Cover image for Celeste's Harlem renaissance : a novel
Celeste's Harlem renaissance : a novel
1st ed.
Publication Information:
New York : Little, Brown, 2007.
Physical Description:
279 p. ; 22 cm.
Reading Level:
780 L Lexile
In 1921, thirteen-year-old Celeste leaves North Carolina to stay with her glamorous Aunt Valentina in Harlem, New York, where she discovers the vibrant Harlem Renaissance in full swing, even though her aunt's life is not exactly what she was led to believe.


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When Celeste Lassiter Massey is forced to live with her actress Aunt Valentina in Harlem, she is not thrilled to trade her friends and comfortable North Carolina for scary, big-city life. While Celeste experiences the Harlem Renaissance in full swing, she sees as much grit as glamour. A passionate writer, talented violinist, and aspiring doctor, she eventually faces a choice between ambition and loyalty, roots and horizons. The decision will change her forever.

Reviews 5

School Library Journal Review

Gr 4-7-In 1921, when her father is sent to a tuberculosis sanitarium, motherless 13-year-old Celeste takes the train from her home in Raleigh, NC, to Harlem, NY, to live with her glamorous Aunt Valentina. She soon finds herself scrubbing theater floors with Val and living in a windowless studio apartment. When Val lands a spot in the chorus of a groundbreaking Broadway musical, Celeste mixes with African-American celebrities until she is called back home to care for her abusive Aunt Society, who has suffered a stroke. This enjoyable story is crammed full of well-researched historical details. Celeste evolves from a wide-eyed, naive, bashful girl into a young woman unafraid to speak up for herself and follow her dream to be a doctor. Aunti Val is a self-absorbed yet charismatic woman struggling to make her way, too often at the expense of Celeste's needs. Tate deftly handles the complexities of their relationship. She draws her characters with charming humor and multidimensional candor. At times her tone is cloying, though, and the dialogue tends to lay on a "Gee whiz!" aspect with a heavy hand. She loads the book with references to real historical figures and events, sometimes to the detriment of narrative flow. The predictable plot aside, however, fans of historical fiction will stick with Celeste, eager to see her true blossoming at the end. Gail Carson Levine's Dave at Night (HarperCollins, 1999) is a faster-paced novel set during the Harlem Renaissance.-Joyce Adams Burner, Hillcrest Library, Prairie Village, KS (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Publisher's Weekly Review

Tate's (Don't Split the Pole) latest offering, a historical novel set in 1921, stars 13-year-old Celeste Lassiter Massey, who lives in Raleigh, N. C., with her father and his cantankerous sister, Aunt Society ("She was the only person I knew who loved to sit in a wheelchair, even though she didn't need to"). Celeste often plays the violin with her father, a former soldier with lingering health problems, and she dreams of becoming a doctor. But when her father enters a sanitarium after being diagnosed with tuberculosis, Celeste is sent to live with her Aunt Valentina in Harlem. Celeste-who has been told that Aunti Val lives in a mansion and sings and dances-is unprepared for what she finds. Rather than starring on Broadway, Aunti Val makes her living scrubbing floors, unable to secure stage work. Celeste is angered that she is expected to work too, though over time, the two make peace and Celeste's musical abilities earn her praise as a neighborhood prodigy. (A local cafe proprietor gushes, "When you play that violin it's like you're just strollin' down a Harlem street on a fine Saturday afternoon, and we're all just strollin' with you.") Unfortunately, just as things are looking up, Celeste must return to Raleigh to care for Aunt Society, who has suffered a stroke. In Celeste, Tate has created a fully realized heroine, whose world expands profoundly as she's exposed to both the cultural pinnacles and racial prejudices of her era. Readers will likely happily accompany Celeste on her journey. Ages 8-12. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Horn Book Review

(Intermediate) While her father recuperates from tuberculosis, thirteen-year-old Celeste moves from North Carolina to New York to live with her idolized aunt Valentina. The Harlem Renaissance is in full swing, and Aunti Val is a Broadway singer -- or at least she aspires to be. Expecting glamorous mansions, Cece is shocked at Aunti's tiny, windowless apartment and irregular employment as a floor-scrubber. As she deals with Aunti's unpredictability, re-evaluates her ambition to be a doctor, and even makes her mark as a performer playing her violin at a cafe, Celeste develops new coping skills and becomes a source of strength for her aunt and struggling neighbors. Famous figures such as James Weldon Johnson and Duke Ellington make appearances without disrupting the central story of Celeste's journey from shy little girl to opinionated, capable young woman. Similarly, the racism inherent in the historical setting is touched upon but then set aside to focus on the changes taking place within the Harlem and Raleigh communities. Tate can get bogged down in detailed sensory descriptions, slowing an already leisurely pace, but her large ensemble of secondary characters is complex, distinctive, and well developed. Celeste's wide-eyed observations, organic to her strong but somewhat sheltered character, pull readers into the thrills and fears of her rapidly expanding world. Copryight 2007 of The Horn Book, Inc. All rights reserved. (c) Copyright 2010. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Review

Celeste's father has tuberculosis and must go into a sanatorium. Her aunt can't take care of her alone, so she must go to another aunt, an entertainer who lives in Harlem. As she travels from the South, she begins a coming-of-age journey that encompasses physical and emotional maturity, as well as a greater understanding of the people who touch her life--in essence, her own Harlem Renaissance. In 1920s Harlem, she encounters poets, musicians, philosophers and ordinary people struggling to survive and thrive in a society that is not as overtly racist as in the South, but has its own limitations placed on people of color. Tate has an eye, and an ear, for the ambience of the era as it is reflected in both the strictly segregated South and the new ideas emanating from Harlem. Celeste and her friends and family are well-conceived individuals, both real and imagined, and represent the wide variety of characters and personalities of African-American society without reverting to stereotypes. Absorbing. (Fiction. 10-12) Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Booklist Review

After her mother dies and her father falls ill, 13-year-old Celeste is sent to her aunt Valentina, a singer and dancer in Harlem. Leaving Raleigh, North Carolina, is hard, and once in New York City, she is upset to learn that her aunt isn't a famous performer after all. Barely scraping by, Valentina asks Celeste to scrub floors for money. The Harlem Renaissance has begun, though, and Valentina introduces Celeste to the many legendary artists who congregate at the local cafe. Then Celeste is called back to North Carolina to help care for an elderly aunt, and she meets her challenges with the strength, realism, and courage she discovered during her stay in New York. Celeste's encounters with famous African Americans often feel contrived, but readers will connect with her strong, regional voice (I felt lower than a snail's tail ), her ambitions, and the enormous responsibilities she confronts at such a young age. Both sobering and inspiring, Tate's novel is a moving portrait of growing up black and female in 1920s America. --Gillian Engberg Copyright 2007 Booklist