by: Olivia Hill
Ah, history. We all know it’s the most undervalued subject taught in school. The number of essays that I have been forced to write explaining why it’s important to learn history is evidence that the teachers are aware that their subject is universally ignored. However, with a little relatable angst, sex appeal, and razzle-dazzle, the Dear America franchise has been able to churn out hundreds of popular historical-fiction diaries (à la Anne Frank) that lonely little boys and girls cannot wait to get their hands on. Here is a definitive* ranking of the best Dear America novels:
Voyage on the Great Titanic: This book has everything going for it: orphans, passion, a rags-to-riches premise, and tragedy. The protagonist of the this story, Margaret Ann Brady, is kind of a bummer though. She survives the catastrophe, abandoning the love of her life, Robert, to go down with the ship, she drops out of college and never returns, lives the rest of her life in guilt over Robert’s death, marries, and then names her kid after Robert, which most definitely crosses some sort of boundaries with her husband – poor guy. What really puts this book in last place, however, is that it is a complete rip-off the the Titanic (1997) which was released a year before this book and starred two hot, fully developed adults rather than a 13-year-old orphan who has only known the claws of destitution. Pass.
A Journey to the New World: This novel is set on the Mayflower, and the narrator, named Remember Patience Whipple (Huh?), devotes 200 painful pages to seasickness and the creation of the Mayflower Compact, arguably one of the lamest documents ever created.
Early Sunday Morning: All I remember about this book is that the girl gives advice on how to eavesdrop on other people. Helpful but not compelling.
The Starving Time: The Dear America wiki doesn’t even have a plot summary for this book, so I think that’ll tell you something. The diary is set in Jamestown before they made friendly with the Native Americans and started growing food. Elizabeth Barker, the main character, watches as half her town and her mother (if I’m remembering correctly), die of starvation, disease, and stupidity. Not exactly a hip book, but I appreciate the dark edginess of the story.
Survival in the Storm: While America is battling the Great Depression, the families in the heart of the Texas panhandle are too busy with the Dust Bowl to deal with their economic disparity. Grace Edwards, an accessible teen, spends a lot of time cleaning the dirt out of her house and wearing a bandana over her nose and mouth. It’s the perfect mixture of cowboy-meets-rave fashion.
Across the Wide and Lonesome Prairie: This book is filled with thievery and infant mortality, and while it is wrong to romanticize thievery and infant mortality, they are pretty metal.
*This isn’t definitive, but that’s how Buzzfeed titles their rankings.