Over the years, when I have told people that the year we lived in Mississippi was hell for me, they always ask me what made it so hard. I have struggled to try and find the perfect answer… it’s a combination of moving from a huge city to a smallish rural town combined with the blatant racism of our neighbors that we encountered that made it the worst place on earth for me to live.
Now, when people ask, I’m just going to refer them to this book. Burg — no stranger to the situation, being both Jewish and the daughter of a Civil Rights lawyer — captured, for me at least, the hate that some white people down south had (and have) for African Americans so perfectly that it was both uncanny and disturbing.
It’s the summer of 1963, and Addie Ann just wants to figure out how to survive seventh grade. Then her boss, Old Man Adams, dies, and leaves his six acre garden to all of Kuckachoo — both whites and blacks. Of course, that doesn’t sit well with the mayor or the sheriff, so they conveniently forget to inform the white side of town that Mr. Adams wanted it that way. So, later in the fall, when the garden is discovered to be destroyed, the person that the town decides is at fault is Addie’s Uncle Bump. Being Mississippi, no one expects the trial to come out right, and it’s up to Addie to find the missing pieces in order to set Uncle Bump free.
Actually, this book isn’t that easy to sum up in one paragraph: there’s an awful lot going on. A lot of it centers on the basic conflict between white and black: in employment, in housing, in voter registration, in the administration of justice. Everything negative you’ve ever heard of makes an appearance: the Klu Klux Klan, cross burnings, home bombings. But, I think Addie’s narration has a softening influence — she’s an engaging main character, one who’s vulnerable and tough at the same time. Her voice makes this book worth getting through; without her, it would be too depressing.
It was a very tough book for me to get through at points. But, I think it’s the toughness that comes from a well-written, and honest, book.
(Just for the record: because this is a Cybils nominee, I’ve been asked to make sure y’all know this is my opinion only, and not that of the panel.)