Friday, June 5, 2015

Book Review: Revolution

This is the second book in Deborah Wiles' Sixties Trilogy. While Countdown told of the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, this book, Revolution, focuses on 1964 and "The Freedom Summer," a time when black and white agitators gathered in Mississippi to assist in registering black voters. While the older sister from Countdown plays a role in this book, this is really a stand-alone book (not series fiction where order plays any role or importance, unless you are interested in tackling the books in chronological order to maintain a chronological feel).

Once again Wiles has done an incredible job of creating a kid-friendly story which fully parallels the significant events highlighted from history. It is part documentary (chock full of sound bites from the times and news stories, biographies of pertinent individuals and song lyrics), part historical fiction. I loved how events in the main character's life fit so perfectly into what was happening in the background of her story, so that she encounters imprisonment (a grounding), hunger (a hunger strike), and inequality (the inability to attend her beloved pool when it closes for the summer simply so that blacks will not be allowed admission as a result of the new laws). While I will say that Wiles is a master at presenting very serious topics on a child's level, at times it seemed like there was really too much background information for kids to fully digest (the book is over 500 pages long). The fictional story doesn't even begin until page 41, while Wiles sets the stage with the documentary information. (I did listen to this in audio form, but checked out the book as well, since I had read that the experience is more vivid when paired with the illustrations - photos from the times - so I would listen to a stretch, then flip through the book to see, visually, what I missed during the listening.)

While Sunny's town of Greenwood, Mississippi, is being invaded by "the agitators," it feels like her life is being invaded by her new step-mother and step-siblings. Everything is changing around her and she just wants the ground to be stable again and to know where she fits in the big picture. The story opens with Sunny and her step-brother, Gillette, trespassing in the town pool at night and encountering a fleeing black boy in high-top sneakers. Dubbed "High-Top," the boy weaves in and out of their story as life grows more and more complicated in a town torn by racial tension. The story sucks you in fully and the historical bits are interesting and well-done.

Sunny's conclusion is much like Franny's conclusion in the first Sixties book. She says, "Then the courthouse clock struck twelve and the mysterious Westminster chimes began to ring through me, and I felt how small I was in the big, confusing world, and yet how connected I was to everything vibrating around me, and somehow - I don't know how - that made me feel better." And again at the end of the story, she concludes:

"I'm connected to everything. That's what the Westminster chimes tell me in their ringing. Each of us is small, all by ourselves, but we are big, when we stick together. I am connected to everyone, even that boy in Baptist Town. And I do have talents. I am steady. I am brave. Annabelle told me so.... I am my greatest mystery, my finest discovery. Is there anything more amazing than that?"

Thus, the message is hammered home that each individual matters and has something to offer to the world. The struggle is worth it and, despite the confusion, even small people can make a difference. Equality is important and worth fighting for. Those were tremendously rocky times and many young people today would be hard-pressed to understand fully the dimensions of the conflict.

Having said that, I did feel a sense of pause while listening to the portrayal of this story. Rights come with responsibilities and the world we are living in is not necessarily a ringing endorsement for the accomplishments of the civil rights movement. Despite gaining the right to vote, blacks continue to struggle to find their place in the world. Moreover, I am opposed to all wrong-doing, whether it comes at the hands of blacks or whites. While it is not fair or right for whites to shoot and deny medical assistance to blacks, it is equally unfair when black individuals today seek out whites as targets for violence simply based on their skin color (indeed, racial tensions linger and the press tends to shy away from presenting black-on-white crime while highlighting white-on-black crime). While we have come a long way, peaceful co-existence still has not been achieved and perhaps never will be. Evil resides in the hearts of all mankind and can only be vanquished by good. As it says in the Bible,

"There is no one righteous, not even one;
11     there is no one who understands;
    there is no one who seeks God.
12 All have turned away,
    they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
    not even one." (Romans 3:10-12)

We're all seeking freedom's shores, but will probably only find them in the hereafter. As long as we are burdened with human bodies, hatred and prejudice will persist. Perhaps only an eternal perspective can present an unbiased presentation of the trials and joys of human relationship.

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