Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Kid Lit Blog Hop: Behind the Masks, by Susan Patron 


Title: Behind the Masks: The Diary of Angeline Reddy, Bodie, California, 1880.  "Dear America" series.
Author: Susan Patron, narrated by Cassandra Campbell.
Publisher: Scholastic, 2012 (hardcover and audio).
Source:  Library (on-line resources)

The story opens with news that Patrick Reddy, Angeline's father, has been killed, but neither the girl nor her mother believe this for a moment.  Angeline concludes that, with her mother ill, it is her job to figure out what her father is up to.  The plot thickens with a vigilante group, a group of anonymous actors, a Chinese girl, and a new friend who has problems of her own, until everything comes out in the end.

I'm not sure if my review on this is going to be fair or not.  I'll be up-front: though I enjoyed much of the story, as far as I'm concerned the author ruined it with a ghost story that is taken completely at face-value.  Since these books are supposed to be completely realistic fiction (Dear America is a series of fictional "diaries" of girls, usually just entering their teens), I found it jarring and off-putting.  Let's just get that out of the way up front.  I get that a girl of her age and time and place would believe she sees a ghost.  But the story leaves no option except to believe that the ghost is real, and has been seen and believed in by at least two other people.  That I can't buy.  It kept jarring me out of what could have been a fine adventure story.

The history part is fine, though at times a bit heavy-handed with sharing the author's research (do we really need to know how to make a cream to keep hair from turning gray?  The incident adds nothing to the story).  I was excited to read about Bodie, which I have visited (it is a 'ghost town' east of the Sierra on the border between California and Nevada, managed now by the National Park Service), and I enjoy that period of history and reading about the area, but I can't say the story was super well-written.

The plot doesn't seem to quite hang together.  Angeline has to go to school each day, except that after the first day (when she shocks her teacher by showing up on the day after her father has supposedly been killed, and is cruelly punished for refusing to acknowledge he is dead), school sort of fades out of the picture.  She is worried about going back and being punished again, but we never hear more about it.   Further, the teacher who is so irrational and brutal in that instance is shown later to be actually a good and caring person, without ever dealing with her cruelty (after all, a bit of compassion for a child who is clearly in denial about her situation would make more sense even for a very strict, old-school teacher, than beating her for it--the punishment only rings true if Miss Williams is really a sadist).

These inconsistencies, compounded with the ghost story issue and too much focus on Angeline's crush on Antione Duval, left me feeling again and again while listening that the story just wasn't working well.  I have generally been impressed with the quality of the Dear America books.  This one doesn't seem to me to live up to the standard, though I was interested enough to listen through to the end.

Not recommended unless you really like ghost stories and are desperate to read about Bodie (which is undeniably a really cool place).

Full Disclosure: I borrowed Behind the Masks  from my (digital)  library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."


  1. Well, I'm not inspired to read this series anyway, but I like that you hit on exactly why this doesn't work for you

    I think I've been to Bodie - on a bus tour including Yosemite and Mono Lake. Does that make sense?

    1. I have actually found most of the series to be very good. That was why I was disappointed here.

      And yes, a bus tour to Yosemite and Mono Lake could well have included Bodie--it's in the neighborhood, in a manner of speaking (by the standards of the US west).

  2. Sorry to hear you didn't enjoy this one and that the story seemed disconnected. I have read other Dear America books, and the ones I read were well done. Thanks for sharing your honest review. :)

    1. I have found most of the books in the series very good, and learned a lot of history from them, too. That was why this disappointed me so, in part. I was expecting something stronger.

  3. How disappointing! It sounds like the book failed to deliver in a number of respects. I haven't come across these and likely won't in Canadian libraries, but thanks for sharing your thoughts in the Kid Lit Blog Hop.

    1. I don't suppose they are big outside the US! Though wouldn't it be great to have a series like that for Canadian kids, too? Most of the books in the series have been very good, and the history is interesting.

  4. This is a great book series to read for both young and old. It gives amazing details on actual historical events even though some of the characters names are made up. It is also really wonderful for educational purposes about how our ancestors lived, dressed and worked in these times. Be sure to collect these books so that many generations can enjoy them over and over again.


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