by Kristin Levine
First sentence: “I’ve been wrong before.”
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It’s 1917, Moundville, Alabama and Dit is not quite 13 years old. He’s also the sixth of ten children, and tends to get lost in the crowd. All Dit wants to do is play baseball and earn enough money for the Fourth Hunt and do well at both, so his Daddy will notice him and not think he’s just another one of the kids. Then Emma moves in next door — her father’s the new postmaster — and Dit’s life completely changes. Emma’s the opposite of Dit: smart, bookish, an only child, and African-American. And yet, the two of them form a friendship that will last.
It’s a remarkable book, from the voice — Levine gets the Southern drawl without using dialect, and Dit’s voice is so spot-on I could just picture him in my mind — to the tackling of issues — in this case race and racism in the South during the Jim Crow days — without being heavy handed. The characters were incredibly sympathetic, from Dit’s desire to just be noticed and Emma’s desire to just be accepted in this backwater Southern town. It feels like a series of vignettes, though they are sewn together in a way that works toward a plot. And Levine wrote Dit’s growth and acceptance of Emma as a friend, and the conflict that their friendship makes in this small town, in such a way to keep the reader involved and interested. There’s also a sub-plot, again involving the conflict between black and white, which does get a bit melodramatic towards the end, but not so much that it derails the book. And, I have to admit, the end made me tear up.
Because, in the end, it’s all about friendship and how — no matter how different we seem — friends make our lives better. And what can be better than that?
(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.)