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Devil on My Heels

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Overview

It?s 1959 in Benevolence, Florida, and life is as sweet as a Valencia orange for 15-year-old Dove Alderman. Whether she?s sipping cherry Cokes with her girlfriends and listening to the Everly Brothers, eating key lime pie made by her housekeeper, Delia, or cruising around town with the coolest boy in school in his silver-blue T-bird convertible, Dove?s days are as smooth and warm as the soft sand in her father?s orange groves.

But there?s trouble brewing among the local migrant ...

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Devil on My Heels

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Overview

It’s 1959 in Benevolence, Florida, and life is as sweet as a Valencia orange for 15-year-old Dove Alderman. Whether she’s sipping cherry Cokes with her girlfriends and listening to the Everly Brothers, eating key lime pie made by her housekeeper, Delia, or cruising around town with the coolest boy in school in his silver-blue T-bird convertible, Dove’s days are as smooth and warm as the soft sand in her father’s orange groves.

But there’s trouble brewing among the local migrant workers. Mysterious fires have broken out, and rumors are spreading that disgruntled pickers are to blame. Suddenly, black and white become a muddy shade of gray, and whispers of the KKK drift through the Southern air like sighs. The Klan could never exist in a place like Benevolence, Dove tells herself. Or could it?

In 1957 fifteen-year-old Dove, the daughter of a prosperous orange grower in Benevolence, Florida, feels increasingly uneasy after learning of acts of racism against the African American orange pickers by those close to her.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Set in the late 1950s, McDonald's (Swallowing Stones) engrossing, often brutal novel centers on Dove Alderman, the white daughter of an orange grower prominent in their Florida town, ironically named Benevolence. Small fires have been sparking across town, and Dove knows that "people have begun looking around for somebody to blame"; even so, after lightning strikes her barn, she's horrified that folks are saying that "some colored person" set fire to it. The mostly black and Mexican pickers are boycotting the overpriced store at the migrant camp, and rumors rage that they are responsible for the fires. Acting on some newfound, painful knowledge, Dove tails her dad one night and spies the beginning of a KKK gathering-where even her boyfriend is in attendance. Dove, a realistically drawn character, has a complex outlook on race. She feels sick when she sees Gator, her black childhood friend, beaten up for talking to a white girl on Main Street, but she doesn't intervene, because she is "afraid of what folks might think"; later, she calls the idea of Gator dating the girl "just plain unnatural." Readers should be prepared for some upsetting language and violence as McDonald provides a gritty picture of the rules that dictate Dove's world. The suspense stays taut as Dove begins to uncover the mystery, and then events escalate to a blaze. While the resolution seems rather fortunate and unlikely, it is also cathartic, and the audience will feel well rewarded. Ages 12-up. (May) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
At fifteen, Dove Alderman has lived a sheltered life as the daughter of an orange grove owner in Benevolence, Florida in the 1950s. Raised by Delia, the family housekeeper, she is a privileged child in the segregated white world. But her discovery of the real truth about the hit-and-run death of Delia's husband leads her to even more upsetting discoveries about the nature of her community. She finds she can't look the other way when she learns about the treatment of migrant pickers. She sees her father and her boyfriend at a meeting of the reemerging Ku Klux Klan. The Klan, led by her father's crew boss, is out to get her childhood friend Gator. The story of southern whites encountering and finally standing up to violent prejudice others have tried to ignore is not unfamiliar, but McDonald has retold it masterfully. The contrast between the orderly and beautiful citrus groves, the squalid pickers' camp, and the sinister swamp matches the contrasting lives of the characters. Both race and class are issues in this town, and Delia's dawning understanding parallels the increasing political pressure, culminating in a final confrontation disturbing in its violence. This title is suspenseful historical fiction with some love interest and a convincing depiction of that period that readers can enjoy for the story as well. 2006 (Orig. 2004), Laurel-Leaf/Random House, Ages 13 to 16.
—Kathleen Isaacs
School Library Journal
Gr 6-9-This suspenseful story is set in the Florida orange groves of the 1950s. Dove, 15, is increasingly aware of the tensions between the white grove owners and the black migrant workers who pick the fruit. She has a budding romance with Chase Tully, and is concerned about Gator, a black friend who works in her father's grove and is increasingly angry about the conditions. When fires break out in the area, suspicion falls on the orange pickers. Dove begins to question many things, which leads her to discover a Klan meeting in progress. Not only does she see Chase Tully there, she also sees her father. This eventually leads to an exciting, violent but overly melodramatic confrontation between the young people and the Klansmen. Except for Delia, the Alderman family's black housekeeper, the adults in this story do not have a lot to offer. Dove's father weakly goes along with the crowd because he has known these people all his life. The old-boy network that runs the town is full of stereotypical racists. But make no mistake, this well-written story conveys the simmering racial hatred and bigotry of the times. Gator is a strong, admirable character who is tempting fate by having a white girlfriend and by actively advocating for the workers. Chase and Dove are earnest young people trying to make the best of a bad situation. Period details about movies, cars, hairdos, and the like add authenticity. This is certainly a page-turner and it will give readers insight into a difficult and shameful part of American history.-Bruce Anne Shook, Mendenhall Middle School, Greensboro, NC Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The early-1960s setting of a racially divided Florida town has Dove Alderman, 15, morally caught between the Mexican-migrant and African-American orange pickers working her father's grove and her fellow white citizens. Dove's childhood play, amid the orange trees, fostered life-long relationships with Gator, an African-American child, and Chase Tully, son of the neighboring grove owner. Raised by African-American housekeeper Delia, Dove lives her life with a sense of justice and honor. Unable to accept the accident story behind the death of Delia's husband, she struggles to have the secret truth revealed. Gus died in a purposeful hit-and-run episode, the responsibility of her father's white crew boss. Normal adolescent interests in school politics and dating are entwined but skillfully overshadowed by the issues of racial prejudice, class status, frighteningly dangerous KKK behavior, organized migrant protesting, and choices Dove, Chase, and their respective fathers make. McDonald uses realistic dialogue for the time period, including the word "nigger," to deftly portray her well-developed characters in scenes that are equally vivid and sometimes violently graphic. Gripping historical storytelling. (Fiction. YA)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780440238294
  • Publisher: Random House Children's Books
  • Publication date: 11/8/2005
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 208
  • Age range: 12 - 16 Years
  • Lexile: 740L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 4.25 (w) x 6.88 (h) x 0.72 (d)

Meet the Author

Joyce McDonald is the author of many outstanding novels for teens, including Swallowing Stones, an ALA Top Ten Best Book for Young Adults, and Shades of Simon Gray, an ALA Best Book for Young Adults and a nominee for the Edgar Allan Poe Award. She lives in Blairstown, NJ.
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Read an Excerpt

1

Lately I have taken to reading poems to dead boys in the Benevolence Baptist Cemetery. They don't walk away before I have finished the first sentence, like most of the live boys I know. When I read to them, their eyes don't wander to something, or someone, more interesting. I can pretend these boys are listening. I can pretend they hear me.

On Friday afternoons like this one, right after seventh period, I head straight for the cemetery. I like to sit beneath the Austrian pines in the cool shade, reading lines from Tennyson or Wordsworth, listening to the whisper of the wind through the branches--listening to the trees making up their own poems. Soft words in the language of wind and pine needles.

Miss Delpheena Poyer, my English teacher, is the reason I am sitting in the Baptist cemetery reading poems to dead boys. This marking period we are studying poetry. All kinds of poetry. A few weeks back Miss Poyer sent us on a mission to find interesting epitaphs on gravestones. That was our homework assignment. I went to three church cemeteries in Benevolence looking for verses. My favorite epitaph is engraved on the headstone of Rowena Mae Cunningham, who died in 1871, wife of Cyril Cunningham.

here lies rowena mae

my wife for 37 years.

and this is the first damn thing

she ever done to oblige me.

I think that says all that needs to be said about the Cunninghams' marriage.

This afternoon I am reading to Charles Henry Colewater, "Beloved son of Emily and Carter Colewater," who died at the age of fourteen in 1903. He was only a year younger than I am now. His parents' graves are to the right of his. Sometimes I have this eerie feeling their spirits are hovering over my shoulder, making sure I don't read anything they'd disapprove of. This is, after all, a Baptist cemetery.

I lean my shoulder against Charles Henry's headstone. If I close my eyes, I can imagine I see his face, a friendly face dotted with light freckles across his nose and cheeks, like little muddy footprints left behind by ants.

My mom's grave is only a few yards from Charles Henry's. All it says on her headstone is Caroline Winfield Alderman, 1922-1947, wife of Lucas Alderman. It doesn't say a word about her being mother to Dove Alderman. I was barely four years old when she left this earth, so I don't remember her very well. But it makes me a little sad that nobody took the time to write an epitaph for her.

This week in Miss Poyer's class we are studying sonnets. I flip through the Selected Poems of John Keats, pick out one of his sonnets, and start right in reading it to Charles Henry. Only, the first line stops me cold: "When I have fears that I may cease to be." I know those fears Keats is talking about. Sometimes I lie awake half the night, worrying that Mr. Khrushchev and those Soviets might decide to drop an atom bomb right smack-dab in the middle of Florida before I know what a real kiss feels like. Not those slobbery head-on collisions after the bottle stops spinning, with everybody looking on. I mean the real thing. Although I'm a little vague on what that might be.

Not that I haven't been kissed a few times. I have. Even been French kissed by Bobby McNeill in eighth grade at Donna Redfern's party when we were dancing and somebody turned the lights out. I was expecting a plain old spin-the-bottle kiss. The next thing I knew, I thought I had a raw oyster stuck in my mouth.

I am absolutely positive that kissing gets better than this. Otherwise I would lie down right here next to Charles Henry and pull the sod up over my head.

I rest my shoulder against the chiseled curve of his tombstone. Poor Charles Henry. He was so young when he died. This is why I read poems--love poems mostly--to boys like him, boys who most likely passed on before they ever had a chance to fall in love. If I were in their shoes, I would certainly be most appreciative of any visitors stopping by my final resting place to read a poem to me now and then.

A wind suddenly kicks up its heels and tears the pages from my hand as I'm flipping through Selected Poems, trying to find something a little more cheerful to read to Charles Henry. It sets the Spanish moss into frenzied flapping over head in the trees. A storm is coming. They have a way of springing up unannounced on steamy afternoons in Florida.

A loud crash of thunder rumbles through the trees, sending me to my feet. Dark clouds tumble all over each other. I smell the rain in the air, a chilled metallic smell, even sense it on my skin. But I can't see it. It is as if the rain is stuck in some kind of purgatory between the earth and the sky.

The Austrian pines have stopped their whispering and are beginning to moan--loud eerie moans that burrow into my bones. The first bolt of lightning makes a beeline for the woods behind the church.

The sky turns the color of lead. Everything around me blurs into tones of gray, except for a large splotch of red in the distance. The red splotch zips along a few feet above the earth, picking up speed. A flash of lightning outlines everything in sharp blinding white. I recognize that faded red

T-shirt and the person wearing it. I watch him stop to fold something and stuff it into his back pocket. Then he takes off running through the cemetery toward the road.

I don't move from my place beside Charles Henry. When the blob of red is only a few yards from me, it stops. We stare at each other. The wind blows sand in my eyes, making them tear.

"Gator?" I shout above the roar. This is what goes through my mind faster than the next bolt of lightning can streak to the ground: Why aren't you in the groves picking oranges? Travis Waite is going to fire your hide for sure if he hasn't already. And what, for heaven's sake, are you doing in a cemetery that's for white folks in the middle of the afternoon with lightning bolts looking for any moving target in sight?

I shout his name again, but Gator doesn't answer. The wind beats at his red T-shirt as if it is trying to tear it right off his body.

The thunder seeps into the soles of my penny loafers. It rumbles through my body. I pick up my books, tuck them close to my chest, and keep my head down. I have to find someplace to get away from the storm. I head across the cemetery, walking as fast as I can in a pencil-straight skirt with nothing but a tiny kick pleat for maneuvering.

By now the wind has whipped itself into a frenzy. Flying sand stings my legs. A streak of lightning zigzags into the meadow across the street. When I look back, the red shirt is gone. Gator has disappeared.

This is what I am puzzling over, in between rumbles of thunder, when I hear another sound: the piercing honk of a car horn. I look up to see Chase Tully, grinning at me from his silver-blue T-bird convertible.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 8 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 8 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 18, 2010

    Devil on my Heels Review

    The book "Devil on my Heels", by Joyce McDonald was an amazing book about how segregation took place in the late 1500's. Joyce McDonald captured how some people truly felt about racism. Fifteen year old Dove loves reading poetry, especially to dead people considering they have no choice but to listen. When her heart flutters for the most wanted guy in school, Chase. After seeing her dad's employee, Gator, being pummeled to the ground just because he was African American and talking to Rosemary, a white girl, Dove decided that that was completely unjust. All the rumors going around about the African American orange grove workers setting fire to their employers barns was an insane assumption when Dove herself saw her father's barn get hit by lightning. But still she wonders why her father will not listen to her, and instead believing the rumor, Dove decides to follow her father to see where he has been going so late at night. She is extremely shocked to see that her dad has been attending Ku Klux Klan meetings alone with tons of the town, not to mention Chase. Dove sets her mind to it that she must stop the madness in Benevolence, starting a whole other issue with her family and friends and the orange grove workers. This book keep the wheels in your head turning trying to figure out what was going to happen next, and a true great read. -EKO

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  • Posted July 29, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Underrated Story of the Old South

    Devil On My Heels is a story that runs in the same vein as To Kill A Mockingbird and The Secret Life of Bees. Discussing the crude topic of racism and the KKK, this book is at once captivating. Fifteen year-old Dove battles with the realization that the Ku Klux Klan could be in her neighborhood, though she's hard-pressed to believe it. The story opens up with Dove reading poetry to dead boys in the cemetery. She finds that they are more attentive than live boys. As the story progresses, Dove not only has to face the realities of the KKK, but slowly sheds her naivety about the relations between blacks and whites. Her heart is broken when she discovers something about her father she wishes she hadn't, and she is pursued by the school's T-Bird driving heartthrob. I found McDonald's voice distinct. This type of story has been told time and again, but I would honestly pick this book over Bees any day.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 27, 2007

    Outstanding novel overcoming prejudice

    Deals with love, friendship, prejudice, and problems we still have in today's age. She is brave and passionate about the conflict and it makes me want to be a better person.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 1, 2005

    Devil on My Heels Rewiew

    Devil on My Heels, is a really interesting book, it held my attention the entire time. It is based in the late fifties, in the town of Benevolence, Florida. The book's main character, Dove Alderman, faces many difficult trials. Dove who is a naive teenage girl soon finds her ideal town isn¿t so ideal. Things for Dove are going really well, until she starts to question ¿the injustice of the colored folk.¿ I would recommend this book for 7th grade and above. If you like action, romance, and moral in a story, then you¿ll enjoy this book!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 14, 2005

    Devil on My Heels

    Devil on My Heels descripts with great detail prejudice against African Americans and the Ku Klux Klan. The book was compelling and kept me glued to the pages. Dove Alderman, the main character, and her actions were very real and vivid. I really felt as if I was witnessing some of the events in the book. Devil on My heels is a great book for ages 12+.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 11, 2004

    Wonderful!

    This was a terrific book. I found it at a bookstore where it was not in the teen's section and brought it home, thinking it was an adult novel...even though it wasn't, and I'm 40, I loved it! I wanted to BE the main character of Dove Alderman. She's a girl who sees problems and rises to the occasion of trying to solve them. This book RULES!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 27, 2010

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    Posted August 10, 2011

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