It’s 1969, and 12-year-old Sarah’s life is in turmoil.
Sarah is overcome with guilt after her sister is involved in an accident, and life in Shady Creek is turbulent as racial tensions peak. Everyone’s talking about integration, and Sarah fears it will affect her friendship with Ruby Lee, a stereotypically sassy, pushy black girl who lives nearby. Despite the title and setup, the story is more about sibling love and self-forgiveness than it is segregation and friendship. Unfortunately, the book introduces such subjects as the N-word (unarticulated on the page but clear in intent) and Emmett Till but keeps its treatment on the surface, failing to assertively wrestle with them. Sarah acknowledges that she’s been sheltered from racism and feels guilty that Ruby experiences it, but her feelings about segregation seem similarly superficial. Though she promises to remain Ruby’s friend after the schools integrate, the book ends before she can complete her commitment. The book also contains unlikely scenarios: Mrs. Smyre, the new black teacher, invites white students to touch her skin and hair, and after a racially motivated crime, a crowd of black and white bystanders sing “We Shall Overcome” together. Hitchcock’s intent is obvious, but these scenes do not paint a realistic portrait of the time period for young readers.
The story is acceptable as a book about familial relationships and self-forgiveness, but it fails as the historical narrative it purports to be. (Historical fiction. 9-12)