- Brotherhood by A. B. Westrick
Fourteen-year-old Shad Weaver is leading two secret lives: in the late night hours, he’s participating in the meetings and “pranks” of the Ku Klux Klan; in the early morning hours, the boy is trading chores for reading lessons in the home of a Richmond Civil War widow, Miss Elizabeth, who also supports the cause of education for colored children. These two worlds collide when the Klan abducts, torments, and murders George Nelson, the white “carpetbagger” Yankee who was to run the new freedmen’s school—but not before the victim recognizes and names “the Weaver boy” as one of his murderers. Yes, Shad was present at the murder, but it’s his firebrand older brother, Jeremiah, who is arrested for the crime. Shad keeps his mouth shut about his participation, even as he grieves the loss of the man who broke through his learning disability, and he tells the necessary lies to get his brother released from jail. Shad recognizes not only that Klan “pranking” has taken a mortal turn but that most of the Richmond men he knows are members of the brotherhood, watching his every move and planning to burn down Miss Elizabeth’s shed and the black schoolchildren in it. Westrick creates in Shad a character of extraordinary complexity—admiring and fearful of his brother, fiercely resentful of the Yankees [End Page 243] who’ve overrun Reconstruction-era Richmond, disdainful of contact with the free blacks he encounters at Miss Elizabeth’s home, proud of approaching manhood in the eyes of his elders, and ultimately unwilling to collaborate in harming another human being. This is a view of the post–Civil War South that doesn’t often reach middle-grade readers, and Shad’s perilous dilemma sheds light on the festering resentments that gave rise to the KKK.