RING AROUND THE MOON by Mary Burnett Smith


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An emotionally pleasing coming-of-ager that suffers, unfortunately, from a drifting start and frail conclusion. As the novel opens, the African-American Beale family moves from Westville to the small town of Hillsboro, near Philadelphia, hoping with this move to resolve the tension that threatens to break up the marriage of Arleatha and John “Blackjack” Beale, the parents of Amy, Lonnie, and James. The time is the early 1940s, and the stage-duration of the story is the “trial year” Arleatha has given John to reform. It’s an eventful year, though the book itself, slow to develop its drama, is best at its thick middle, when Smith immerses the reader in the textures and rhythms of her people. Father John doesn—t improve his ways, and parental arguments boil over when he drinks too much or is caught womanizing. The trio of children, meanwhile, observed by narrator Amy, suffer the challenges and enjoy the discoveries of a new neighborhood, a new school, and new friends. Light-complexioned Amy frets constantly about her red hair, combing and straightening it before finally snipping it off completely in a gently-introduced symbol of the way racial discrimination sinks into her self-conception—and self-abnegation. Amy’s father, a drunk possessing few redeeming qualities, is nevertheless the one advocate of racial tolerance here—a fact with confusing implications, though it might also, handled differently, have served to develop a humanizing theme that would have given dramatic strength to the whole. As it is, the story seems to fade off, offering provisional solutions but few answers for this family. Still, Smith (Miss Ophelia, 1997) does succeed in evoking the difficulties of a child’s dawning awareness of a pre—Civil Rights world, and the seeming truth that some differences cannot be overcome.

Pub Date: Oct. 7th, 1998
ISBN: 0-688-15987-7
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1998