YA Review: REVOLUTION by Deborah Wiles

I read Deborah Wiles’ COUNTDOWN a while back and loved it

see review here: https://drbethnolan.wordpress.com/?s=countdown&submit=Go

so I was thrilled to find REVOLUTION, part two in the Sixties Trilogy, in my favorite local indie (The Concord Bookshop).

In REVOLUTION, it is the Summer of ’64 – Freedom Summer – and volunteers have come to Greenwood, Mississippi to register black voters. Twelve-year-old Sunny has enough going on at home with a new stepmother, stepbrother and stepsister, and a new baby on the way. Her world has always been neatly separated into black and white, and Sunny has never really questioned it, or thought about it. However, things start to change when Sunny and her stepbrother sneak out to the whites only pool one night and surprise a young Black boy who is there. Soon they see demonstrations in their town and the young teen they saw at the pool is involved. Sunny is drawn to the Freedom worker volunteers, especially one who reminds her of her mother. The summer of ’64 becomes a summer for Sunny to grow up and come of age, and to understand that she has decisions to make in life that will guide her future.

I really enjoyed this “documentary novel”, which, while lengthy, is full of pictures, excerpts, and lyrics from the summer of 1964. Sunny’s portrayal is so well crafted. Her ability to see the prejudice in her small town from the perspective of a child is perfectly portrayed as she tries to reconcile adults’ racist actions towards the Black townspeople with their kind actions to her as a child growing up. She sees the ugliness and the hatred and it is greatly unsettling. However, that is one of the messages of this book – especially as it is for young readers – that prejudice and racism are all around us and we must not be blind to them.

This is a superb choice for a middle school classroom and to introduce students to the civil rights movement. To be honest, I haven’t read or seen too much about the summer of 1964 (outside of the movie Mississippi Burning) and it should not be something that fades from our collective conscience.

I can’t wait for Ms. Wiles’ next book in this trilogy!

Review: DOLLBABY by Laura Lane McNeal

I’d hear some chatter about DOLLBABY while I was at BEA, but I wasn’t able to get my hands on a copy. Finally,  a copy came into the library system where I live and I snatched it up!

DOLLBABY is a wonderful coming of age story, set in the South in the 1960’s. Liberty “Ibby” Bell is just twelve years old when her father dies in an accident and her mother drops her off to visit her grandmother, never to return for her. Ibby is a smart and plucky young girl. She loved her father and misses him terribly. She even misses her rather useless and self-centered mother. However, Fannie, her grandmother is quite a character and her unpredictable behavior and closet full of secrets keeps the plot moving. The household is actually run by two long-term servants: Queenie and her daughter Dollbaby. Queenie and Dollbaby take Ibby under their wing, and Fannie tries to rise to the occasion as grandmother. Ibby has questions about the family’s past – but learns early on that asking Miss Fannie questions only leads to disaster. What exactly happened in the house in the past and how does it still have a hold on Miss Fannie? Added to this are several subplots, including the fight for civil rights during this time period and Dollbaby’s quest for personal freedom.

Ibby’s search for her family’s past history is actually a search for connection and for family in its basest form. She seeks to belong and form an identity, left bereft as she is by the loss of her parents. Miss Fannie is a multi-faceted character as well: just when I think I understand her, more information is revealed to show that she is more than one initially thought. I would have loved even more backstory on Queenie and Dollbaby!

I really enjoyed this story, which reminded me a bit of SAVING CEECEE HONEYCUTT and THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES. I love stories set in the South and I love coming of age stories with strong female characters. This is Ms. McNeal’s first novel and I look forward to more.

You can see this book online, or get it where I got mine: at your local public library!