Gingersnap by Patricia Reilly Giff is a slim volume, suitable for younger middle grade readers. Gingersnap is historical fiction set near the end of World War II in New York. Jayna, aka Gingersnap, is an orphan happy to be living with her much-older brother, Rob, after spending her early years in the foster care system. When Rob is sent off to the war in the Pacific (chef on a submarine), Jayna is left to stay with the siblings' landlady, Celine. A clue found in an old journal, however, sends Jayna off on a daring journey to Brooklyn, in search of family and a home.
For the most part, Gingersnap is straight up historical fiction. However, Giff also includes a ghost girl who may or may not be appearing to Jayna, encouraging her to go off on the trip. Giff leaves the reader to decide whether the ghost girl is real or a hallucination on the part of Jayna. I'm not totally sure that the ghost girl is necessary to the book -- her presence muddies the genre a bit -- but I'm sure some readers will appreciate that aspect of the book.
Personally, though, I thought that the strengths of the book lay in Jayna's characterization (plucky even when insecure) and the historical details. Gingersnap feels like a World War II novel, but Giff is secure enough not to need to beat the reader over the head with details. Instead, she uses just a few to evoke the time period. Like this:
"Celine bought me a hat for Easter Sunday. Imagine, my first veil. It had little blue dots, and I kept blowing at it all through church to get it out of my eyes. I loved it!" (Page 24)
"Mrs. Murtha drew arrows on the blackboard, showing those planes diving and looping, exploding into our ships. One morning, with tears in her eyes, she told us that our president had died, and there would be a new president, a man named Harry Truman." (Page 29-30)
She also includes soup recipes throughout the book (Jayna likes to make soups to suit her mood). These are quite simple, and might entice young readers to want to try their own hands at soup-making. Other scenes (with an echo of A Little Princess, for me), are set in a bakery. The characters' appreciation for food is also, I think, an accurate representation of wartime.
Gingersnap is an old-fashioned book, with a somewhat idealized ending. But I personally loved it. I read the last couple of chapters with happy tears rolling down my cheeks. I think that the 9 year old me would have enjoyed it, too. Although I do have some fear that this might be one of those books that adults adore more than children do, I plan to keep my copy to try out on Baby Bookworm when she's older. Recommended.
Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books (@RandomHouseKids)
Publication Date: January 8, 2013
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
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