Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Friday, July 27, 2012

You Can Feel It---It's In The Air

I remember the summer of 1964 having just turned 13, of understanding our country was in the midst of change.  The summer before, the I Have a Dream speech was delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial by Martin Luther King, Jr. only to be followed less than three months later by the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.  When you live through history its mark is forever on your mind.

For those not having lived in those moments various forms of media, movies, television, history textbooks, nonfiction books and fiction novels, are their informants, teachers, coloring them with their perception of the past.  Children and young adults today (all of us really) are fortunate to have outstanding author's dedicated to bringing an honesty to their writing whether nonfiction or fiction.  Debut novelist, Augusta Scattergood, has penned a piece of historical fiction, Glory Be (Scholastic Press), stepping back to the summer of 1964, taking readers south to Hanging Moss, Mississippi where most everything in Gloriana June Hemphill's life is in flux.

Glory Be is more than ready to turn twelve years old.  She is excited for its annual celebration held at the segregated community pool on July 4th, her birthday.  What she's not expecting is the pool's closing predicted by J. T., the older, bullying, small town, football hero brother of her best friend, Frankie. 

The newly arrived Freedom Workers have some folks in town, those set in their ways, fearful of things not being the way they've always been, in an uproar.  Glory finds solace in the town library, having helped Miss Bloom, the librarian, after hearing this unsettling news.  While there she meets Laura Lampert, the daughter of the woman who has set up the Freedom Clinic, having come down south to help.

Emma, the cook at the Hemphill household, has been there since Glory Be's mother died, providing support, love and counsel for both Glory Be and her older sister, Jesslyn.  Their father, a preacher at First Fellowship United Church, when not involved in church business, is a strong central figure in the girls' lives.  Another newcomer in town is added to the cast of characters, a teen, also a Yankee, competition for J. T. on the football team, Robbie Fox.

What readers have in this story is a big ole' storm brewing like a pot of water getting ready to boil, each character giving their voice, their stand, to the pool's closing.  It's also a summer of shifts in relationships, some old and some new; between sisters, between friends, between the white people and the African Americans in Hanging Moss, Mississippi and between a boy and a girl.  Nothing is going to be the same except for the things that should be, freedom, courage, truth and love.

Every single character is exactly as they need to be for this story to work so well. Certainly some are flawed more than others but all exemplify the attitude, the beliefs, and the actions taken realistically during the summer of 1964 in Mississippi.  Readers are immediately drawn into the story through the interplay of Glory Be with each of these people; loving her openness and pure gumption.

Augusta Scattergood is a storyteller in the tradition of all good weavers of words.  Her descriptions of events are so vivid, like snapshots of time, you are sure you could remove and place them in a scrapbook. The essence of life in the south, the dialogue, is so real, after turning the final page, the first words out of your mouth will likely be spoken with a southern drawl.

Here are a couple of passages from Glory Be.

When she handed me my tea, I pressed our palms together. "Look here, Emma," I said.  "My hand's the same as yours."
She shook her head and laughed.  "Glory, sweetie, our hands aren't a thing alike.  But they match up pretty good."
I looked hard at our hands together.  Emma was right--they were different.  Mine were getting nearly as big as Emma's, but her hands were the color of her coffee.  Mine were white as Wonder bread.  Still, Emma and me, we fit together like that Praying Hands statue over at Daddy's church.

From over on the library lawn, drums and trumpets tuned up for the parade.  Dottie Ann Morgan, the Hanging Moss High School homecoming queen, waved from the back of a red convertible, wearing a tiara over her beehive hairdo.  I didn't wave back.  She kept smiling, but she was scratching at the place where her ruffly dress's poof skirt must've been itching the daylights out of her.  Some little kid dropped his cotton candy in the dirt and started bawling for his mamma.  A bee buzzed around my head, and finally landed in my juice pitcher. 

George Santayana is known for saying, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."  It's not history textbooks that intrigue readers, that entice them into the past, but historical fiction excelling in its sense of place, time and people.  A book such as Glory Be, conceived and written by Augusta Scattergood, is what gives life to history, ringing with a crystal-clear truth, so readers can learn, grow and rise above what has happened before.

I will be placing a copy of this title on my personal shelves, recommending it to colleagues and students.  For more insight into the writing of this novel visit Augusta Scattergood's website linked to her name above.  The interview on NPR is especially interesting. 

1 comment:

  1. Oh, my. What an amazing post. I so appreciate it when a fellow librarian reviews Glory Be. Thank you so much.