I finished this fine middle grade novel in the middle of the night; it is that good! Sharon M. Draper was inspired to write it when she read her grandmother's journal, and learned that school had ended in fifth grade for her when help was needed on the family farm. It is also a tribute to her father who found love and learning in family, and who lived a wise and dignified life, despite its obstacles.
"It was 1932, in the little town of Bumblebee, North Carolina, tucked in the rocky bottom of the Blue Ridge Mountains, miles of stone-clogged farmland and forest all around. Folks on Stella's side of town worked as maids and cooks, janitors and sharecropping farmers. A few lucky men got jobs in the lumber mill., the only real industry in town. But they weren't allowed to handle the saws - only the boards and the sawdust."
Stella is also an aspiring writer. Each pertinent action throughout the novel is chronicled in short entries, typewritten and consistently showing improvement - a subtle reminder that practice makes perfect. She is an astute observer and a thoughtful young woman. Her stories include her mother's encounter with a poisonous snake and the ensuing drama of recovery, her friend's experience with prejudice and assault, her own meeting with members of the KKK, the burning of a house, segregation, illness and heroism. All of those things pale in comparison to the way the community comes together to support each of its families through good times, and bad.
It is a hard look at the ugly face of racism. It is also a testament to the resilience of those who paved the way to today. It is harrowing and hopeful, allowing readers a look at the past. It shows us that in gentle acts of kindness, love of family and friends, and community strength, good things happen. Stella confidently opens our eyes to life as she lives it. Ugly at times, also exceedingly beautiful, it is a story that should be shared in intermediate and middle years classrooms.