Moundville, Alabama. 1917. Harry Otis Sims, nickname Dit:
“I’ve been wrong before. Oh, heck, if I’m being real honest, I’ve been wrong a lot. But I ain’t never been so wrong as I was about Emma Walker. When she first came to town, I thought she was the worst piece of bad luck I’d had since falling in the outhouse on my birthday.”
Dit is an engaging narrator, the middle child in a family of ten children, shaped by his culture and upbringing in rural Alabama, but willing to learn and to accept change. And change he does as he becomes friends with the new postmaster’s daughter, a girl, and what’s even more shocking, a “nigra” girl.
I liked the way this book was written with nuance and recognition of the complications of race relations in the Deep South. I wasn’t there (I’m not that old!), but this book describes the people of a small town in Alabama the way Harper Lee describes them in her classic, To Kill a Mockingbird. The people in Moundville are not all bad, not all racist to the bone, but they are crippled and held back by their heritage and their innate conservatism. Only Dit and his new friend Emma are able to see past the cultural racism that has ruled Moundville society since the Civil War, and they are able to right a wrong that could cost an innocent man his life.
This wonderful slice of life from the World War I era mentions several historical events and works them seamlessly into the story: the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918, the lynching of black men in the South during the 1910’s, the double standard for employing blacks even in the postal service, the young men going off to war to fight the Hun, a banana train from New Orleans, learning to drive a Model T, seeing one’s first airplane flight. I loved the way the history “lessons” blended into the story, and I can see this book being useful and beloved inside and outside the classroom.
Target ages: 10-14.
Could be enjoyed by readers age 10 through adult. Hey, I liked it.