A coming-of-age story about desegregation that also tackles sexual identity.
High school senior Sarah Dunbar is one of 10 black students who will be the first to integrate an all-white school in Virginia in 1959. Set in a fictional town, the novel mirrors many incidents that occurred in Virginia and other Southern states during desegregation, including Virginia’s “Massive Resistance” movement, which closed all-white schools rather than allow integration of African-American students. Sarah’s first day of school, which takes up a significant portion of the book, becomes a piercing look at the courage it takes to endure outbursts of “nigger bitch” and other forms of extreme hatred, violence, racism and sexism. Quietly promoting these attacks through editorials (since her father is editor of the local newspaper) is Linda Hairston, who blames “colored people” for all the disruptions in the school year. When the two teens are assigned to work on a class project together, they learn about their respective struggles and surprisingly develop feelings for each other. Alternating first-person narration shows how Sarah questions her “unnatural” sexual orientation in a time without gay and lesbian role models or accessible information and how Linda questions her own options for exiting an abusive home.
As the young women gain confidence and independence, they arrive at a hopeful ending with a future that’s inclusive in more ways than one. (author’s note) (Historical fiction. 13-18)