Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Review: The Little Known by Janice Daugharty

Confession: I have nothing against e-books. I don't mind reading short stories and essays on the computer, but reading an entire novel while sitting behind a computer is not especially comfortable. It's downright inconvenient. At least for me. Sure, I could have printed this one out, and I might have if I had been home using my own computer and printer. Oh, how I wished I had an e-reader!

The publisher sent out review copies of The Little Known in PDF format to bloggers on their mailing list. I did not request a copy of this book for review. It wasn't a book I planned to read nor thought I would enjoy much truth be told. I just happened to be somewhere with a computer, no book to read and a little time on my hands. And so, I opened the file and began reading.

I will attempt to separate out my dislike for reading a novel on the computer with my thoughts on the book. I do think it had an impact, which is unfortunate because The Little Known has a lot to offer. I know I could have gone without going into all this, but one of the reasons I keep a blog is to talk about my experiences reading, not just about the books that I read.

The Little Known by Janice Daugharty
BelleBooks, Inc, February 2010
Fiction (YA); 234 pgs

The Little Known is the story of a nine-year-old African American boy named Knot in 1960's segregated Georgia. While out riding his cousin's bicycle, he comes across a bag of money, dropped by a bank robber who was fleeing from the police. Knot could have easily spent some of the money on that bicycle he's been wanting, but he knows he'd have to explain himself. Instead, he decides to give the money away, hoping to make life better for those around him. Only, it does not quite work out that way.

Knot is a sweetheart of a boy who is coming into his own. He seems so innocent at times and yet like an older soul at others. He has been poor all his life and believes that money can make things better. He quickly learns, however, that having money does not correlate with people doing the right thing. Knot is also struggling with his identity, trying to figure out his place in the world--and in his family.

The author captures the essence of a poverty stricken, close-knit community, full of internal strife and yet coming together in times of need. Knot lives with Marge, a woman whose weakness is alcohol. I didn't much like her at first, but the more I got to know her, the sorrier I felt for her and the more I hoped she would pull herself together for Knot's sake. She really wasn't a bad person, just a damaged one. Many of the characters in the novel are damaged in some way, white and black alike. Among them are the family next door with the drunk abusive husband; the daughter whose mother is mentally ill and often runs naked in the neighborhood; and a girl who is handicapped but whose family can't afford a wheelchair. I wouldn't have minded if some of these other characters had been more fleshed out, however. Then again, this is Knot's story more than anyone else's.

And although the author did not go into it as much as I would have liked, I was especially drawn to Knot's relationship with Becky Bruce, the white girl and the daughter of Sammy Bruce, a man who terrorizes not only those in the black community but his own family as well. Becky is a sad child, withdrawn and easy to tears. While Knot tries to dismiss her at first, he can't help but feel the need to help her, somehow rescue her from her father. He is fearful though; the colors of their skin make friendship dangerous.

While Knot is my favorite character in the novel, coming in at a close second is the pastor. Knot admits that he likes to go to church every Sunday for the food. Sometimes it's the only good meal he'll get that week. The pastor plays the role of the father figure and is perhaps the one stable person in Knot's life.

Race does play a part in the novel. There is always an undercurrent of tension in that regard. Knot is one of a handful of black students in a school that has recently been integrated. And in the society at large, there is a clear demarcation of who holds the power: the white man. As the story unfolds, however, there is definite hope that change is coming.

Overall, this was a touching novel of forgiveness and hope. On the surface, it is a simple story, but it has several layers, some of which I'm still discovering after having finished it. This is a novel I think both adults and children would enjoy.

Just a note of warning: the author does use the "n" word in the text, albeit minimally. Given the time period the novel is set in, it was not out of place.

Rating: * (Good)

You can learn more about Janice Daugharty and her books on the author's website.

© 2010, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved.
If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.


  1. Thanks for this review - it sounds like a really interesting book and well worth reading. I think I agree with you about ebooks though - my eye strain is bad enough already! Hannah

  2. I love my Kindle, but I don't think I would like to read a book on my computer. It just wouldn't feel right. I have also watched movies on my computer, but I don't like that either! This book sounds pretty bleak. My heart would break for the entire cast of characters!

  3. Hannah -

    Sandy - I think I'll try and avoid reading another novel on my computer for awhile. I've watched a movie or two on my computer before and it's not my favorite way to go about it, but it'll do in a pinch. It's so rare I need to though.

    For all the seriousness of the subject matter, this book really did have a hopeful side to it. It never felt like a heavy book to read. Knot makes that impossible.

  4. sounds like an interesting book...I'm now wondering if the robber finds out what happened to his money!

  5. This does sound like a very moving story. I know what you mean about e-books, but I find I'm getting a little more used to them lately.

  6. Thanks for the review Wendy - it does sound like an interesting story.

    I can't read books on the computer at all. The eReader is fantastic though. It's easy on the eyes and more like a book. The computer screen is much too hard on the eyes.

  7. Hannah - Ack! I accidently deleted my comment to you and just noticed. I am so sorry! I am glad I ended up reading this one after all. But yeah, reading on the computer, not so much.

  8. Serena - I'll never tell! Haha.

    Nymeth - I imagine it would be easy to adjust to reading books on a portable e-reader--it's be similar to reading an actual book, just no pages to manually turn. It's reading off the computer that didn't work for me.

    Dar - Maybe someday I'll have my own e-reader to give it a try. :-) This was an interesting book.

  9. Glad you made it through the reading-on-computer experience - and didn't dislike the book! I understand how that can color your opinion of the book itself, though, even if you make the effort to separate them; I've had a similar issue with ARCs when they've had so many mistakes that it distracts me from the story.

    I'm not sure that I'd read this one myself, but it sounds pretty good. Thanks for the review, Wendy!

  10. I agree with you Wendy, I don't think I could read an e-book, even with an e-reader. I have been tempted to look at the Kindle or others, but I just think I would miss the feel of a real book. I am also trying to stay away from buying too many books, and I could just see myself getting into too much trouble with an e-reader. Great review though!

  11. Sounds like a good book - too bad you didn't get it in a more agreeable format.

  12. I agree...reading an entire book on the computer is hard. Hard on the eyes, too. The one time I did it, I ended up skimming giant passages.

  13. I read a study a few months back that stated that we actually read differently on the computer - we skim more of the words. Something about the light and the glare. At any rate, I have never read an entire book on my computer, either. Kudos for continuing. (I wonder if the e-reader interfaces are good enough to compensate for all of this?)

    From what you say, this does sound like an interesting book. If you're curious about more on this topic, I'd recommend "The Girl Who Fell From the Sky." I just reviewed it for the Boston Globe (and can send the link when it runs). A biracial girl in the 1970s is sent to live with her African Amer. grandmother at the age of 11, having lived abroad in a very not-racially-conscious world. It's painful, but really wonderful. too. You might like it!

  14. This sounds like a moving story, Wendy. I have only tried reading an e-book once and I regret to say I don't really like the reading experiences. It's too straining to my eyes.

  15. Florinda - Too many mistakes in an ARC can be distracting, I agree! I almost didn't finish this one only because I didn't want to get back to it on the computer. I'm glad I did though. Even though it's not a book I probably would have picked up on my own, I still enjoyed it. So that's good, at least. And I learned no more reading novels on the computer. :-)

    Kristie - You raise a good point about not using an e-reader--being too tempted to buy more books. I already have a problem in that area. Imagine the damage I could do! LOL

    Kathy - I hope my experience with the format won't turn people away from the book.

    Jill (Softdrink) - I had to take frequent breaks while reading for my eyes sake. I also found I got too easily distracted. I kept wanting to check my e-mail. :-)

    Clea - That makes sense, about the differences in reading on computer and in book format. I'd be curious to know too, how the e-readers hold up in a study like that.

    The Girl Who Fell From the Sky sounds like it will be good. I looked it up at Amazon to read more about it. And if you recommend it, it must be worth reading. Thank you for the recommendation!

    Melody - Yes, I felt it in my eyes too. I won't be doing it that way again if I have my choice. I don't especially like printing e-books out either because I find it too loses something in the experience. Not sure why though.

  16. I would not enjoy reading a book on my computer---eye strain would be a major issue I'd fear.

    I'm glad you seemed to enjoy this one Wendy, as I probably would not have read it, especially as it was an unsolicited request in PDF.

  17. I think the same about e-books too, The story does sound interesting though.

  18. Diane - I likely would have skipped this one had I not been desperate for something to read. Fortunately, I ended up liking it. Goes to show that you can never tell!

    Violet - It really is an interesting book. I almost dismissed it because of the whole boy finds lots of money and tries to do good with it idea--that's been done before several times. The author really did make this her own though and the background stories were what stood out the most for me.

  19. This sounds interesting but I would have to print it out or have it on my Kindle. I just can't sit and read a book on the computer, tried it and I can't do it!

  20. I'm glad that you enjoyed this one and I really appreciate your confession. I don't like to read on the computer either and I'm not overly fond of e-readers. I do think the format that you choose really impacts the experience of the books so it was interesting to hear your thoughts on the matter.

  21. Kathleen - I wish I had printed out. At least I learned my lesson about reading a novel on the computer. :-)

    Nicole (Linus's Blanket) - Fortunately for those who might be interested in reading this book, it is available in a physical format now. It's gotten quite a few good reviews from what I can tell.

    I agree with you about the format mattering. It's unfortunate, really.

  22. I was going to say the exact same thing that Sandy had said, so I'm going to echo her! I love my Kindle and if this is available on Kindle, I would read it. :D

  23. Alice - I hope you will, Alice. I think you'd like it!


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