Thursday, September 4, 2014
Revolution by Deborah Wiles
Raymond Bullis, 14, just wanted to know what it was like swimming in the cool, clean "white only" pool, especially since the "black" pool had been closed for a long while now and black kids could only swim in the muddy river.
This night begins a intertwined journey which will take Sunny and Raymond through a summer of change that will impact both of their lives as each comes of age in the time that will become known as Freedom Summer
Sunny has heard so much about the so-called "invaders", as the local media refers to those "Civil Righters" coming south to help register black voters and to set up Freedom Schools for their children, but she is also dealing with "invaders" at home. Sunny was perfectly happy living with just her father and an idealized idea of her mother, a person only known to her in a photo with Miranda, age 19 written on the back. Sunny has convinced herself that her mother loved her but she left her as a baby because she needed adventures. Now, Sunny's father has just remarried and everything's changed. He's brought a new family to live in the house, stepmother Annabelle, Gillette and his little sister Audrey, 5. And even though Annabelle wants nothing more than to be a mother for Sunny, Sunny is resistant to her every attempt, testing her over and over.
For Raymond and his friends, change can't come fast enough - in fact, even SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) are too slow. But when he takes things into his own hands, he brings down all the wrath and hatred of Deputy Davis, a little too quick with physical force when it come to the activists, both black and white, and the black residents in Greenwood.
The novel is told from three points of view - Sunny, Raymond and a narrator there to fill in some of the blanks about Sunny's mother and father, as well as Annabelle's first abusive husband, a cop friend of Deputy Davis. The narrative is interspersed with photos, song lyrics, speeches, political slogans, posters, pamphlets and four of what Wiles calls "opinionated biographies" of SNCC's Bob Moses, Lyndon Johnson, the Wednesday Women and Muhammad Ali, all important figures of the Civil Rights movement, so that the reader genuinely feels wrapped up in the events of that summer along with Sunny and Raymond.
Sunny and Raymond are both believable characters, well drawn as children of the time. Sunny has always accepted the way things are, believing that the blacks on the other side of the tracks were happy with their separate but definitely not equal lives, and so Freedom Summer is a real eye opener for her.
Raymond gives the reader a credible picture of what life was like on his side of the tracks, from the lack of electricity, indoor plumbing, proper schools and recreation for kids to the threat of job loss if one dared step out of line, all designed to keep blacks down.
If there is a flaw in this book, for me it is the thankfully-not-very-time-consuming substory of the young Civil Rights activist, Jo Ellen Chapman, who reminds Sunny of her mother. Sunny, even as she realizes Jo Ellen is not really her mother, becomes a little obsessed with her, and the whole thing comes to a quick but unsatisfactory resolution by the end of the book.
As a former history teacher, I loved reading Revolution. It is a truly wonderful book, and one you won't soon forget as it brings history to life and life to history. It is the second book of a planned trilogy. The first book, Countdown, takes place in Washington D.C. and is the story of Jo Ellen's younger sister Franny, 12, and covers time of the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962. It is also written in the same documentary style. I am really looking forward to the third book, which takes place in 1966. 1962, 1964 and 1966 were all important, pivotal years in our recent history.
Want to know more about Freedom Summer?
Deborah Wiles has Pinterest boards for both Revolution and Countdown that have more documentary resources for interested readers who might like to follow her boards. A particular favorite of mine is the 1962 and 1964 playlists of what kids were listening to back then. Be sure to check them out.
Scholastic offers a PDF discussion guide for the Civil Rights Movement, that includes Revolution and The Freedom Summer Murders by Don Mitchell, as well as suggestions for addition books on this important topic.
This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was purchased for my personal library