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Behind the Masks: The Diary of Angeline Reddy - Bodie, California, 1880

Review

Behind the Masks: The Diary of Angeline Reddy - Bodie, California, 1880

The Dear America series of historical fiction chapter books consistently delivers engaging and informative diary-format stories for readers ages eight and up. The latest, BEHIND THE MASKS: THE DIARY OF ANGELINE REDDY by Susan Patron, is no exception. Set in the mining town of Bodie, California in 1880, it’s the diary of a young girl coming of age in a town held hostage by gang violence and cultural and social assumptions.

The daughter of the famous lawyer Patrick Reddy, a man who defends criminals in order to ensure everyone gets a fair trial in court, is raised to question authority and express her ideas. When she and her mother are told that Mr. Reddy has died, they don't believe it for a minute. Surely he is only faking his death to some just purpose. So as Bodie mourns one of its most controversial figures, Angie sets out to discover the truth. She is aided by her friends, Ellie and Ling Loi, and the handsome and charming Antoine Duval.

While Angie is trying to understand her father's disappearance and help her mother heal from a debilitating infection, she is also navigating the challenging relationships with her new friends. Ellie comes from a family very different from Angie's own. Antoine may not be exactly who he seems, but it’s obvious that he has feelings for Angie, who is growing into a strong, intelligent and beautiful young woman. In addition to all of these, Angie finds time to write a satirical play, confront a ghost and, of course, write the diary that readers hold in their hands.

This particular installment of the Dear America series may be best suited for slightly older readers. Angie and Antoine's flirtation is not inappropriate, but Ling Loi's story, as well as another character named Lottie Johl, requires a certain level of maturity and sophistication. Both Ling Loi and Lottie spent time in a brothel, and Lottie struggles with the town's judgment of her. They discuss the women they knew from the brothel and why they ended up there in the first place. Besides this subplot, BEHIND THE MASKS is a story of personal strength, the pursuit of justice and the power of convictions.

Newbery Medal-winning Patron writes with power and vigor: the plot is engaging and the characters compelling. The diary format, however, seems to be an afterthought. Angie's diary entries are long narratives that sometimes go on for more than 20 pages each. And the entire diary lasts for just about a month. The format seems a bit forced in this case, and the story would've flowed better without the dates intruding. Still, BEHIND THE MASKS is a powerful and interesting examination of life in the “wild west” when fortunes were made on the discovery of a vein of gold and lost in the saloons the same day. The historical notes and photos included at the end of the book flesh out life in mining towns in 1880 and the real Bodie in particular.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on March 23, 2012

Behind the Masks: The Diary of Angeline Reddy - Bodie, California, 1880
by Susan Patron

  • Publication Date: January 1, 2012
  • Genres: Children's, Historical Fiction
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Scholastic Inc.
  • ISBN-10: 0545304377
  • ISBN-13: 9780545304375