Cynthia T. Toney’s historical novel for teens, The Other Side of Freedom, shows the seamy side of Prohibition-era organized crime from the perspective of a young man whose family becomes its unwitting victims. Finally — good historical fiction that will appeal to male and female readers alike.
In 1920s Louisiana, Sal struggles with questions of right and wrong as an organized-crime ring forces family members into involvement with bootlegging, with heartbreaking results. Keeping the secret will keep Sal and his parents alive, but is it worth the cost of losing contact with friends and his beloved uncle?
Sal and his best friend Antonina take great risks to uncover the mystery surrounding the crime ring. Aided by Hiram, a young African-American farmhand who faces further obstacles caused by the segregation of the time, Sal and Antonina refuse to be intimidated by the crime ring, even after it becomes evident that the criminals are willing to kill anyone who gets in their way.
One detail in this novel that particularly fascinated me was the presence of Italian immigrants in Louisiana during this time period. I grew up in northern New Jersey, and my own community had a large influx of immigrants from Italy in the early twentieth century. In fact, a local Italian-American family (only two blocks from where I would later live) provided their home as the center of a labor dispute in 1913. I did not know that besides settling in the Northeast (New England, New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey), Italian immigrants also settled in Minnesota, Louisiana, Indiana and California, according to the map found at Italian Immigration to America.
I love how the cover image focuses on the very worried eyes of the young man in this novel. The Other Side of Freedom is highly recommended for middle-school readers and young teens studying this period of American history. This would make a terrific classroom read or summer-reading option.
Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz
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