Thursday, September 22, 2011
MG Historical Fiction: Promise the Night by Michaela MacColl
Date: November 2, 2011
Acquired: from LibraryThing Early Reviewers
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book in return for an honest review.)
Reading time: three days
Beryl Markham was one of the famous pilots of the golden age of aviation, even becoming the first pilot - male or female - to fly the East-to-West route across the Atlantic Ocean solo. Yet even before this amazing feat, Beryl led a remarkable life. Raised on a remote Kenyan ranch by her father, Beryl Markham grew up racing horses and living a life atypical for daughters of European settlers. She became best friends with a Nandi boy, Kibii, and grew up alongside him and his tribe, breaking both ethnic and gender barriers. This historical novel tells the story of Beryl's childhood.
Beryl Markham's early life makes for interesting reading, whatever your age. English colonialism, African tribal practices, horse racing, early aviation, boarding school drama, and more are all covered. My main complaint with this book, though, is that the only one of these that's really discussed in-depth is Nandi lifeways. I don't have a problem with lifeways forming the basis of the novel - the anthropologist in me absolutely loves it - but I think the author could have delved more deeply into the other aspects of Markham's childhood rather than just mentioning them more topically. MacColl based the majority of the book's details on Markham's own memoirs and in many ways what's covered in the novel is probably there because it is what's covered in Markham's writings, but part of historical fiction is taking a little creative license with the details that aren't all there. Otherwise, you end up with parts of a book that are fantastic in the history they tell and parts that seem like they're not fleshed-out enough. Even with this complaint, though, MacColl succeeds in keeping the history parts of the book exciting, and in this way Promise the Night is a good read for Middle Grade audiences who get very little African and colonial history in school. When I was that age, I would have devoured this book and never noticed everything I just said I didn't like.
The picture at the top of this post is the cover from the ARC, so here's the cover for the finished copy. Which do you prefer?