1959 by Thulani Davis
Kirkus Star

1959

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A black girl comes of age amidst rising interracial unrest--in an accomplished and captivating first novel by a poet, playwright, and native of Virginia. In 1959 Billie Holiday died, rhythm and blues played day and night on the airwaves' ""race stations,"" Martin Luther King, Jr., raised political consciousness in black churches across the South, and Willie Tarrant, this novel's nosy, bright and imaginative heroine, turned 12. Teetering wildly on the brink of adulthood, Willie is more concerned with whether she'll be able to roller-skate in a straight skirt on her first date than in the increasingly aggressive anti-discrimination activities her widowed father, a college professor, and his adult peers are up to. Nevertheless, history and circumstance catch up with her as Willie is singled out as a possible test case in the black community's push for school integration and finds herself forced to conceal her normal 12-year-old personality beneath proper Sunday clothes and Mary Janes. Aware for the first time of the existence of a hostile white community just next door, Willie is caught between her embittered grandmother's tales of the terrible past and her own hopes for a happy future, and she alternately wonders about and celebrates her widowed father's sudden zeal for confrontation with local racists. Before the year is over, Turner, Virginia, experiences its first instance of civil-rights-inspired violence and Willie learns that growing up black in America means something different from simply growing up. Throughout, Willie's intelligence and youthful naivetÉ inform these familiar stations of America's past with humor and humanity. Her voice--frank, amusing and passionate by turns--insists on being heard. A powerful, impressive debut.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1992
ISBN: 0802138314
Page count: 298pp
Publisher: Grove Weidenfeld