Middle grade fiction author Crystal Allen has recently released her second novel entitled The Laura Line. Laura Dyson and her best friend Sage seem to be the misfits at Royal Middle School. They are teased by the popular kids, especially because of their weight. The girls take pride in their appearance and fashion sense – Laura dreams of someday becoming a runway model – but they are nonetheless self-conscious and struggle with self-esteem.
Laura’s parents are in the army reserves. When they have to leave for two weeks of training, Laura must stay at her grandmother’s country home. Laura decidedly does not want to go, but she has no choice and reluctantly packs her bags. On the property of Grandma’s farm sits a historic shack that holds Laura’s family history. Laura calls it a “slave shack” and is appalled by what it symbolizes to her. She’s embarrassed that some of her ancestors were slaves and refuses to step foot into the structure. She doesn’t understand why her mother and grandmother insist on speaking with love and pride about “The Laura Line.” For nine generations, every firstborn daughter was named Laura, and given a unique middle name. But Laura Eboni wants nothing to do with the shack or the long row of crosses in the small cemetery nearby.
Laura’s favorite pastime, next to swooning over classmate “hunky chunky” Troy, is playing and watching baseball. She’s an expert pitcher and throws baseballs to relieve stress. Laura and Grandma get along well, and Laura is touched when Grandma makes a concerted effort to learn everything she can about the sport of baseball.
In history class, Laura has been learning about slavery, specifically the story of the slave ship the Amistad. When her teacher Mrs. Jacobs, who happens to be best friends with Laura’s grandmother (Laura Lee), announces that the class will be taking a field trip to Grandma’s farm to visit the shack, Laura is mortified. She determines she must somehow put a stop to the trip. She fears the slave shack will only give her classmates more ammunition to taunt her. Here’s an excerpt from her conversation that evening with Grandma.
So you’re saying you’ll let me be the laughing-stock of my entire school? I mean, my classmates know what kind of brutal things happened during slavery. They also know cruel stuff happened inside slave shacks. And they’ll look at me like I’m crazy for keeping one. It’s as if we don’t care about how our ancestors were treated.”
Grandma stands. “You don’t know the whole story, Baby Girl. It’s time to be proud of who you are.”
Meanwhile, Sage has been asked by the popular clique, the Pink Chips, to be a part of their group. She is flattered and doesn’t realize that the girls have ulterior motives and only want to use Sage for her photography and journalism skills.
When Laura hears her heartthrob Troy speak highly and respectfully of Laura’s great-grandmother, Laura Elaine and the Laura Line history, Laura becomes curious about what exactly is in that shack. She ventures inside and discovers a treasured ledger containing letters, newspaper clippings, wedding and birth announcements, awards and ribbons – the history of her ancestors. She takes her time and reads each page, absorbing the importance of understanding where she came from so she can know who she is and better appreciate the unique and special person she is becoming.
Without giving away any more details of this wonderfully entertaining story, Laura ultimately learns that she comes from a lineage of outstanding women who all made a success of their lives through hard work and perseverance. Laura realizes that she, too, is amazing and can do anything she sets her mind to do. And also that is okay to make mistakes! When Laura admits her fear of failure to her grandmother, the wise elder Laura says . . .
Then you’ll fit right in with the rest of us. The ledger is full of failures as well as successes. If you study the ledger, you’ll begin to see our legacy. Each of us fell down at some point in our lives. But we always got back up. As long as you get up more times than you fall down, you’ll be a winner.”
The Laura Line is well-written with believable vernacular. I highly recommend it for readers of middle-grade fiction.