Just South of Home

Just South of Home

Cousins Sarah and Janie unearth a tragic event in their small Southern town’s history in this witty middle grade debut novel that’s perfect for fans of Stella by Starlight, The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing, and As Brave as You.Twelve-year old Sarah is finally in charge. At last, she can spend her summer months reading her favorite science books and bossing around her younger b...

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Title:Just South of Home
Author:Karen Strong
Rating:
Edition Language:English

Just South of Home Reviews

  • Shauna Holyoak

    I love everything about this book, especially the spunky, true-to-life characters. This perfectly paced ghost story will draw in young readers as they learn about a town's dark history and the ability of resourceful and empowered kids to effect change. The strong and authentic voice is reminiscent of Jason Reynold's BRAVE AS YOU and Kate DiCamillo's BECAUSE OF WINN DIXIE. Make room on your shelves, because this one is a keeper!

  • Joshua Levy

    Really enjoyed JUST SOUTH OF HOME--the characters at the heart of the story are so lovable and so compelling. And as someone who really enjoyed spooky stories as a kid, JUST SOUTH OF HOME hits all the right notes. Kid'll love it! (Grown-ups too.)

  • Remy Lai

    What a great book!

    Sarah's cousin Janie has come over to stay. They stumble into an old church and cemetery, and Janie "steals" a cameo, causing a haint to follow them. What follows is a perfect balance of realism and the supernatural.

    What I love most is the relationship between Sarah and Janie. While the cousins do not get along at first, they start to discover they have more in common than they thought. I also love the complex relationship between Sarah's mom and grandma.

  • Gillian

    Beautifully written and perfectly paced, JUST SOUTH OF HOME will keep you turning the pages as you fall in love with the characters. These characters! Sarah, the main character, is a terrific kid. Janie, her cousin is struggling—but at the same time you feel for her and are rooting for her. But Sarah’s little brother is my favorite—he’s adorable! And their grandmother is unforgettable, I can absolutely hear her voice in my head. I don’t want to give away the plot but I will just say GHOST story,

    Beautifully written and perfectly paced, JUST SOUTH OF HOME will keep you turning the pages as you fall in love with the characters. These characters! Sarah, the main character, is a terrific kid. Janie, her cousin is struggling—but at the same time you feel for her and are rooting for her. But Sarah’s little brother is my favorite—he’s adorable! And their grandmother is unforgettable, I can absolutely hear her voice in my head. I don’t want to give away the plot but I will just say GHOST story, a town that needs to heal, family, friendship, and red velvet cake. Highly recommended!

  • Kristin Thorsness

    Karen Strong’s middle grade debut opens with red velvet cake, and it just gets better from there. JUST SOUTH OF HOME is an absolute delight. I fell in love with the spunky cast of characters right away and found myself both laughing and crying as I moved through the story with Sarah, Janie, Ellis, Jasper, and yes, even Mrs. Green. Without giving any spoilers, I’ll say the expertly woven plot has something for everyone: fractured friendships, tense family relationships, late night adventure, secr

    Karen Strong’s middle grade debut opens with red velvet cake, and it just gets better from there. JUST SOUTH OF HOME is an absolute delight. I fell in love with the spunky cast of characters right away and found myself both laughing and crying as I moved through the story with Sarah, Janie, Ellis, Jasper, and yes, even Mrs. Green. Without giving any spoilers, I’ll say the expertly woven plot has something for everyone: fractured friendships, tense family relationships, late night adventure, secrets, and GHOSTS!!! I highly recommend this one!

  • Kristin Crouch

    Just South of Home is the best of a child's summer: family, friends, mystery, and adventure!

    Responsible Sarah is finally old enough to be in charge of her little brother, Ellis, for the summer. This means that instead of toiling away under the hot sun following her emotionally distant grandmother's orders, she can read all the books she dreams of! What Sarah didn't plan on was her cousin, Janie, being included in these plans. Janie dislikes Sarah's country life, and misses both her mom and the

    Just South of Home is the best of a child's summer: family, friends, mystery, and adventure!

    Responsible Sarah is finally old enough to be in charge of her little brother, Ellis, for the summer. This means that instead of toiling away under the hot sun following her emotionally distant grandmother's orders, she can read all the books she dreams of! What Sarah didn't plan on was her cousin, Janie, being included in these plans. Janie dislikes Sarah's country life, and misses both her mom and the big city she left behind for the summer.

    When Ellis shares an old tale of haunting with Sarah and Janie, they become intrigued...And soon enough, they are in over their heads!

    I loved this book! The family relationships were memorable and evolving. From the distant and judgmental grandmother to the cranky cousin, to the doting and encouraging parents and the strong sibling dynamic - it was a joy to spend the summer with them all.

    Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I loved that the kids revisited the racial history of the Deep South. While many in the town would have liked to forget some of the evil that had occurred there, the kids knew that the only way to truly move forward would be to acknowledge and honor the struggle and pain of those who had walked before them.

    I highly recommend this book for students in grades 4 and up.

  • Jen Vaughn

    A YA book that deftly handles a lot of challenges facing kids today (and many yesterdays) like racism, family responsibilities, small towns vs large cities. Great for kids and adults.

  • Laura Gardner

    🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟/5 for JUST SOUTH OF HOME, a debut novel by @karenmusings (#KarenStrong); thanks to @simonkids and YSBRMA blog for sharing this; will share with #kidlitexchange next!

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    "...we can't change the past, but we need to remember it. We need to acknowledge it and not hide it." This debut middle grade novel about coming to terms our racist past is a must-buy for every elementary and middle school library! I sped through this book in one day and simply loved it.

    .

    Sarah, a Black pre-teen in rural Ge

    🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟/5 for JUST SOUTH OF HOME, a debut novel by @karenmusings (#KarenStrong); thanks to @simonkids and YSBRMA blog for sharing this; will share with #kidlitexchange next!

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    "...we can't change the past, but we need to remember it. We need to acknowledge it and not hide it." This debut middle grade novel about coming to terms our racist past is a must-buy for every elementary and middle school library! I sped through this book in one day and simply loved it.

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    Sarah, a Black pre-teen in rural Georgia, loves science, her small town and her family. She's dependable and book smart so it's no surprise when her mother puts her in charge of her little brother Ellis and her city cousin Janie, who is visiting for two weeks while her mother tries out for a movie. At least she isn't stuck doing chores all day for her grandmother, Mrs. Greene, who strangely insists her grandkids call her by her formal name (this may be confusing at first for readers). Janie convinces Sarah to take her to Creek Church, the former site of her church, which was burned down by the Klan and is rumored to be haunted. Janie, Sarah, Ellis and their friend Jasper soon find themselves embroiled in a mystery involving restless spirits ("haints") who must be brought to justice. Sarah may love science, but increasing evidence suggests that ghosts exist, too. Can she help put the spirits to rest?

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    Within three chapters I was completely hooked by this book. Strong's writing flows effortlessly and the plot, as well as the sub-plots are well constructed. I loved seeing Janie and Sarah's relationship grow, I adored the humorous scenes with Ellis' bearded dragon Walter and I was captivated by the mystery. Highly recommended!

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    #librariansofinstagram #librariesofinstagram #mglit #mgbooks #justsouthofhome #mystery #racialjustice #saytheirnames #ilovemg #bookreview

  • Jenna (Falling Letters)

    The last middle grade title I reviewed features Black kids in a small town and a speculative fiction plot; I called it “a fun summer read” (review of

    ). Those descriptors also apply to

    , but these two books are quite different from each. Sarah’s meant to supervise her younger brother and big city cousin over the summer when they find themselves tang

    The last middle grade title I reviewed features Black kids in a small town and a speculative fiction plot; I called it “a fun summer read” (review of

    ). Those descriptors also apply to

    , but these two books are quite different from each. Sarah’s meant to supervise her younger brother and big city cousin over the summer when they find themselves tangled up in a haunting connected to the town’s past. More historical mystery than scary story, this book uses haints (a Southern term for restless ghosts) as a way to explore the past’s relationship with the present.

    The haints in

    are mostly non-communicative. They are an occasional presence, usually spooky and sometimes scary. While they haven’t done any harm yet, old Mrs. Whitney warns Sarah and co. that if the haints can’t find peace, they may become evil spirits. The haints function primarily as a way to address the town’s history. They are spirits of people killed at a time when the Ku Klux Klan dominated the town. The narrative is framed around remembering and honouring the past rather than trying to forget or ignore it.

    A secondary plot that’s just as significant as the one above focuses on evolving friendships. At the start of the novel, Sarah frets because she hasn’t heard from her best friend Jovita since Jovita but not Sarah received an invitation to a popular mean girl’s birthday. Jovita, the mean girls, Sarah, and Janie run into each other a few times over the course of the novel. Sarah learns that she can be good friends with Janie, and begins to recognize that maybe Jovita isn’t a great friend. Sarah doesn’t completely reconcile her relationship with Jovita, which I appreciated for its realism.

    Miscellaneous thoughts:

    - Sarah is a huge astronomy lover. Her knowledge of astronomy and her willingness to research it helps her deal with the haints.

    - I would have liked a bit more about how/why the haints were woken up. I didn’t think of it until after I finished the book (was it just Janie taking the locket?), but I don’t think it was fully addressed. The conclusion is pretty abrupt.

    - Writing this review has made me think I should create a ranking from least to most scary of the spooky/ghostly middle grade books I’ve read….

    Karen Strong makes a strong debut in

    , a unique entry into the field of ghostly middle grade fiction for the way it addresses a small town’s racist history.

  • Ms. Yingling

    E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

    Sarah is thrilled that she and her brother Ellis are going to be allowed to stay home by themselves over the summer, rather than spend time with their uptight and controlling grandmother, Mrs. Greene. Sarah loves space, and has a research project planned, while the younger Ellis plans on constructing model cars. When their cousin Janie's mother wants to go to Hollywood and leave Janie with Sarah's family, Sarah struggles to make the best of the situation, especial

    E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

    Sarah is thrilled that she and her brother Ellis are going to be allowed to stay home by themselves over the summer, rather than spend time with their uptight and controlling grandmother, Mrs. Greene. Sarah loves space, and has a research project planned, while the younger Ellis plans on constructing model cars. When their cousin Janie's mother wants to go to Hollywood and leave Janie with Sarah's family, Sarah struggles to make the best of the situation, especially since she and her only friend, Jovita, have fallen out. Janie is angry about being left by her mother in a small town Warrnesville, but Sarah tries to show her around. They are both particularly intrigued by Mrs. Whitney, who has a souvenir shop in the Town Square and is trying to revive interest in local history. Leaving Ellis with a neighbor, the girls, along with neighbor Jasper, travel to the nearby ruins of Creek Church. They start finding out that the church's history is intertwined with the Civil Rights movement, and realize that Mrs. Whitney is right about their being "haints" in the area. They have awaken one, a small boy named Abner, and try to figure out what needs to be done to put him to rest. The town, and especially Mrs. Greene, doesn't wish to discuss the troubled racial past of the area, but Sarah knows that it is important to understand the past in order to make peace with it.

    Strengths: There are not enough books about children being allowed to be at home while their parents work during the summer, and Sarah's set up is well described. The cousins' relationship is absolutely realistic, and I enjoyed the fact that they both really tried to get along, even though they had different interests. The history, and the tie-in with the family, is interesting and timely. I even liked Mrs. Greene, despite her faults. She meant well. The cover is fantastic.

    Weaknesses: This would have had more emotional impact without the "haints"; it makes the murder of Abner somehow less real. While my students like mysteries, ghost mysteries are probably their least favorite.

    What I really think: Definitely purchasing for fans of Johson's The Parker Inheritance and Vaught's Things Too Huge to Fix by Saying Sorry.

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