When Trip Westbrook asks Dee, the son of his family’s maid, to play football in his yard, he does not know what he’s starting.
Jackson, Mississippi, in 1964 is in the middle of the civil rights struggle, and the sight of a black youngster playing ball with whites is seen as a threat to the status quo. In his 12 years, Trip has seen only the good side of his neighbors and his grandparents, but now he is forced to face their prejudice. One exception is his father, a doctor who thinks the family should relocate to avoid the segregation that dictates separate waiting rooms for patients. When Trip tries to get Dee served at the country club restaurant, he draws angry attention, and Dee accuses him of using him to prove a point. The situation just keeps escalating. Kitchings maintains a light tone despite the seriousness of the subject. Narrator Trip is believable as a sheltered boy on the cusp of adolescence. Dee and his mother are only somewhat fleshed-out given readers see them only through Trip’s eyes. The story does not sugarcoat the ugliness, even in church. An author’s note explains the use of terminology from the period, including offensive racial slurs, an important addition given the story’s target audience.
In the end, this is another white kid’s story about the civil rights era, but it’s notable for its illustration of how resistance to change affected whites as well as African-Americans. (Historical fiction. 10-12)