The Braid

Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
The Braid Book Poster Image
Immigrant story with a fascinating knotted twist.

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

Main characters -- two teen girls -- show perseverance in difficult circumstances.

Violence

Some characters die of cholera.

Sex

Kissing; an unwed teen gets pregnant.

Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that an unwed teen gets pregnant, has the baby, and eventually marries the father. Some members of the main characters' family die of cholera.

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What's the story?

In the 1850s, after being evicted from the land their family has lived on for generations, Scottish sisters Jeannie and Sarah are torn apart -- Sarah to stay behind and settle with her grandmother on the island of Mingulay, Jeannie to go with her parents and younger siblings to Canada. Each sister keeps a braid made of hair from both, fearing they may never see each other again. But plans on both sides of the ocean go astray.

In Scotland things seem to be going well, until Sarah falls in love and gets pregnant out of wedlock. On the ship to Canada cholera breaks out, and several of the family succumb. Upon reaching Canada, those left are in desperate straits -- until Jeannie finds reserves of strength she never knew she had. Includes Author's Notes on Form, People, Language, and Places.

Is it any good?

Written in what seems like free-verse poetry, this story gives a double dose of pleasure. The first comes in reading THE BRAID -- a lovely, lyrical evocation of some very hard times, told in two voices, with intervening odes to various aspects of the story. In stripped-down words and images, the essence of the immigrant experience is conveyed with power and passion – and, mercifully, without stereotypes, even in the secondary characters. The lives these people led were hard enough to make the story resonate without peppering it with the kind of cardboard villains that too often populate books of this genre.

The second pleasure comes when you finish the story and get to the Author's Notes, where she reveals the intricate, complex, Celtic knot-inspired structure of her poetry and it becomes clear that this is so much more than just free verse. It's far too complicated to describe here, but few readers will be able to resist the urge to go back and look at the text again with this new knowledge, and lovers of wordplay will be especially delighted. Braids are not only a major theme of the story, they are the way the whole thing is actually structured. It's unique and utterly fascinating.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the immigrant experience. What was there in Jeannie's character that enabled her family to succeed? What would you have done in their circumstances?

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