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Leaving Gee’s Bend by Irene Latham

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Leaving Gee’s Bend
Irene Latham

Penguin Young Readers
01-10-10
Hardcover/240 pages
ISBN: 0399251790
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". . . a story with warmth and heart that bears a second and third reading . . ."

Leaving Gee’s Bend: A young girl’s journey of courage and hope for savoring and sharing.

The people who live in Gee’s Bend are poor by any standards—sharecroppers living in drafty shacks that let in the rain and wind—but it is home to Ludelphia Bennett, a ten-year-old girl who loves her home and family: mother, father and older brother Ruben.

Ludelphia has a way with the old mule Delilah that brays every time she sees Lu. She also can turn thread and scraps of cloth into beautiful quilts that tell stories. She learned after she became blinded by a piece of wood from her father’s axe that flew into her eye. Lu wears a patch over the one blind eye and she hates it. Her mother insists she wear it. Lu needs no reminding when it comes to quilting because it is as natural to her as breathing.

Lu’s mother’s cough sends her into early labor, and it doesn’t let up once baby Rose is born. Aunt Doshie says Mrs. Bennett had influenza and pneumonia. “Them words was bigger than I was.” Undaunted, Lu decides to cross the Alabama River and go to Camden to find Doc Nelson to save her mother. Thus begins a journey that will take Lu forty miles and become the story of the quilt she is making.

It is difficult to evoke a time and characters long past like the 1932 of Leaving Gee’s Bend without slipping into the present with ideas and prejudices that didn’t exist at the time. Irene Latham never falters. Ludelphia Bennett is a sharp girl with all the energy, determination and curiosity of a ten-year-old girl firmly ensconced in her world and time. The story is told from Lu’s point of view and evolves as naturally as the seasons.

There is a fresh and endearing quality to Lu’s observations and a warmth and closeness between the characters that infuses Leaving Gee’s Bend with a wonderful energy that made me forget that this is about poor sharecroppers whose lives rise barely above simple existence. The gift of an umbrella to keep the rain off in a shack is more precious than gold or diamonds, and the making of a quilt provides a creative outlet that offers more than warmth from the cold. I was enchanted and immediately drawn to Ludelphia and enjoyed seeing the world through her one eye. Irene Latham has written a story with warmth and heart that bears a second and third reading and will remain a favorite for many years to come.

 

Reviewer: J. M. Cornwell