Set in Richmond, Va., in 1867, Westrick’s debut affords readers a look into the mind and heart of a reluctant member of the Ku Klux Klan.
Fourteen-year-old Shad Weaver’s life is full of secrets. Desperate to learn to read, he begins attending a school for African-Americans, offering tailoring lessons to the students there in exchange for the instruction he receives. He is very careful not to be seen, especially by any members of the other secret group to which he belongs, the Klan. Shad is deeply ambivalent about the brotherhood, appreciating it for the camaraderie it fosters but becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the violence it perpetuates. When the head teacher of the African-American school is murdered and Shad’s brother Jeremiah is fingered, Shad must rely on his own evolving moral compass to help him figure out what to do. While it becomes a bit tedious at times, Shad’s inner dialogue is crucial, as it reveals his struggle against the almost overwhelming social forces seeking to shape him into an instrument of racist violence. The constant sense of danger evoked will keep readers interested, and while the resolution is not entirely satisfying, it is nonetheless realistic.
From the perspective of a curious, compassionate young man caught up in Klan violence, this coming-of-age story will spark fruitful discussions about race, identity, social pressure and loyalty. (Historical fiction. 10-14)