Cynthia T. Toney's historical novel, The Other Side of Freedom, released one month ago today, on Oct. 9, 2017. Unfortunately, I was so wrapped up in launching Playing by Heart that I didn't have a chance to highlight it then, so I'm making up for that today. Cynthia is one of my fellow authors on the CatholicTeenBooks site, which features books with Catholic characters and themes. She is the author of the contemporary young-adult Bird Face series, including 8 Notes to a Nobody, 10 Steps to Girlfriend Status, and 6 Dates to Disaster, with additional books in the series coming soon. The Other Side of Freedom is her first historical novel.
Here's the scoop on the book:
Title: The Other Side of Freedom
Author: Cynthia T. Toney
Publisher: Write Integrity Press
Genre: historical fiction
Age group: grade 6 and up
Synopsis: In a southern farming community in 1925, thirteen-year-old Salvatore and his Italian immigrant father become involved against their will in a crime that results in the murder of an innocent man who is also a family friend. Will Sal keep the secrets about that night as his father asks, or risk everything he and his family cherish in their new homeland, including their lives? Amidst bigotry, bootlegging, police corruption, and gangland threats, Sal must discover whom he can trust in order to protect himself and his family and win back his father's freedom. Sal's family, their African-American farmhand, and the girl who is Sal's best friend find their lives forever changed as dreams are shattered and attitudes challenged in a small community called Freedom.
My response to the novel: I was intrigued by this book's premise, which touches on issues of discrimination against Italian-Americans and African-Americans in Prohibition-era Louisiana. Even though my parents were Italian immigrants, I didn't learn about the issues early Italian immigrants faced in the South until a few years ago. It's a topic I'd like to address in my own fiction someday.
I found The Other Side of Freedom a quick, suspenseful read that also raises difficult moral questions. The author does a good job of showing how Salvatore's faith is simply part of his life. The book is another example of how novels with Catholic characters can be enjoyable without being preachy. I particularly like how Sal's friendships with both Hiram and Antonina are depicted. And I love the setting of the strawberry farm, a setting I haven't encountered before.
Cynthia has a great post about her inspiration for the setting on her publisher's website here.
And if you'd like more about the historical background of the novel, see this review by Barb Szyszkiewicz.