Moses presents a tale of sorrow and hope that recalls the simple pageant of life in a close-knit community of tobacco sharecroppers.
Bean got his nickname after folks in Low Meadows began calling his best friend, Martha Rose, Pole, as in, “skinny as a beanpole.” Narrated by Bean in a folksy vernacular, the tale examines the two children as they approach a rite of passage for young people in their community—the right to participate in the weeklong mourning ritual known as “the sittin’ up.” The death of revered former slave Mr. Bro. Wiley at the beginning of the work turns the community on its ear and provides the backdrop for Bean and Pole’s coming-of-age. Through her quiet exploration of the ritual, Moses illustrates how people in desperate times find dignity and joy amid their trouble. The National Book Award winner and Coretta Scott King honoree folds the harsh reality of sharecropping into poetic language that is easy on the ear. That said, the book’s slow pace ultimately feels dreary. The constant filling in of back stories bogs the plot down, and the frequent colloquialisms begin to grate, like an affected Southern accent.
Ultimately, the story is a victim of its own charm. Like sweet tea with sweet-potato pie, it’s too much sugar, not enough spice. (Historical fiction. 8-12)