Grisanti’s novel combines history, family heritage and love to present the poignant tale of a young African-American woman’s struggle for civil rights.
It’s 1967, and Ruth Yuell is being treated in a Chicago emergency room after police officers invaded a peaceful demonstration she was attending. While waiting for medical treatment, Ruth recounts the story of her life to her white friend, Norma, a journalist, with the plot flashing back to 1939 for Ruth’s birth in St. Louis. Ruth’s father was a respected doctor in the community, yet he couldn’t afford for his wife to give birth in a hospital. So begins Ruth’s childhood and part of her eventual inspiration to join the cause of nonviolent social justice. Grisanti’s writing style flows well but provides scant physical description of characters, and the plot unfolds slowly, with occasional commentary reading like a textbook instead of a novel. For example, while discussing the church’s role in the African-American community, Ruth states: “In the pre-Civil Rights era the church was both a place to worship and a town hall of sorts to get community work done. Truth was there was no representative government for most Negroes. In the South especially, the church was the only place where Negroes could really gather in large numbers on a consistent basis to meet each other at all.” Grisanti’s more memorable scenes show the horror of racism: When teenage Ruth goes out for a drive with friends and while they’re changing a flat tire, white police officers accost them. Police leave Ruth’s pregnant friend lying on the ground in the middle of her miscarriage. Eventually, Ruth enters an integrated college up north where she isn’t harassed or threatened, although she encounters more racism and ultimately goes south to help with the civil rights cause. The strength of the book is in Ruth: Like the biblical Ruth, Grisanti’s heroine is devout and hardworking; she remains brave in the face of hardship. While trying to stop her fiancé’s sister from having sex with an evil man, Ruth is raped by the same man. He’s shot and killed, and Ruth takes the blame in court to save the reputation of her fiancé’s sister. Although the love story aspect can feel a bit contrived, readers will enjoy the sweetness of Ruth’s final revelation.
An uplifting story of personal sacrifice amid historical significance.