The Braid by Helen Frost

I was a huge fan of Helen Frost’s Diamond Willow (and reviewed it here).  I picked up The Braid because the main characters were the ancestor’s of Willow in Diamond Willow and I wanted to know more about them.

Sarah and Jeannie are teenage sisters in Scotland.  Extremely close, they are separated the night of the Highland Clearance of 1850.  Jeannie leave for Cape Breton, Nova Scotia with her mother, father, and younger siblings.  Sarah hides in order to stay behind with their grandmother.  Before they separate, the girls braid a few strands of their hair together, joining them even across the vast ocean.  While this is historical fiction, it deals with many issues that today’s teens are familiar with- teen pregnancy, parental approval, poverty, life, and death.

The story is great, but the real magic is in the poetry.  This is a verse novel, but it isn’t just any old verse.  The story is told in narrative poems alternating between the two girls’ viewpoints, with shorter poems between them connecting the two.  At the end of the book, Frost has an epilogue where she explains the poetic forms.  The poems are essentially individual strands in a poetry braid.  I don’t want to give it away entirely, but the revelation stunned me.  I immediately went back and reread the book!

I can’t want to share this with my new high school students.  While the story is accessible for middle school readers, I think the intricacy of the poems will be fun to share with my high school students.  This is a perfect example of a book that has more than one layer: readers can enjoy the story and also dig deeper for more.  It’s also a great example of a book that begs to be reread!  Highly recommended.

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