Saving Savannah

Book review by
Barbara Saunders, Common Sense Media
Saving Savannah Book Poster Image
Teen leaves bubble of privilege in exciting historical tale.

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Saving Savannah brings alive multiple social and political concerns of the United States in the 1910s, including the Harlem Renaissance and "New Negro" movement, Jim Crow, the socialist and anarchist movements, women's suffrage, Prohibition, and WWI. There's an emphasis on the life experiences of African Americans and people of African descent from Africa and the Caribbean. It highlights the spectrum of black lives, from slum dwellers to wealthy, elite black society.

Positive Messages

Look beyond your personal bubble. Expose yourself to people and ideas that seem foreign. You may find that your purpose lies somewhere that you wouldn't have imagined.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The author's prime purpose in this book is to spotlight black people who do not fit the stereotypes of downtrodden Americans. The main character comes from an African American family of well-to-do entrepreneurs. Many of the lower-income characters are well-read, educated, and entrepreneurial. There are positive portraits of people of African descent who are not Americans, but who come from Africa and the West Indies.


The story includes scenes of the violence from the historical events it covers. Those include lynching of lack WWI soldiers in uniform when they returned to the Jim Crow South; anarchist bombings; and police brutality toward people accused of being communists. A dog is shot to death.


There is a slight suggestion of romantic interest between the main character and the West Indian man she befriends.


The word "piss" is used in describing an alley that smells like urine.


Materialism and material wealth are addressed as themes. Savannah comes from an upper-crust family with a lot of luxuries. Through her volunteer work and the people she makes friends with, she encounters people who live in tenements, can't afford medical care, and suffer disabling work injuries.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Groups of men get drunk in a couple fo scenes, and some commit violent acts.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Saving Savannah by Tonya Bolden (Inventing Victoria) is a historical novel set in 1919, in the aftermath of World War I. Savannah, a teen from elite Black society in Washington, D.C., gets involved with radical social movements including women's suffrage and socialism. Descriptions of violence that include bombings by anarchists, lynchings of Black people, and police brutality in service of suppressing alleged communists. There are depictions of adults forming violent mobs after getting drunk.

User Reviews

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Teen, 15 years old Written bytheatrekid July 12, 2021

Pleasantly Surprised

YA novels have really been in a slump lately but this book was quick and fresh. Very thoughtful and interesting. I enjoyed it quite a bit.

What's the story?

When SAVING SAVANNAH begins, Savannah is a teen living in the lap of luxury in the elite African American society of 1919 Washington, D.C.. Her father owns an insurance business, her parents are engaged with respectable charities, and they support the growing political movement to give women the vote. They are also very attached to their place in high society and their image as "credits to the race." Her brother, Charlie, has rejected his place in the family business to pursue a photography career in Harlem, New York, where there's an exploding arts and culture scene. After Savannah befriends the daughter of her family's cleaning woman, she learns about a village school that educates girls of humble backgrounds from all over the world. Savannah volunteers there and meets Lloyd, a West Indian handyman who introduces her to socialism. Her curiosity grows about the "haves" and "have-nots." She starts to wonder about what role she will play in the world, even as she fears for her community's safety when violence periodically breaks out between activists and conservative forces who seek to repress rebellion.

Is it any good?

The sweep of history makes this story of an elite Black teen in 1919 Washington, D.C., who becomes an activist an exciting read. The title character of Saving Savannah's, like the hero of Tonya Bolden's previous book, Inventing Victoria, is a sympathetic young woman who gets exposed to parts of the world she couldn't previously have imagined, and who's inspired to reinvent herself. The weakness of the book is that some of the characters and subplots seem like excuses to introduce issues, ideas, or events rather than being necessary to the story. At times, it seems more like a thought experiment than a novel, but as a thought experiment ("What would it be like to be a young person living in the tumultuous year of 1919?") it is satisfying. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the different types of privilege described in Saving Savannah. How do different characters embrace, renounce, or use their privilege? What does "privilege" mean these days?

  • How is activism portrayed in Saving Savannah? Why are Savannah's parents so upset about her desire to volunteer at Nannie Burroughs' school?

  • The year 1919 was a very eventful one, with the push to give women the vote, anarchist bombings, race riots, and more. What historical event or issue from Saving Savannah would you like to learn more about?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love history and stories of activism

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