THE MEANTIME by Bernie MacKinnon


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Racial tensions at a suburban high school--as narrated by black senior Luke Parrish, whose parents have worked hard to move the family to the middle-class world of Flower Heights. But their white neighbors are largely hostile, with rock-throwing among the harassments. And, at Bently High, where busing has helped to create full integration, there are daily incidents--locker-room fights, hallway altercations--and an increasingly intense dividing line between black and white: in the cafeteria, in the classroom. Luke, unlike his more militant younger sister Rhonda, tries to stay aloof from the friction, insulating himself with his high-achiever intellect (he's nicknamed ""Megabrain""). Despite ugly stares from both sides, he gently pursues a romance with sensitive blonde Holly. (""If we get any more obvious than we have, publicly, I might as well hit Toohey in gym and let the furnace suck me in."") But, as the violence escalates, with one of Rhonda's friends badly beaten up, Luke finds it more and more difficult to distinguish between non-violence and cowardice--especially in the history class conducted by somber, shaky Mr. McBride, a half-black veteran of racial school-conflicts. . . and a victim of nasty heckling from both whites and blacks. Then, Luke himself is terrorized: ""I stare at the back of my hand, the deep brown. All my life I've tried to think of this color as something incidental, not a source of shame or pride or status or unknown doom or anything. . . . But I feel I'm seeing and understanding it for the first time. . . . How could I have hoped to escape it? How, looking through broken glass, and how, amid all the white faces?"" And finally, after seeing Mr. McBride stand up to abuse and stare it down with dignity, Luke feels ready to face hatred directly--""without that burning inside,"" without evasion, prepared to fight if necessary. . . but still determined to ""rebel"" against mindless violence and chain-reactive anger. First-novelist MacKinnon allows narrator Luke to indulge in self-conscious, strained, pseudo-poetic prose far too often here: the voice is rarely convincing as that of a high-school senior-- even a ""Megabrain."" But readers who are sophisticated and dogged enough to get past Luke's delivery will be solidly rewarded--by the effective scenes of Blackboard Jungle tension, by the thoughtful, nuanced treatment of Luke's dilemma.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1984
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin