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ONE MISSISSIPPI by Mark Childress

ONE MISSISSIPPI

By Mark Childress

Pub Date: July 3rd, 2006
ISBN: 0-316-01211-4
Publisher: Little, Brown

Racism, teenage lust and the burdens of friendship complicate a young man’s life in the Deep South of 1973.

When his salesman father is transferred to a small town in Mississippi, Daniel Musgrove knows, with his Indiana accent, that he will have to fight hard to fit in. He lucks out his first day of high school when he meets Tim Cousins, a lanky, sardonic classmate. The two become inseparable and even take a pair of sisters to the junior prom, where controversy ensues when school beauty Arnita, who is black, is voted prom queen. Later that night, Tim and Daniel see her riding her bike home in an agitated state, and she is accidentally struck by Tim’s car. The two panic and flee the scene, stopping to call an ambulance for the unconscious girl. Arnita survives, but has no memory of being hit and for some reason believes herself to be a white girl named Linda, with tragicomic results. Feeling guilty, Daniel starts helping out around her parents’ home and spending time with the confused, but undeniably lovely, girl. Nature takes its course and he falls for her, while trying to keep his role in her accident a secret. Their interracial romance is met with predictable disapproval and causes a rift between Daniel and Tim, who tries to come between the lovers. What happens next is a violent culmination of frustrated desire and revenge, implicating both boys. Childress (Crazy in Alabama, 1993, etc.) creates a believably flawed hero in Daniel, a basically good kid capable of cowardly and selfish acts, but goes too far in the shocking final scenes. Tim’s transformation from witty outsider into a black-clad high-school avenger feels jarring next to the kitschy southern nostalgia trip that makes up much of the story.

A coming-of-age tale whose shift in tone impairs its flow.