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Monday, August 25, 2014

Revolution: The Sixties Trilogy, written by Deborah Wiles. Scholastic, 2014. $21.99 ages 12 and up

"I'm just about to brag about that when I see a colored boy across the street all by himself. He's just standing there, near the telephone pole, hands on his hips, staring at the LeFlore. A man in a car with a long whip antenna on it drives by, slows down and shouts, "What you lookin' at, boy? You got some business to attend to over there all by yourself? And the boy says, "No, sir!" and the man yells..."

This is the second book in a planned trilogy about  the events of the 1960s. In her first book Countdown, Deborah Wiles used the documentary novel format to describe the turbulence of the Cuban Missile Crisis and its many repercussions in Franny's world as she worked to navigate family life, friendships and growing up.

In this companion novel, we meet two young people whose lives are disrupted by the peaceful protests and overt violence of Freedom Summer in Mississippi in 1964. It is a marvelous read: compelling, informative, poignant. Sunny is trying to deal with her new reality, in a home with a stepmother and the children she brings to the marriage. Ray Burris is African American boy, whose impatience for integrating the pool, the movie theatre and the baseball field leads him to make decisions that will have strong repercussions.

When civil rights workers come to their town, wanting to help register black voters and open schools for black children, many townspeople are upset. Many white people question their motives and want nothing to do with changing the status quo. Those being encouraged to register are frightened and unsure. As we read each of their two stories, we also learn through archival materials including brochures, photos, quotations, even music, that the way forward is fraught with obstacles:

"'There is no state with a record that approaches that of Mississippi in inhumanity, murder, brutality, and racial hatred. It is absolutely at the bottom of the list.'  Roy Wilkins, Chairman of the NAACP"

Sunny and Raymond do meet (in a funny and telling way), and their paths cross throughout the story as events in segregated Greenwood escalate into peaceful, and not so peaceful, protests throughout the summer. Nonviolent action is the dream; bigoted violence is, at times, the reality. Sunny has never before even considered segregation as anything more than it is, thinking everyone is content with the way things are. Ray's chapters reveal for the reader the poverty, lack of education and opportunities that is reality for him. It is heartbreaking.

If you were young in the 60s, you may be like me. So many of the events from this book were being discussed; I was only vaguely aware of them as a young teen. Once you start reading this companion book, you will be hard pressed to put it down. It's a long read, and often difficult. It is also historical fiction shared in the best possible way.

This summer I have read some riveting books about Freedom Summer, and have learned much more about that period of time (when I was 13) than I have ever known. Isn't that the real beauty of books? They open our minds and our hearts to people, events and our own sense of history.

An author's note and bibliography are included.


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