A boy learns important lessons about prejudice, racism, and courage in post-World War II America in a fictional tale that combines autobiographical elements and the supernatural.
The fourth book in Antil’s (Mary Crane, 2015, etc.) Pompey Hollow Book Club series finds Jerry in 1953, 13 years old and finally settled into the rural community of Delphi Falls, where his family moved four years earlier. Jerry’s father, Big Mike, who owns the town bakery, is disturbed by the ugly signs of prejudice he sees in his upstate New York town. He’s especially worried when Jerry, his brother, Dick, and their mother travel to segregated Little Rock, Arkansas, to help Jerry’s aunt Mary with the birth of her baby. Although WWII ended eight years earlier, it looms large in the narrative, just as it does in the lives of the children who grew up during the early 1940s and the adults still feeling the war’s repercussions. In Little Rock, Jerry learns of numerous injustices, large and small, that arise from racial prejudice, from separate water fountains to discrimination in the military. His guardian angel, Charlie, who first appeared in the second volume of the series, The Book of Charlie (2013), calls Jerry into action to help Anna Kristina, a pregnant African-American girl who’s in danger from the prominent white man who raped her. With the aid of Charlie, two other angels, and a host of other supporters, including Jerry’s war hero uncle and the author Ernest Hemingway, Jerry strives to rescue Anna Kristina and even has a thrilling ride in a B-25 bomber. Antil covers important thematic ground in a narrative in which cooperation and understanding counter segregation, and most of the white characters are as deeply concerned about racism as the characters of color are. As this version of “Papa” Hemingway says, “Racism isn’t about color, Jerry, it’s about…not wanting to know about or care about other cultures.” Some of the book’s explanations are simplistic, and there are occasional anachronisms (such as when a Little Rock churchgoer refers to the rapist who fathered Anna Kristina’s child as a “baby daddy”). But overall, there’s much positive food for thought here, couched in an engaging adventure tale.
A complex coming-of-age story that evokes the enduring effects of war and the latter days of the Jim Crow system.