the targeted audience will understand.

The narrative voice is very intriguing and works very well, also. At first the narrative seems to cross over the line and speak directly to the reader, which is a little unsettling but then the reader realizes that the narrator is not speaking to them. The narrator is speaking to someone else, whom he eventually starts calling sir and we realize that what we are reading is a written account of the main character's experience in Oil Springs, perhaps a journal or a letter or something else but written directly to someone. Finding out in the end the purpose of this written narrative makes for a great realization. An enjoyable book which I will definitely be passing on to my 9yo for his bedtime reading.


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