1959 / Edition 1by Thulani Davis
Pub. Date: 08/28/2001
Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Thulani Davis's 1959 is a powerful, poignant coming-of-age novel that captures a dramatic moment in American history as clearly as a photograph. It's the summer of 1959 and Willie Tarrant of Turner, Virginia, is twelve. Her father and other adults in the town are worried about integration how it will affect their children's safety and the quality of their education but for Willie it's just another problem she's going to have to deal with, like her chores and beginning to go out with boys. Willie and her friends kids from good families with good grades are being groomed to be sent in the first wave. Before this can happen, though, eight black college students, wearing suits and fresh haircuts, go into the Woolworth's lunch counter changing everything. In 1959 one of the most talented writers of her generation has written a book that will become a classic of civil rights literature.
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This novel portrays some of the main issues of the Civil Rights Movement, including shool and lunch counter desegregation, from the point of view of a 12 year old. Our progagonist faces many of the usual tribulations of a soon to be teenager: what to wear on her first 'date,' what the boys must think of her, what to do about her tense relationship with her father. She must also face a white school board that doesn't consider her to be good enough to be integrated into the white school, and the rantings of white supremacists. Davis expertly depicts the confusion the age (both preteenhood and the Civil Rights Era). I've enjoyed reading, rereading, and teaching this novel over the last decade.