Alright, I've put it off long enough. I've said that another "bad book" review was coming, and here it is. This was the second worse book I read for the Wild Things Summer Reading Challenge, and I stand by that (worst being Tara Bray Smith's Betixt
Belle and the Beau by Beverly E. Jenkins
My rating: 1 of 5 stars
Republished under the name Belle, Belle and the Beau tells the story of Belle Palmer, an escaped slave who is taken in by a family of free blacks -- the Bests -- in Michigan. Belle must learn to adjust to free life and the idea that she can make her own choices and pursue her own goals. Belle and the Beau is part of a series of books (Avon True Romance) written by multiple authors, and reads as the hack job it most likely is.
Basically, there is only one circumstance that would make this book worth while to read, and that is as an American history companion in a 5th or 6th grade class. It is (heavily) peppered with facts from the era (Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, Frederick Douglass' Paper, various Af. Am. firsts, etc), but the way they are worked into the story is fairly lazy. It really seems as if Jenkins took a history lesson from a text book and put names to it. Everything is done fairly shallowly, and though it may help some students connect to the time a bit, there are much more worthwhile reads out there that work in the facts unobtrusively and realistically instead of resting them on the surface.
The writing too seems very lazy. It felt at times like I was reading a literature Mad Lib. So many of the sentences were set up the same way, with minor details changed: a fill-in-the-blank book. EVERYTIME a character made a joke or said anything remotely funny/sarcastic/etc., Jenkins would write "s/he cracked." Apparently the only way to tell a joke is to crack. Also, the only way to show mock anger is to plant one balled fist on one out-thrust hip. Everything seemed so half-hearted and churned out and formulaic. Even though Belle is an escaped slave living very near fugitive slave catchers, there is never any real sense of danger or tension. Every character is one-dimensional and cheesy. I feel like a traitor; this was written by someone from my region (which is why I read it), but Jenkins could have done a much better job and put a bit more heart and thought into this book. I don't know what age she was aiming for, but there is no excuse: there is a difference between simple and bad.
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Normally, I try to avoid making statements that are too strong, especially when negative. Things aren't black and white, and there will be someone who loves this book, I am sure, and normally I would say that's a good thing, and to each his own, etc. In this case, I really don't think that's a good thing. The writing in this is piss-poor, and even though it sounds extreme to say it, I think this book is an affront to literature. It will slide by because it's YA, it's about slavery, it's a romance, etc, etc., but it shouldn't be allowed to slide. Hack jobs like this are slowly degrading the written word, and authors such as Jenkins should take more pride in their craft and at least try.
Betwixt was a worse book because Smith just wasn't a great writer, and she was a bit scattered and a bit weird. But this comes close to being worse because I can tell that Jenkins didn't even try. And that's a shame.