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Ship of Souls by Zetta Elliott

Ship of Souls

by Zetta Elliott

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Showing 5 of 5
Overall Satisfaction: ★★
Intellectual Satisfaction: ★★
Emotional Satisfaction: ★★
Read this for: The themes
Don't read this for: The plot, the prose
Bechdel Test: Fail
Johnson Test: Pass
Books I was reminded of: The Hallowed Hunt, by Lois McMaster Bujold

This was a well-intentioned novel with a decently evocative sense of place that I found unfortunately too heavy-handed to be enjoyable to read.

The three main characters are the sort I wish there were more of in fantasy -- non-white characters who are centered in the narrative and who are clearly shaped by their race but not entirely defined by it. Unfortunately, they are never given the room to come to life. . .

Read more on my book review blog, no spoilers. ( )
  PhoenixFalls | Apr 24, 2013 |
Elliott, Z. (2012). Ship of souls. Las Vegas, NV: Amazon Publishing. 124 pp. ISBN: 978-1-6121-8268-1. (Paperback); $9.95.

Zetta Elliott lives in Brooklyn. On a recent trip to New York City, I walked through Prospect Park with Elliott. She pointed out two Revolutionary War marker stones that helped urge her toward this story. In Central Park, I walked mindful of this history. Elliott teaches ethnic studies and has her PhD in American Studies (with a focus on depictions of racial violence in African American literature). Ship of Souls is based on her careful research of the African Burial Ground and the lives of African-Americans in her neighborhood during the Revolutionary War time period. Dmitri or D, as he is called, doesn’t have it easy. His mother has died from cancer. He is shuffling between his foster home and a new school. Just when he thinks he might make it in Mrs. Martin’s foster home, she takes in a baby addicted to crack. D cannot compete with the needs of this small child. He passes the time watching birds in the park. At school D has no time to dwell on his own troubles because he has been offered a job tutoring Hakeem (Keem), a basketball player who defies any stereotypes by his very unusual lineage. And there is Nyla, a young woman he has been watching with great interest. Nyla invites D to sit with her at lunchtime. It looks like Keem, who is “built like a giant, and kids at school worship the ground you walk on!” (p. 22) has his sights set on Nyla too. The three of them settle into something resembling a friendship. When D rescues an injured bird from the park, his life changes. This bird shifts shapes and seems to expect something from D. It even speaks! When D shares the story of this bird, Nuru, with Nyla and Keem, readers can almost hear the eerie music. Sharing this hard to believe secret proves to be a main factor in establishing the trust necessary for the friendship between the three to flourish. Nuru, leads D, Nyla, and Keem along the paths trod by soldiers during the Revolutionary War. These ghosts seem to feed on pain. Monsters rear their ugly heads. Danger lurks. Elliott introduces to readers firmly grounded history mixed with creepy, graveyard language that will appeal to young readers. Students may argue whether Nyla should like Keem or D, but they will also pick up facts about the Revolutionary War. They will see that New York was a battleground during this war. They will absorb the fact that African-Americans fought and died during the Revolutionary War… Many readers are unaware that Broadway, very close to ground zero, has the bones of African-American soldiers just below its sidewalks and asphalt. This is a book filled with significance and I haven't even mentioned that Elliott peppers her novel with comparisons to 9/11 and the racism with which modern day New York City Muslim students face on a daily basis. I appreciate books that use very real history, in context, to tell a story that will grip young readers. When that book is also likely to spark an awareness of cultural differences and an interest in history and how it impacts current events, so much the better. Purchase this one for middle school libraries and point it out to the history teachers. By the time this review is printed and distributed, you should find a video interview with Dr. Elliott talking about this book and other topics on my website (http://www.spicyreads.org/Author_Videos.html).
  edspicer | Nov 15, 2012 |
I'm primed to like any book that begins with an author essay about the magic she sees in the world around her and the little synchronicities that inspire connections that might not otherwise be made. I'm a person who gets up every day looking for the magic, no matter how small it might be. Magic's always there and it's a universally great reason to get out of bed when compared with all the other more mundane reasons. It also helps me keep my mind open and stay in the moment rather than spending my days shut off from the best parts of the world.

Ship of Souls is a middle-grade book (ages 11 and up) about the difficulty of being an outsider kid (or group of kids). D is in the foster care system having lost his single mother and only family. He is fortunate to have two friends, Hakeem and Nyla. Hakeem is a star basketball player who is always under suspicion because of his Muslim religion. Nyla is the self-appointed head of the "freaks" who band together to stave off the rest of the kids and their contempt. When these three children find each other, magic begins to occur.

Slipping back and forth between modern day Brooklyn and the past of Harlem's African Burial Ground, between reality and fantasy, Ship of Souls seamlessly interconnects magic, fantasy, history, and the realities of modern day life for many children. Written with delicacy and an eye towards creating glorious pictures in your brain, this one is a must read. Highly recommended (whether or not you're 11 years old - remember the "and up" part). ( )
  kraaivrouw | Mar 27, 2012 |
Ship of Souls

by Zetta Elliott

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781612182681
Publisher: AmazonEncore
Publication date: 2/28/2012
Pages: 198
Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Summary: D’s mother has passed away, leaving him an orphan. Luckily, D is very intelligent from being home schooled as a child, so he is placed into foster care quickly. D and his foster-mother get along very well. He is on his best behavior, and he does enjoy being with her. However, his life changes slightly when a new baby comes into her care. D is left to his own devices a bit more and has more freedom. At school, D offers to help one of the basketball stars, Hakeem, in math at the library. After his initial tutoring session, there is a small kinship formed between the two of them. Then, the popular hot girl, Nyla, asks D to sit with her group at lunch. She finds out that D is interested in birds, so she invites herself along on a bird watching expedition. After such a busy day, D goes to the park on his way home. While there, he finds a bird that has been trapped. He sets her free and finds out that this is no ordinary bird. This bird speaks to him and says that she is from another universe and D is her host. The next day, Hakeem, Nyla, and D go on their bird watching excursion. This seemingly innocent adventure turns perilous when beings from another realm try to capture them and D’s bird.

My thoughts: This was interesting and had some historical aspects that were fun to read about. I enjoyed the budding friendship, and the general plot line of the book. I felt that it was lacking a lot of description though. The characters never really came alive to me because I didn’t have any real back story on any of them, including D. There is not a lot of development that makes you feel for his loss or gain of two friends. Even the adventure of otherworldly beings was glanced over. I kept wanting to know more. I was craving details and never really getting them. This may have been by design because the novel is meant for a young audience, but I’ve read several middle grade novels that did not leave me feeling this way. I gave the story to one of my reluctant readers because it is fairly short, but he did not read much past the first ten pages before he told me that it was boring and went to find another book. I love the premise, but wish that I didn’t leave feeling like I didn’t care one way or the other about the characters and situations. (3 stars) ( )
  Kaydence | Feb 18, 2012 |
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Book description
When eleven-year-old Dmitri loses his mother to breast cancer, he finds himself taken in by an elderly white woman, Mrs. Martin. D loves to watch birds and, while in the park, is amazed to find an injured bird that can talk. He takes it home and soon learns there are malevolent forces inhabiting the region beneath Prospect Park and they are hunting for the bird; Nuru is a life force that has been kept hostage by the earthbound spirits who are ghosts of soldiers that died in the Revolutionary War. Nuru's mission is to guide the ship that will carry the souls of the dead back to her realm. D has been chosen as Nuru's host, and must carry the bird from Brooklyn to the African Burial Ground in lower Manhattan where the dead await deliverance.
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"Set in New York City, Ship of Souls features a cast of three African-American teens: D, a math whiz, Hakeem, a Muslim basketball star; and Nyla, a beautiful military brat. When D's mother dies of breast cancer, he is taken in by Mrs. Martin, an elderly white woman. Grateful to have a home, D strives to please his foster mother and succeeds--until Mercy arrives. Unable to compete with a needy, crack-addicted baby, D disappears into the nearby park and immerses himself in bird watching. At school, he unexpectedly makes friends with Nyla and Hakeem, but just when D thinks he has finally found a way to belong, an unexpected discovery in the park changes everything. A mysterious bird leads D and his friends on a perilous journey that will take them from Brooklyn to the African Burial Ground in lower Manhattan, and into the very realm of the dead. Their courage and loyalty are tested every step of the way, but in the end, it is D who must find the strength to fulfill his destiny. Steeped in history and suspense, this inspiring urban fantasy provides an enriching experience that readers will find hard to forget."--from cover, p. [4]… (more)

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