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by Thulani Davis

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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


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.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In this resonant debut novel, 1959 is the year that Willie Tarrant, a young black girl in Turner, Va., turns 12. Civil rights activism, coming to this small town in the form of sit-ins, boycotts and voter registration drives, shatters the false peace between black and white inhabitants. The decision to integrate galvanizes the black community, but it also terrifies Dixon, Willie's beloved father, as the girl is among the handful of blacks chosen to attend the white school. Dixon knows that in a county where a black teenager is murdered because he asks a white man for a match, Willie's safety isn't guaranteed. Turner's black residents, whether or not they are involved in the Movement, endure beatings and daily harassment by the Klan (aka the police department). Willie learns the subtle art of subversion from her elders as church services become civil rights rallies; housewives joke about dodging attack dogs; young and old go to jail together. Witnessing the changes in her community and, internally, in her pubescent body, Willie develops a crush on the new boy at school and discovers the writings of James Baldwin, all the while registering her neighbors to vote and secretly reading her great-aunt Fannie's diary. The depiction of a woman who lived in the Virginia of the 1800s is as vivid as that of Willie living a century later. Davis celebrates everyday heroes whose defeats and triumphs she describes with hynotic dexterity. (Feb.)
Two years after the battle for the desegregation of a high school in Little Rock, Arkansas, the schools and businesses in Turner, Virginia, remained separate and unequal. Told from the perspective of Willie Tarrant, who turns 12 in the summer of 1959, and is picked, along with five other children, to integrate the schools in her home town, 1959 is a lyrical novel that combines two coming-of-age stories: that of Willie, as she tastes her first kiss and wonders why she has to prove anything to the white folk, and the collective story of the black citizens of Turner, as they come together to boycott the segregated businesses and canvas the town for voter registration. Recalling such landmark works as Coming of Age in Mississippi and To Kill a Mockingbird, 1959 is a wonderful work of historical fiction that captures the innocence and suffering, the fear and pain, but also the dizzying triumphs and one of this country's most important struggles, as it was experienced individually and collectively. 1959 is Thulani Davis' first novel. She has since written Maker of Saints and Playing the Changes, the libretto for the opera X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X, and the play Everybody's Ruby. Category: Paperback Fiction. KLIATT Codes: SA—Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 1992, Grove Press, 297p., $13.00. Ages 16 to adult. Reviewer: Nada Elia; Visiting Assoc. Prof., Afro-Amer. Studies, Brown U SOURCE: KLIATT, March 2002 (Vol. 36, No. 2)
School Library Journal
YA-- What could be just another rite-of- passage or adolescent-discovery book is much more here. Set in Turner, Virginia, it's the story of Willie Tarrant, who lives with her elder brother and her widowed father. Dixon has immersed himself in academia, nearly ignoring his children, since his wife's death. The Tarrants are African-American, and 1959 is a pivotal year in their community. There is an awakening to the latent prejudices that have been status quo for so long, prejudices that become blatant when an African-American is shot. The ensuing events mobilize the black community; Dixon wakes up to life again, and Willie turns 13. For students who want action, Davis's book offers little, but for those interested in a fine piece of fictionalized history told through a splendid voice, it offers a great deal.-- Diane Goheen, Topeka West High School, KS
Kirkus Reviews
A black girl comes of age amidst rising interracial unrest—in an accomplished and captivating first novel by a poet, playwright, and native of Virginia. In 1959 Billie Holiday died, rhythm and blues played day and night on the airwaves' "race stations," Martin Luther King, Jr., raised political consciousness in black churches across the South, and Willie Tarrant, this novel's nosy, bright and imaginative heroine, turned 12. Teetering wildly on the brink of adulthood, Willie is more concerned with whether she'll be able to roller- skate in a straight skirt on her first date than in the increasingly aggressive anti-discrimination activities her widowed father, a college professor, and his adult peers are up to. Nevertheless, history and circumstance catch up with her as Willie is singled out as a possible test case in the black community's push for school integration and finds herself forced to conceal her normal 12-year-old personality beneath proper Sunday clothes and Mary Janes. Aware for the first time of the existence of a hostile white community just next door, Willie is caught between her embittered grandmother's tales of the terrible past and her own hopes for a happy future, and she alternately wonders about and celebrates her widowed father's sudden zeal for confrontation with local racists. Before the year is over, Turner, Virginia, experiences its first instance of civil-rights-inspired violence and Willie learns that growing up black in America means something different from simply growing up. Throughout, Willie's intelligence and youthful naivet‚ inform these familiar stations of America's past with humor and humanity. Her voice—frank, amusing and passionate byturns—insists on being heard. A powerful, impressive debut.

Product Details

Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
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5.49(w) x 8.28(h) x 0.85(d)

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1959 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.