Heather Henson. S&S/Dlouhy, $18.99 (272p) ISBN 978-1-4424-5105-6
As romantic as it is gritty, Henson (The Whole Sky) explores familial obligation and new beginnings in this explosive thriller recalling William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, set amid a Kentucky opioid crisis. Sixteen-year-old Miri and her father, Poe, live isolated in the backwoods of predominantly white Kentucky. Poe and Miri used to bond over motorcycles, but now Poe’s meth dealing causes a rift between them. Miri’s only companion is Poe’s glorified errand boy Clay, 19, whom he took in when Clay’s mother was incarcerated for cooking meth, but Clay and Miri’s tenuous friendship becomes strained when she rejects his romantic advances. Desperate to get away, Miri plans to head west the moment she turns 18, but that’s before she falls for newcomer Fen, 17, from Detroit. As their feelings intensify and Fen’s DEA father starts snooping around Poe’s meth outfit, Miri must decide if her need to protect her family outweighs her need for a fresh start. The alternating perspectives of Miri, Clay, and Fen create a multilayered experience, highlighting their respective lives in impoverished Kentucky and each character’s individual longing for escape and security. This love story packs a powerful punch, boasting suspense and edge-of-the-seat action. Ages 12–up. (Mar.)
Another terrific (starred!) review for Wrecked just came in from School Library Journal!
⭐HENSON, Heather. Wrecked. Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy. Mar. 2022. 272p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781442451056.
Gr 9 Up –“Good father” does not usually fit the stereotype of a meth dealer, but Poe Duchin is both. He’s a gardener, a chef, and a motorcycle mechanic as well—all skills he’s passed on to his self-sufficient daughter Miri, who both loves and doubts him. She sees his potential for violence. Dogs growl at anyone who ventures down the long driveway to their home in remotest Kentucky, and although Poe taught Miri how to shoot and respect guns, he always keeps a Smith & Wesson 45 tucked under his shirt. The drugs are a secret, he thinks, but she knows—and resolves to leave in a year, when she’s 18. Fen Kingston, a smart new kid from Detroit, falls hard for Miri after their first motorcycle ride together. Their crush interrupts the fantasies of Clay, the 20-year-old son of a drug-addicted mother whom Poe rescued from a miserable childhood. He’s in love with Miri, but works for Poe, unfortunately discovering Miri and Fen together while patrolling the property. Miri in turn hides quite a bit from Fen, but Clay’s downward spiral is what, potentially, could kill them all. This book is a sharply observed page-turner and a departure for Henson, whose previous YA novels concerned the famous thoroughbred horses of her beloved Kentucky, rather than the hidden recesses of its opioid crisis. Main characters are white.
VERDICT A suspenseful story of love and violence set in the backwoods of Kentucky’s methamphetamine trade. — Georgia Christgau
The Whole Sky got a very nice review from Kirkus, which concluded that “Sky’s first-person narration rings true, as do the details of everyday life among horses.” The review also states that “[t]his literary middle-grade tale with a touch of magic will find eager readers among horse enthusiasts.”
A girl who can communicate with horses learns why thoroughbred foals are dying all over Kentucky.
In the wake of her mother’s death, 12-year-old Sky Doran, a white girl of Irish descent, accompanies her father to the prestigious breeding barn where he works each year during foaling season. Sky’s family has always been nomadic, but Shaughnessy Farms feels like home, and Sky is relieved to be reunited with the mares she loves, especially her favorite, Poppy, who is expecting her first foal. Sky and her father share a secret family trait: they can talk to the horses telepathically. This year, to everyone’s horror and astonishment, the foals are born dead or dying—hundreds of them in farms all across Kentucky. No one can understand why. Making matters even worse, Sky’s father, who has battled trouble with alcohol before, shows up at a difficult delivery drunk. He leaves Sky among friends on the farm while he enters rehab. When Poppy’s foal survives birth, Sky finds healing from her own wounds by caring for the fragile baby and uses her telepathy to uncover the reasons behind the epidemic. Mare reproductive loss syndrome, a real disaster stemming from 2001, forms the backdrop to a story of loss, growth, and friendship. Sky’s first-person narration rings true, as do the details of everyday life among horses.
This literary middle-grade tale with a touch of magic will find eager readers among horse enthusiasts. (Fantasy. 9-13)
Read the review on the Kirkus Reviews site
Another glowing review for Lift Your Light a Little Higher, this one from School Library Connections:
This title recounts the biography of little-known slave explorer, Stephen Bishop, who led tours through the intricate and extensive pathways of Mammoth Cave in Kentucky during the 19th century. Attractively illustrated in earth tones by award-winning artist Bryan Collier, the book describes , in lyrical language, Bishop’s excursions through the underground world and the freedom his expertise offered him. Restricted by the bonds of slavery above ground, Bishop becomes a leader, a scholar, and an equal below in the caves. In an author’s note, Henson explains that she pieced together information for the book and imagined what Bishop’s life would have been. In writing instruction, teachers can employ the same concept to show point of view in first person narrative. The poetic content may be adapted for dramatic reader’s theater or paired with Marilyn Nelson’s or Carol Boston Weatherford’s biographical works in verse. Inspired artwork and expressive language unmask Bishop’s obscurity in history and elevate his life.
Bernadette Kearney, Teacher-Librarian, Julia R. Masterman School, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
The positive reviews keep coming in for Lift Your Light a Little Higher. Here is a lengthy excerpt from reviewer Rita Lorraine’s assessment of Heather Henson and Bryan Collier’s picture book:
In the quiet darkness, a slave leads a group of “customers” through an amazing cave, and when they write their names on the walls by the light of his lantern, he teaches himself to read.
This is the story line in author Heather Henson’s quiet new picture book, Lift Your Light a Little Higher: The Story of Stephen Bishop, Slave Explorer. In the book, Stephen is purchased as a young boy and ordered by his owner to “”learn the ways of the cave well enough to lead paying folks around in the deep.” Stephen does just that. And he also does other amazing things: For example, he is “the first to lay eyes upon those eyeless fish” and “those craw dads white as bone,” both found only in the underground rivers of Mammoth Cave. He is also the “first to cross what even learned men have deemed un-crossable” (The “Bottomless Pit”). Yes, Stephen is a discoverer…though like most slaves, he doesn’t go down in history that way.
In Ms. Henson’s Author’s Note, she admits to knowing very little about Stephen Bishop’s life, yet she still manages to breathe beauty and nobility into Stephen’s personality. Her simple, straightforward prose loans a soft-spoken flavor to Stephen’s words, and a courage and resolve to his deeds.
Through Ms. Henson’s prose, readers understand that, slave though he was, Stephen attained a type of freedom in those caves. Readers will share his pride in the fact that he alone held his lantern high and led adventurers through the damp, dangerous, and patchy darkness–and then back again to safety.
Artist Bryan Collier delivers with poignant illustrations of sad, soulful eyes and quiet strength; of courage in the shady depths of the Mammoth Cave. In fact, it is easy to see that Mr. Collier somehow tapped into Stephen Bishop’s quiet courage and resolve and brought it to the canvas. Thanks for these lovely illustrations, Mr. Collier!
From the September, 2016 issue of School Library Journal, a terrific review of Lift Your Light a Little Higher that describes the book as “a germane and trenchant story. Written in the first person, with Bishop leading readers through a tour, the book packs intricate meaning into each line.”
See the entire review below:
Lift Your Light a Little Higher was the subject, along with Jonah Winters’ My Name Is James Madison Hemings, of an in-depth Booklist essay on “Two new books about men who lived under slavery [that] bring up interesting questions about the elasticity of biography, the discernment capabilities of younger audiences, and the lines between history and historical fiction.”
The author, Ilene Cooper, describes Lift Your Light thusly:
Heather Henson’s Lift Your Light a Little Higher … takes readers inside Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave, where Stephen Bishop, also known as Guide, leads tourists through the twists and turns of the underground wonder. In a come-close first-person narrative, Bishop, a slave, describes how he came to spend his life underground, so attuned to his surroundings that he discovered a previously unknown species of eyeless crawdads. Bishop learned to write by watching folks scrawl their names on the walls, and his own name can still be seen there. Poetic and evocative, the story chronicles what it was like for Bishop to cup a deerskin moccasin in his palm or to feel pride in being Guide, “a man able to walk before other men, not behind.”
Using watercolor and collage, primarily in dark greens and browns, artist Bryan Collier provides bold, striking art on oversize pages. Children will feel the intensity of both the natural world and a man who understands his corner of it.
Cooper’s article raises interesting questions about fictionalization of historical subjects and how we can explain children that the lines between fiction and nonfiction are not always as clear as they think. It can (and should) be read in full at the Booklist Reader website.
“[A] fitting tribute to a historical figure who led so many yet had to remain behind,” is the conclusion to a terrific review for Lift Your Light a Little Higher from The Horn Book, the highly respected publication about books for children and young adults.
The full review is below:
****STARRED REVIEW IN THE JULY 15, 2016 ISSUE OF KIRKUS REVIEWS***
LIFT YOUR LIGHT A LITTLE HIGHER
By Heather Henson; illus. by Bryan Collier
(Atheneum; ISBN 978-1-4814-2095-2; 9/06/2016; Fall 2016 catalog)
This story whispers of the life of a man most contemporary American readers should know but don’t.Stephen Bishop, born circa 1821, had intimate knowledge of Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, where he served as guide for visitors who traveled far to tour the underground passageways. Despite the ban against teaching slaves to read, Stephen acquired literacy and wrote his name on the ceiling of Mammoth Cave by using smoke from a lighted candle. Henson weaves Bishop’s impressive scientific discoveries of cave life into the sparse narrative, demonstrating the magnitude of his contributions despite that little is known of his life or death. Collier’s strikingly symbolic collage illustrations often draw a stark line between what appears above and below the ground, emphasizing the covert nature of Bishop’s achievements. Perhaps the book’s most memorable illustration appears when, speaking in Bishop’s voice, Henson says that slaves are “bought and sold…same as an ox or mule” while overlapping silhouettes of black and brown textured faces appear within the collage cutout of an ox plowing a field. Rich backmatter will help young readers understand more about the historical context in which Bishop lived and died. A story that recovers an important piece of African-American history inextricably tied to the history of Mammoth Cave, a national monument visited by 2 million people each year.(Picture book/biography 4-8)