THE GIRL ON THE OUTSIDE by Mildred Pitts Walter


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Based on an incident that occurred during the 1954 desegregation of a Little Rock high school, this follows two girls through the last few days of summer vacation and the opening of school. Sophia, a white senior, is fearful and resentful of the coming invasion of her high school by nine black students. Ending her summer job at the dime store, she keeps a black girl waiting while she waits on whites who come in later. Atypically, Sophia has a journalist older brother and an incipient beau, a college boy, both of whom favor integration--but Sophia does not soften. As the days go by, she becomes more confused and jumpy, as well as touchy toward the black stable hand and the family's black maid, whose presence she has always taken for granted. Eva, one of the nine students designated to switch from Carver to the white school, is a sophomore with average marks but a firm understanding of what she's doing. She is also the girl Sophia kept waiting at the store. Eva prepares for school calmly, sewing a dress for the first day; but she becomes uneasy and uncertain as the Governor's speech, the judge's decision, the arrival of the Guard (and of ugly out-of-town whites), and the advice of NAACP lawyers keep changing the plans of her group. The only one of the nine without a phone, Eva misses the last change of plans and shows up at school. . . to be barred by the soldiers she thought were there to protect her, and then surrounded by the angry crowd. At that point Sophia comes to her defense and, though both girls are spit upon, helps her escape by bus. In reality, as Walter's afterword notes, it was a nonsouthern white teacher from a Little Rock black college who befriended the trapped girl. The change makes a better idea for a YA novel, and Walter shows some understanding of both girls' feelings and situations. She never goes beyond predictable portrayals of either, though, and she doesn't handle the tension of the situation nearly as compellingly as have non-fiction chroniclers of desegregation struggles. So, if subject-interest suggests a fictional version, this will serve--but it's not a strong novel.

Pub Date: Aug. 16th, 1982
Publisher: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard