Before the Lark
by Irene Bennett Brown

Texas Tech University Press, 2011. ISBN 978-0-896-72727-4.
Reviewed by Judy Miller
Posted on 01/02/2012

Teen/Girls; Fiction: Historical

Before the Lark opens with twelve-year-old Jocey Belle Royal living with her ailing grandmother (Gram) in the 1888 poverty of Kansas City, MO. Her mother died six years earlier and she has not heard from or seen her father in over two years.

Jocey works with her grandmother, taking in laundry for the richer families of the city. Born with a cleft lip, she no longer attends school. Teasing by "The Chasers," peers who chant, "Harelip, ugly crip, hole in her lip, snip, snip," has destroyed her self-confidence. She avoids people and relationships, finding solace in her chickens (Opal and Don Juan), horse (Nappy), and the books her father gave her.

Jocey prefers invisibility. However, she has also lost her voice and ability to stand up to others and for herself. A gift comes out of nowhere, in the form of a letter from her father's lawyer. It seems that Jocey is half owner of her father's farm in Council Grove, KS, or if he has been determined to be dead, full owner.

The revelation propels Jocey to decide to move to the farm, with her very unwilling Gram. Jocey is one determined young lady and what happens because of her decision is something else.

Before the Lark was first published in 1982 by Blue Heron Publishing as historical fiction. The story, more importantly, though set in 1888 is still germane and interesting.

I don't want to give away what happens, but I do want to encourage tween readers (and their moms, aunts, grandmothers, or mentors) to pick up a copy of Before the Lark and discover the developments for themselves. The themes of differences, bullying and self-esteem are timeless.

I would recommend Before the Lark as a great selection for mother-daughter book clubs, or for mom and daughter to read and then discuss. A wonderful forward is provided by Pamela Rieny-Kehrberg, assisting the reader with a point of reference when reading the story. Brown also provides some facts about the facts behind the story in her notes at the end of the book.

Irene Bennett Brown is an American author of children's, young adult and adult fiction. Brown is a member of Western Writers of America and is a founding member of Women Writing the West. She continues to live in Oregon with her husband, Bob. Visit her website.

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