Novels

Leaving Gees Bend

ISBN: 978-0399251795
G.P. Putnam's Sons

Set in 1932 and inspired by the rich quilting history of Gee's bend, Alabama, LEAVING GEE'S BEND is a heart-touching tale of a young girl's unexpected adventure.
"LEAVING GEE'S BEND is beautifully written and Ms. Latham's use of the Southern vernacular of the era is flawless. The story is compelling and the strong-willed heroine, Ludelphia, stole my heart. Though dirt-poor, the residents of this smaller than small Alabama town are drenched in dignity and faith. I couldn't put it down."
- Brenda Woods, Coretta Scott King Honor-winning RED ROSE BOX

“[like] Number the Stars or To Kill a Mockingbird - its symbolism is …subtle, it's educational without beating you over the head with facts, but most importantly, it's enjoyable”
- The Frenetic Reader

“An accessible piece of historical fiction …numerous heart-stirring moments …a determined heroine.”
—Publishers Weekly

"Ludelphia Bennett reaffirms the human spirit and defines survival in this beautifully stitched quilt of a novel."
- Richard Peck, A SEASONS OF GIFTS

"Leaving Gee's Bend...is reminiscent of Wilder's Little House series." - We Love Quilting! blog

"In this powerful novel...the anguish of the characters is felt by the reader, but one also feels the warmth of the quilts used as a metaphor for life in this time and place." - National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) (September, 2010)

"authentic and memorable" - Booklist

"I love this story based on an historical event in Gee’s Bend. Author Irene Latham has pieced together snippets of the real event and the region’s now recognized unique style of quilting." - School Library Journal

"captivating... a tale that will stay with the reader forever" - Book Page

I love this story based on an historical event in Gee’s Bend. Author Irene Latham has pieced together snippets of the real event and the region’s now recognized unique style of quilting. - Joyce Ray

"Latham brings the girl, the period and the region to life." - Chicago Tribune

Life in 1932 rural Alabama is no picnic for African-American sharecroppers, such as the family of ten-year-old Ludelphia Bennett, who are trying to scrap by on their tiny farm in Gee’s Bend. Ludelphia doesn’t seem to mind her meager surroundings as long as she can sew quilts with her mother, but when Mama falls ill with pneumonia, Ludelphia leaves the only place she has ever known to retrieve lifesaving medicine from a town nearly forty miles away, confronting prejudice and superstition along the way. Based on real people and events, the story rings true with its quiet sense of place, and Ludelphia’s narration echoes the tradition of storytelling in quiltmaking, a nod to the famous Gee’s Bend quilting history. While most of the secondary characters are fairly simple, Ludelphia’s voice carries the reader through a treacherous landscape with determined vibrancy, adding a dash of adventure and mischief to an otherwise harrowing tale. The conclusion is at once happy and realistic—the family knows that even with Mama’s recovery and supplies from the Red Cross, the winter will still be hard—making this an enjoyable piece of fiction about an undertreated bit of American history. [The Bulletin for the Center of Children's Books (BCCB)]

... "She has given the world - and the children of the world who have no idea about this section of our country in more segregated times than now - a glimpse into a sharecropper's life. I get it. The kid's will get it. There's good story telling going on here. I thank Irene Latham for writing this book." [Muddy Puddle Musings]

"authentic and memorable" - Booklist

In Gee’s Bend, Alabama in 1932, 10-year-old Ludelphia’s mother nearly dies giving birth. Ludelphia takes off downriver to find a doctor in the town of Camden, 40 miles away, and in her first journey away from her tiny village, she encounters white people for the first time. The hardship of African American sharecropper families is always present in this stirring historical debut, and so is the rich sense of community in rough times, although that community does include sometimes malicious local gossip. Inspired by her mama, Ludelphia stitches together a quilt that tells her story, and that intricate process of quilt making sometimes becomes a too-heavy metaphor. Still, Ludelphia’s voice is authentic and memorable, and Latham captures the tension of her dangerous journey and the racism she encounters when a white, mentally disturbed landowner’s widow takes everything from the sharecroppers as repayment for their debt. In a final note, Latham talks about the history of Gee’s Bend and its rich quilting traditions.
Hazel Rochman

"a true heroine... an adventure story... a page-turner" - Augusta Scattergood, former children's librarian

Library Media Connection

Ludelphia Bennet is a ten-year-old African American girl growing up in 1932 Gee’s Bend, Alabama. In this isolated area the families all work as sharecroppers, living below the poverty level. When her mother is sick with a cough and fever, Ludelphia goes to get the white doctor to help. Ludelphia learns of courage, love, loss, fear, discrimination, hope, and more as she travels through the white section, seeking assistance for her family. Ludelphia is identified as a witch by the very family she thought would help her, and it is the knowledge of white people fearing her that eventually enables Ludelphia to save Gee’s Bend. Although similar to other tales set in small towns, this is different in its focus on a female protagonist and witchcraft. The strong tale of hope and survival will encourage female readers to enjoy other well-known works such as Bud Not Buddy (Delacorte Press, 1999) and Sounder (Harper & Row, 1969). Recommended. Sara Rofofsky, Electronic Resources/Web Librarian, Queensborough Community College, Bayside New York

School Library Journal

Grade 4-6-Blind in one eye and shouldering a fair share of work as part of a family of sharecroppers, 10-year-old Ludelphia Bennett is no stranger to hardship or determination. Though her small town of Gee's Bend is geographically isolated by the Alabama River, she sets off on her own to Camden, 40 miles away, to find a doctor for her sick mother. Constant throughout her arduous journey is a stitched-together fabric, and she both physically and mentally chronicles her experiences as she pieces a quilt together. This is the way Ludelphia tells her story, of seeing white people for the first time, of encountering kindness and hate, and it is also the way Latham pays homage to the community spirit that historically fostered a heritage of artisan quilt-makers. While there is a bit of a reliance on coincidence, what shines through is the characterization and sense of place. Rural Alabama of 1932 is brought to life, complete with characters' prejudices and superstitions that are eventually overcome thanks to Ludelphia's indomitable strength. Here is a story that is comforting and warm, just like the quilts that make Gee's Bend famous.
Joanna K. Fabicon, Los Angeles Public Library

"I knew what she was saying was true. But tears came into my eyes again anyhow. Wasn't nothing I needed that wasn't right here in Gee's Bend. And wasn't a thing that could happen that I wasn't strong enough to get through." [ Read More ]

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