Big changes are coming to small-town Virginia in 1972.
Inheriting not just his great-great-grandfather’s name, but his hair color too, 12-year-old Frederick Stewart Porter, aka Red, is grieving his father’s recent death. His mother wants to sell the family auto shop and generations-old Porter land to move closer to her relatives in Ohio. Red’s plan to thwart the sale becomes waylaid, however, by prejudice and family secrets. In his reflective, first-person narration tinged by references to pop culture of the time, he unknowingly joins a Klan-like group, which alienates him from his black, once–best friend, Thomas. As Red connects with Thomas’ great-grandmother Miss Georgia, he vows to find the land that once held a historic African-American church. His search inadvertently uncovers a mysterious map from the past, his family’s involvement in the church’s demise and even his namesake’s role in a murder. It also raises Red’s awareness of racial inequality and the meanings of legacy and family. There’s a lot going on, much of it clearly written to convey lessons. Add a teacher who encourages questioning authority, a bitter, generations-long dispute with violent neighbors, and a budding romance, and readers have a borderline didactic novel that raises too many issues with resolutions that are too quick. Still, there’s no question the author’s heart is in the right place.
Erskine redeems many faults with a clear passion for racial justice and hope for change. (author’s note) (Historical fiction. 10-14)