Author: Marilyn Nelson
Rating: 2.5 STARS
Poetry | 128 pages | Published by Dial Books
Mini Review: American Ace is a slim novel in verse strongly recommended for Middle Grade readers, but lacks enough substance to satisfy older readers.
Marilyn Nelson is an award-winning poet, author of the moving A Wreath for Emmett Till and the terrific How I Discovered Poetry. She writes eloquently about issues of race, African-American civil rights history, and history in general. Unfortunately, American Ace falls short as a novel in verse. The narrative is far too slim and the individual poems are not substantive enough to make it a satisfying read.
The story follows Conner, an Italian-American teenager whose grandmother left a letter to be read after her death that reveals Connor’s father is not the biological son of Connor’s grandfather, but in fact is the love-child of an affair with an African-American World War II pilot, a Tuskegee Airman.
Reading about Connor’s journey to embrace and understand his heritage would be most appreciated by young readers who are unfamiliar with World War II history and the story of the Tuskegee Airmen. In fact, that audience is specifically who the book was written for, as stated in the author’s note. I see American Ace being effective and educational in the classroom, particularly during Black History Month or a World War II unit. The book can be read from beginning to end in about an hour, and the individual poems can be analyzed and discussed to good effect by students. Unfortunately, reading it as an adult may leave you unsatisfied and wanting more.