Behind the Masks: The Diary of Angeline Reddy, by Susan Patron, was published in 2012 by Scholastic.
Dear America has always been one of those book series that stood out to me for several reasons. The first is that they portray important moments in American history (or events that have global effects, such as the sinking of The Titanic). The second is that they portray those moments from the eyes of someone who lived in that time period, so it gives us a sense of what it might have been like to live in that time period. The point is that Dear America is not your average historical fiction, and, I’ll argue, at its best it was never intended to be.
I’ve read two books from the revamped Dear America, and I still don’t get it. Why revamp it? Okay, I get that they want to “pretty it up” and make it appear “more” fictional (as if being in the fiction section wasn’t enough) by putting the author’s name on the front. But so far, of the two I’ve read, I haven’t been impressed. At least Down the Rabbit Hole detailed the Chicago fire. Behind the Masks is basically just your average historical fiction, detailing the life of a mining town right around the time when mining towns started to get in trouble financially, as well as degrade socially.
The story revolves around the actually-real mining town of Bodie and its actually-real citizens. The only prominent character who doesn’t have a real-life counterpart is the narrator, Angeline. Now, usually in Dear America books, the plot revolves around whatever event that book is portraying. This one, though…this one reads like a standard historical fiction. I almost couldn’t believe it was a Dear America book when I read the back. This literally could have been any historical fiction book for children. There’s no event the book revolves around. It only revolves around a place, the town of Bodie. There’s a melodramatic murder mystery of sorts, and Angeline also spends a lot of time thinking about plays and hanging around vaudevillian characters.
I really like books to have purpose, especially historical fiction, and I feel as if this book has none. Why was it written? To tell people about this old town of Bodie? Who cares? To tell people about how to make linen masks? Okay, boring. To tell people about the attitudes towards the Chinese? Okay, but why leave most of the information in the historical notes, which most readers probably don’t read (I didn’t, as a child)?
The thing I liked best about Behind the Masks is the pretty gold design on the front and Angeline’s portrait. The story itself was disappointing, and not what I think Dear America should be. But maybe I’m expecting too much out of the series since it’s so dear to me.