A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
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.
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?
- Author: Tonya Bolden
- Genre: Historical Fiction
- Topics: Activism, Friendship, Great Girl Role Models, History, Misfits and Underdogs
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Bloomsbury YA
- Publication date: February 5, 2020
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 12 - 18
- Number of pages: 272
- Available on: Paperback, Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: February 10, 2020
Our editors recommend
For kids who love history and stories of activism
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