There are two sisters in my community who tell me stories about how their parents emigrated from Italy to Louisiana. After a while they returned to Italy where Sr. Mary Timothy and Sr. Mary Agnes were born. The second time they returned with their family to the States, it was to New York. I was fascinated by their story because growing up in Louisiana I had never considered the history of Italian immigrants. For me, a Louisiana heritage was French with African American and Spanish influence. When I picked up Cynthia Toney’s award-winning book, The Other Side of Freedom, the story featuring Italians in Louisiana was a surprise.
Toney’s novel transports you to a 1925 farming community. The first person we meet is young Salvatore. His mom and dad, Italian immigrants, are trying to navigate life in Freedom, Louisiana. Salvatore (Sal) is thrust into a drama that followed his family from Italy. He is asked to keep secrets that overwhelm him. Over time Salvatore learns who he can entrust his secrets to and who it is dangerous to tell. The novel zeros in on a tale of bootlegging, corruption and bigotry at the time of Prohibition. A crime mystery the novel also explores challenges of rural living, ethnic and racial prejudice and justice. It illustrates the ability of youth to take steps for the good of others in the struggle for freedom while offering a compelling narrative about hard working immigrants trying to build a new life in America.
Toney’s writing is brilliant for its descriptive prose and believable characters. Words are not wasted. Each one is carefully employed to describe scenes and internal dialog, something I look for in a book and want to emulate. As a YA novel, this book will appeal to boys and girls. I don’t hesitate to suggest that adults will enjoy it just as much.
The back cover writeup gives Cynthia Toney’s reason for writing YA, “because she wants them to know how wonderful, powerful and valuable they are.” This book doesn’t preach, talk down or present a simplistic view of problem solving and relationships. It takes the reader on a journey that opens doors of discovery historically and for a teen in today’s world. As Cynthia Toney explains, “I write teen and tween novels with twisty plots — because life is complicated.” The Other Side of Freedom is a book teens and parents can talk about.
Learn more at the author’s website, CynthiaTToney.com.
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Copyright 2018 Sr. Margaret Kerry, fsp