Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Tormenting Left-handed People

Three books I've read in the past month have portrayed historical cruelty to southpaws. All three also feature lesbian characters, (none of whom are left-handed).

Meags Fitzgerald was born in Quebec in 1987. In Long Red Hair, she uses graphic novel format to tell how she has come to terms with her bisexual identity, including a dramatic coming out scene at her family's supper table when she was 16. As an adult, Fitzgerald was shown a copy of Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger's The Malleus Maleficarum.

"It was published in 1487, the printing press was just invented so it became one of the first bestsellers. It spread the idea that people with abnormalities like birthmarks, moles, red hair, or left-handedness, were likely witches."

Fitzgerald's expressive inkwork in shades of gray and red captures the era and emotions very well. Grade 8 and up.

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge is an atmospheric mystery set in the mid-nineteenth century. Fourteen-year-old Faith's intelligence and curiosity about the natural sciences is routinely overlooked because she is a girl. Sneaking around is her only recourse to knowledge. Her father, the Reverend Sunderly, has brought many rare specimens back to England from China, but none are as unusual as the mendacity tree. It's a plant that feeds on lies.

Faith looks after her 6-year-old brother Howard after their family's fortunes take a sudden change. She often has to wrestle him into his special jacket. "Howard loathed the jacket, which he had to wear for all his lessons. The left sleeve was stitched to his side, trapping his left hand in his pocket so that he could not use it." Howard must learn to write with his right hand before he is sent to boarding school, but he would rather not go to school at all. It makes Faith so angry because she would love the opportunity to study beyond her father's library.

When her father is found dead under questionable circumstances, Faith gives up on being a good girl. "She did not feel hot or helpless anymore. She felt the way snakes looked when they moved." She is determined to find the truth.

This is a novel with a wide age-range appeal, and I hope other adults will pick it up. Grade 5 and up.

I wrote about Kimberly Brubaker Bradley's The War that Saved My Life in a previous post. There was a puzzle partway through the story about why Ada's little brother Jamie was coming home with bruising and wounds on one wrist. It turned out that his teacher was tying his left hand to his chair to prevent him from using it. When she was asked why Jamie couldn't use that hand, she said:

"Everyone knows that's the mark of the devil. He wants to write with his left hand, not his right. I'm training him up the way he's supposed to be."

This is another children's story that will appeal to adult readers, particularly if you are looking for an audiobook for a family car trip. Grade 4 and up.

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