Thursday, February 21, 2013
Glory Be by Augusta Scattergood
Set in a place called Hanging Moss, Mississippi, Glory Be is a work of historical fiction set in 1964, a volatile time and place at the height of the Civil Rights Movement and much of it is drawn from the author's own recollections and experiences. It was during the summer of 1964, called the Freedom Summer, that the Civil Rights Act was signed into law prohibiting discrimination based on race, color, religion or national origin. It is also the summer when mostly white volunteers went to Mississippi to register black voters.
For Gloriana June Hemphill, or Glory, the summer of 1964 means a 12th birthday celebrated at her beloved Community Pool on July 4th. But before the summer even gets going, things begin to change. First, big sister Jesslyn, her best friend, in more interested in a boy now than in doing things with Glory. And then Frankie, Glory's other best friend, tells her the pool is going to be closing for repairs, even though there doesn't seem to be anything wrong with it. Even Frankie is changing, but not in a very nice way.
No sooner said than done - the pool does indeed close before Glory's birthday party. According to the new Civil Rights Law, the pool should now be integrated. So rather than allowing blacks to swim in it, the town council closed it down under the guise of repair work. But as summer goes on, no repairs are done. And much to Glory's chagrin, it looks like the worst is coming out in Frankie and he may be following in his racist father's footsteps.
For something to do, Glory heads to the library, another favorite place. There, librarian and friend Miss Bloom introduces her to Laura Lampert, in Hanging Moss with her mother, a nurse running a Freedom Clinic and a Civil Rights worker. Glory had never given much thought to things like segregation, she had always just accepted things as they were: thing such as different water fountains, different lunch counters, and ever different pools for blacks and whites. But the closing of the white pool on the hottest day of the year, just days before her big party, and her friendship with Laura and Miss Bloom begins to bring the unfairness of separate and definitely not equal into her consciousness and action for Glory. And along the way, she finds that there are all kinds of bumps in the roads and unexpected friends to help.
I really liked this well-researched, well-written novel. The writing is lively and energetic, the characters are realistic and the story has real depth. It is also one of my favorite kind of middle grade novels - the kind where the reader experiences the slow process of the main characters growth as a person, where there is no Eureka moment, but rather the steady unfolding of understanding, that coming-of -age process where they puzzle thing out for themselves and finally figure out. For Glory, that process starts at the closed sign on the Community Pool and ends in the library.
In addition, Scattergood has done a wonderful job of portraying the time period she is writing about. References to ducktail hair cuts, Elvis Presley, charm bracelets, Rock and Roll music and the Beatles are just some of the things that were so popular in the summer of '64 and add realistic flavor to this novel.
I have seen Glory Be and its heroine Glory, frequently compared to To Kill a Mockingbird, and its heroine Scout, but I think it should be only to the extent that they are such well written examples of historical fiction with truly wonderful characters. To go beyond that is to rob each book and character of their own charming individuality.
There is a helpful Glory Be discussion guide available from Scholastic's Mother/Daughter Book Club
This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was borrowed from Webster Branch of the NYPL
*FYI - I reread Glory Be during a recent cold snap in NY and enjoyed it just as much the second time around.