Laura Eboni Dyson is a typical African-American 13-year old living in Texas with her mom and dad. She loves fashion, baseball, and her best friend, Sage. When her parents leave for two weeks to attend National Guard training, she must move in with her grandmother, who she does not know all that well. Her grandmother lives on a family farm that includes an old slave shack and family graveyard in the back, both of which Laura find to be creepy and depressing. At the beginning of the book, she doesn't understand why her family would keep around a symbol of her family's oppression and suffering. But Laura has never been inside the shack, and she doesn't realize what amazing pieces of family history are housed within.
Laura's history teacher, who also happens to be her grandmother's best friend, wants to take her class on a field trip to see the shack, but Laura is worried that her classmates will only use it as fodder for even more bullying, as they already cruelly tease her due to her weight. Her teacher challenges her to go inside the shack, so that she can see (before her classmates) how her family's history is connected to The Amistad slave revolt that they've been learning about in class.
Laura does find the courage to enter the shack, and when she does she is blown away at the family history treasures within. There is a 'ledger' with letters, news articles, photos, and awards documenting Laura's entire matrilineal line, all named 'Laura,' going all the way back to mentions of the original Laura, a courageous and selfless slave. As Laura's relationship with her grandmother grows, she hears oral stories of her family's past from her, stories that are not found written or represented within the ledger itself. (I love the importance this book puts on oral history, and the responsibility of present family members to pass down that oral history to younger generations.)
But Laura makes a mistake in the course of this story that has damaging consequences to the contents of the slave shack and, more importantly, to her grandmother's feelings and memories. Laura must learn how to take responsibility for her choices, and, in the process of trying to make things right, she meets with a man from the Texas Historical Commission, to try to get the slave shack special protections due to its important history. (And she finds solace in the fact that other Lauras in her line also made mistakes, but tried to make things right in the end.)
Laura's feelings about the slave shack transform from shame and depression to pride, and she volunteers to lead her classmates' tour of the property during her field trip. Her self-confidence sky-rockets and she realizes she, like her strong female ancestors, will be able to accomplish whatever she wants in life with hard work and by staying true to herself.
This book is full of heart and sass and I honestly feel like I was inside a 13-year old's head, worrying about my looks and dealing with bullies and crushing on boys. This is definitely a book for girls who are struggling during this awkward period of life, and I hope, after reading it, other girls have been inspired to find the strong women in their family history, as Laura did.
If you'd like to purchase The Laura Line, please click on this Amazon link. This is an affiliate link, so a small portion of the sale will come back to Growing Little Leaves, with no additional cost to you.
©2018 Emily Kowalski Schroeder