I first reviewed these books on my “Michi-centric” blog, Bookish In the Mitten. It’s a bit more personal in nature than most of the reviews on this blog. The text of that review is below. Book cover images are used with the author’s permission.
In recent years, through the magic of Facebook, I have met several aunts and cousins from my maternal grandfather’s family.
One of those cousins is Sheila Solomon Shotwell, author of books, short stories, and essays. Two of her works, Gone Before Spring and No Doubt in My Mind, are Young Adult novels set in late 1960’s Michigan – both West Michigan, where both of us live now, and Saginaw, where I was born and raised. I believe Sheila also lived there for part of her childhood.
Ruth Ann Bloomfield, the teen protagonist of the series whose engaging first-person narrative hooked me almost immediately, moved from Saginaw to Grand Rapids as a child but still has friends in Saginaw, so I got a nice dose of hometown reminiscing as I immersed myself in both books.
Ruth Ann shares her life – friends, cliques, boys, school, music, family, Catholicism, Judaism, and a disfiguring skin disease that causes both emotional and physical pain. As she deals with her condition, Ruth Ann learns who her friends are, and her experience rings very true for this reader who suffered with severe acne for many years. (The condition Ruth Ann has is not acne.)
For YA novels, both volumes are satisfyingly long, and the author lets Ruth Ann tell her story while keeping the prose tight. If you like fiction or (fictionalized) memoir that deals with the 1960s, family dynamics, coming of age, or growing up in Michigan, it behooves you to check these books out.
You can read more about both books on Sheila’s website – visit her site to read excerpts of both novels as well as an essay about Sheila’s relationship with her father Danny and his family. If you click on the book titles on her site you will be taken to Amazon to read more about how to purchase them.
I’ve given these books four stars for the general public; the stories are well-written and readers will want to keep going to find out how Ruth Ann fares and who gets their comeuppance. For Michigan readers, especially those familiar with West Michigan and Saginaw, I will add a star; there’s definitely a lot to be said for a book that uses the reader’s hometown haunts as backdrop for a good story.