Social issues, civil-rights history, adventure, and mystery are all skillfully combined in this gripping story of 12-year-old Alfa Merryfield, his sister Zinnia, and their great-grandmother Lydia. Setting her story in Montgomery, Alabama, during the summer of 1956, when the bus boycott precipitated by Rosa Parks is already six months old and racial tensions are high, Robinet (Forty Acres and Maybe a Mule, 1998, etc.) has created richly delineated characters and conveyed a strong sense of time and place from the perspective of two African-American children who are deeply involved in it all. In addition to the larger social issues, Alfa and Zinnia face other, more personal and immediate problems. Lydia's mind has started to wander, and the rent money that the three have struggled to gather for their tar-paper shack each month has been mysteriously disappearing from its hiding place. Even worse, the three are accused of stealing money from the big yellow house they are hired to clean. Inspired by Martin Luther King Jr.'s call for nonviolent resistance, and his admonishment that "justice delayed is justice denied," Alfa and Zinnia work tirelessly and ingeniously to solve both mysteries. Elements that add even more depth and suspense to the story include questions concerning the children's "phantom mother," who left them with Mama Merryfield when they were three-and-a-half years and six months old, and who has never been seen or heard from since; the secret signals and signs of solidarity that are exchanged behind the backs of white people; and the constant tension and brutality of an unequal and racist world—tensions and brutality that are exacerbated as the old order begins to crumble. Robinet has succeeded admirably in conveying all of this and more in a way that young readers will be able to understand, all the while telling a story that will keep them turning the pages. (Fiction. 8-12) Read full book review >
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