In 1959 on a Civil War battleground tour, a white northern boy has his own prejudices shaken when he sees Jim Crow in action in a Joycean exploration that seems uncertain of its audience.
Bobby (of indeterminate age), his Civil War–obsessed older brother, Ricky, and their mother take the scenic route on the way to deliver the boys’ grandmother and her car to her home in St. Petersburg. Meanwhile, 9-year-old African-American Jacob leaves his sister and her husband in Atlanta to visit relatives in small-town Dalton, Ga., and he's a little unclear about proper behavior around whites. When a combination of stress over marital problems and unnecessary, abject racial terror causes Bobby’s mother to total the car in Atlanta, they send Grandma south and, much to Bobby’s mortification, book a bus home. Bobby finds himself on the same bus with Jacob’s family on an emergency trip to find the boy, who’s gone missing, and Bobby’s worldview takes an epiphanic hit. The narrative shifts from Bobby's perspective in a focused, third-person voice to the first-person accounts of a number of secondary characters. These voices, particularly those of the African-Americans, are mostly indistinct, their accounts seesawing from elliptical to expository. This, together with historical references that will likely slip past children and sometimes tortured syntax, derails prolific series fantasist Abbott’s (The Secrets of Droon) attempt at an autobiographical historical novel.
A laudable attempt to address an unfortunately still-timely subject, this novel feels more like a Modernist experiment than a children's book. (Historical fiction. 9-12)