Lu Olivera is constantly in the middle of things. It’s 1970 in Alabama, and the public schools have just been integrated. In her 6th grade room, the white kids are seated to one side, the black kids to the other side, and hispanics and “others” occupy the middle section. There’s also a political divide. Governor Albert Brewer is running against George Wallace. Some of the students’ families support Brewer, some support Wallace. Then there’s the rivalry between their school and the neighboring school, against which they will be competing on Field Day. And of course there are circles of friends at school that don’t get along with different circles of friends.
It’s a confusing world. Why does everyone have to be so divided? Thankfully, Lu has caring parents, a protective older sister, and kind neighbors that give her a solid base while she grapples with the issues of race, politics, and just plain meanness.
The book was inspired by the author’s own experience of coming to the United States from the country of Argentina. Although Lu and the town in the story are fictional, the racial tension and the political campaign are true. This novel is a good read for anyone 4th grade through adult.
The retro feel of this book cover caught my eye, and the description sounded like a good story with some substance to it. It is set in 1959, just when the Civil Rights movement was simmering. The book jumps back and forth between two families, one black and one white, each with their own unique problems. Bobby is the main character. In addition to his parents having marital problems, he and his brother Ricky can’t stand each other. Bobby and his brother and mother are on a three-day road trip, driving their grandmother back to Florida. Along the way, they stop at Civil War battlefields because Ricky is obsessed with history, especially the Civil War. Ricky and Bobby are always arguing and fighting with each other. In contrast, the black family is tight-knit and loving. Their struggles come from outside the family – racism and prejudice when they are out in public. Their 10-year-old son Jacob goes missing and they are hysterical with fear that Jacob has been kidnapped or killed.
The story had such great promise, but just seemed to fizzle out. I thought at some point the two families would meet, that Bobby and Jacob would be talking to each other, that there would be some sort of conclusion that we all struggle with the same things regardless of our skin color. But the families actually never interacted with each other, making the story seem disjointed. Also, there was just too much bickering and fighting and angry words in Bobby’s car. Too much negativity in a story can kill it, and I think it ruined this story. This is a book I should have passed on.
When we think of the bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama back in the mid-50s, we naturally think of Rosa Parks. Ms. Parks was removed from a city bus and arrested after she refused to give up her seat to a white person. In doing so, she became one of the most famous people in the Civil Rights Movement.
But nine months before Ms. Parks was arrested, a teenager named Claudette Colvin also refused to give up her seat on the bus. She had been fuming about the way blacks were being treated on the bus every day, and wondered why they didn’t just speak up and refuse to take it. One day she’d had enough, and refused to budge when the driver ordered her to relinquish her seat to a white person. Claudette was dragged off the bus, handcuffed, taken to an adult jail instead of juvenile hall, and found guilty of breaking the segregation law. For her “crime” she was given a year of probation.
This book is a reminder that there were many people whose lives contributed to the ending of segregation. Some people were given a lot of credit and recognition; others were forgotten or overlooked. Claudette herself sized it up perfectly:
“When it comes to justice, there is no easy way to get it. You can’t sugarcoat it. You just have to take a stand and say, This is not right.”