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by Steve Watkins

Age Range: 12 - 14

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-7636-3839-9
Publisher: Candlewick

Sand Mountain, Fla., circa 1966, has a segregated population emotionally wrestling with Jim Crow laws. Dewey Turner, a lonely youth entering seventh grade, seeks popularity but makes the unfortunate decision to paint his face with black shoe polish, pretending to be in a minstrel show. He endures racial taunts and can only latch onto one friend, sassy fellow outcast Darla Turkel, who wears her hair in Shirley Temple curls. Watkins’s well-constructed coming-of-age novel at first appears to be something of a nostalgia trip, with references to black-and-white TVs, late-night snipe hunts and pogo sticks. Adults appear as both positive and negative role models, but it’s Walter Wratchford, a listless Vietnam veteran, whose disillusioned comments open Dewey’s mind to the racial hatred simmering beneath the seemingly innocent Sand Mountain atmosphere. As the story moves to a stunning climactic scene, logical character and content comparisons will be made to To Kill a Mockingbird. Although not a fly-off-the-shelves selection, this title may be paired with Gary D. Schmidt’s The Wednesday Wars (2007) as titles set in the ’60s suitable for multigenerational reads. (Historical fiction. 12-14)