- Seeing Red by Kathryn Erskine
Charged with being the man of the house in his 1972 small Virginia town after his father’s sudden death, Red is trying to figure out how to stop his mother from selling their home and his dad’s auto repair shop to relocate the family to Ohio. In an attempt to gain support from some older kids, the twelve-year-old unwittingly attends a meeting of teenage Ku Klux Klan supporters and is goaded into setting fire to a small cross—while his black childhood friend Thomas, bound and beaten, is watching from the shadows. Thomas subsequently refuses to speak to his former friend, leaving Red to cope with the shame of what he’s done. Layered on top is Red’s discovery that his ancestors may have been involved in the theft of land from a black church—and the death of the church’s builder. Red is complexly portrayed as he grapples with the mourning of a parent, his inability to intervene in the abuse of his friend Rosie, the weight of learning from history, and the cultural disorientation of the Vietnam era’s changes. However, the speed with which certain plot points proceed, like the town’s forgiveness of Red after his cross-burning, and his mother’s transformation from soul-crushed housewife to budding feminist, pushes the story beyond credibility. There’s also a plethora of tropes here—a plucky young rabblerousing teacher and not one but two wise old African-American folks to help Red figure himself out—that weaken an otherwise nuanced account of a confused but well-meaning tween. Although McMullan’s Sources of Light (BCCB 5/10) is probably a stronger exploration of the topic, this could still see some use to spark thought on the remaining tendrils of blatant racism in the South post–civil rights.