A profoundly affecting story about a bright black kid’s first brushes with bigotry, in a fifth novel from the award-winning author of The Multicultiboho Sideshow (1999), etc.
It's 1962, early July, in sizzling, smoldering North Philly—no place for a 12-year-old African-American who happens to prefer Agatha Christie to street fighting. Every summer Edward Massey's working-class parents, fiercely protective, hustle him out of town and down to Rehoboth Beach, where his Aunt Edna runs a thriving restaurant/boardinghouse. Well, not Rehoboth Beach exactly, Jim Crow being what it was back then, but rather West Rehoboth, that “coloreds only” country on the other side of the canal. Aunt Edna, a remote, unsmiling woman who makes Edward nervous, is a person to reckon with in her volatile community, but it’s the man mysteriously connected to her, the one he's been taught to call Uncle Rufus, who fascinates Eddie, and who challenges his cherished alter ego, Hercule Poirot. He decides, therefore, to devote the summer to ratiocination, to solving the puzzle of this scary, hard-drinking semi-recluse through investigation and logic. But why won't people answer any questions about Rufus? Where does he go when he disappears from the shack that seems to be his Elba? And, most vexing of all, how could he have brought himself to murder Eddie's pet, the turtle Mr. Peabody? Circumstances throw them together, the bitter old man and the precocious, tirelessly inquisitive young boy. Rufus, drunk, smashes up his truck with Eddie in it. Both are pinned in the wreckage, and while they wait for rescue, Eddie, somehow, embarks on a strange, sort of metaphysical journey into Rufus’s other world—a world in which young Rufus was free to make choices that didn't result in rage, defeat, and, inevitably, self-hatred.
What Pate, writing from the heart, makes particularly vivid is the way endemic, inescapable racism suffocates and ruins.