Frost, Helen. The Braid. New York: Frances Foster Books, 2006. ISBN: 0374309620
The Braid takes place in 1850 during the Highland Clearances in Scotland when many tenants were forced to leave their land. Sarah, Jeannie and their family plan to sail to Canada. The night before their journey, the sisters braid their hair together. The next morning Sarah is gone – she has cut the braid and left half with Jeannie. Each sister’s story is told in alternating narrative poems. There is a short (eight lines, eight syllables) emotive poem praising a topic from the narration in between each one. Universal issues of death, separation, poverty, love, teen pregnancy, and longings are interwoven to form a moving and fascinating novel.
This book drew me in from the beginning. I had to find out what happened with each sister so I could not put the book down until it was finished! The Braid is full of emotion and it will not have any trouble capturing the attention of young adult readers.
Although the sister who is pregnant feels shame at first, I feel the situation is almost too easy for the character. It is wonderful that she is eventually accepted and helped, but I don’t think it accurately portrays what a teen in this situation would experience today. It needs to be viewed in its historical content.
The short praise poems are braided together in that the last line in one is the first line in the next poem. In the sister’s narrative poems, the last word of each line is braided into the first words of the corresponding lines in the next poem. This structure adds to the beauty of the title and to the easy flow of the story. The author’s notes on this form, people, places and language add to the understanding of the book.
HORN BOOK: “Compellingly poignant as well as authentic.”
PUBLISHERS WEEKLY: “Frost’s ingeniously structured novel in verse . . . may be set in 1850, but its themes will resonate with today’s teens. Memorable.”
BOOKLIST: “…the book will inspire both students and teachers to go back and study how the taut poetic lines manage to contain the powerful feelings.”
*http://www.helenfrost.net contains a link to more information about The Braid. Students can explore the geographical locations from the story.
*Use the story as a companion to World History or immigration.
*Can be a springboard to topics of death and loss, family relationships, and others.
*The Braid is a winner of numerous awards and is a 2007 Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award Honor Book.