A historical novel examines racial tensions in mid-20th-century Bermuda.
Desma Johnson is a black Bermudian girl who is a week away from her 16th birthday. Growing up in a segregated Bermuda in 1959, she’s a brilliant scholar, having earned the Empire Scholarship, beating out many other “coloured” and white students in the Commonwealth. Her father’s gift to her was to be his treating her entire class to the movies. But this is where Desma’s troubles begin. Rumors of a boycott on the island begin circulating. The Progressive Group, said to be initiators of the boycott, seeks to end racial segregation in Bermuda, and they plan to do so by boycotting the movie theaters. Desma is upset by this development, but as the anxieties around the boycott build, she becomes aware of the racial tensions that she had previously been sheltered from in her paradise home of Bermuda. She comes to see a new, less favorable side of neighbors who were once friendly and supportive and realizes the harshness of the shadow that racial divisions cast over the island. In frequently expository prose, Maxwell tells a simple tale of a moment in a country’s history that is often erased. One-dimensional characters, jerky dialogue, and an awkward and excessive use of metaphors often take away from the significance of the revolution that should be at the center of this story.
The pivotal moment this Jamaican import describes deserves a more artful vehicle for the telling. (Historical fiction. 12-16)