As compelling as Brown Girl Dreaming, as character-driven as One Crazy Summer, and as historically illuminating as Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry.
Eleven-year-old Ella Hankerson yearns to know her absent father, but her mother, Lucy, and grandparents constantly evade her questions. Teased by other black kids for her light skin and white-seeming features, Ella indulges in wild speculation—maybe it’s Cab Calloway? Lucy has left Ella in Alcolu, South Carolina, for work and a jazz career in Boston, and although Granny and Poppy provide a loving home for Ella and two of her cousins (who share narration duties with Ella), 14-year-old orphan Myrna and Ella’s best friend, 12-year-old Henry, the rural South in the 1940s can be dangerous for black folks. Racists charge George Stinney, a quiet, shy boy, with murdering two little white girls, and Myrna once encountered a black family lynched and hanging from the trees. Although Ella eagerly leaves the farm to stay with her mother, she finds Boston also imperfect, as she must spend hours alone in the tiny apartment while Lucy and her roommate, Helen, work as shipfitters. A riveting read, this novel masterfully presents Southern and Northern conflicts through the perspective of a no-nonsense kid who is trying to find her place in the world. Ella’s realistic voice and passionate responses to injustices make her a credible, flawed, and likable character who sees the truth in front of her but often doesn’t recognize it.
A captivating novel that sheds new light on black childhood. (Historical fiction. 8-12)