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Freshwater Road [NOOK Book]

Overview



The critically acclaimed debut novel from pioneering actress and writer Denise Nicholas tells the story of one young woman’s coming of age via the political and social upheavals of the civil rights movement. Nineteen-year-old Celeste Tyree leaves Ann Arbor to go to Pineyville, Mississippi, in the summer of 1964 to help found a voter registration project as part of Freedom Summer. As the summer unfolds, she confronts not only the political realities of race and poverty in this tiny town, but also deep truths ...
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Freshwater Road

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Overview



The critically acclaimed debut novel from pioneering actress and writer Denise Nicholas tells the story of one young woman’s coming of age via the political and social upheavals of the civil rights movement. Nineteen-year-old Celeste Tyree leaves Ann Arbor to go to Pineyville, Mississippi, in the summer of 1964 to help found a voter registration project as part of Freedom Summer. As the summer unfolds, she confronts not only the political realities of race and poverty in this tiny town, but also deep truths about her family and herself. Drawing on Nicholas’ own involvement in the movement, Freshwater Road was hailed by Newsday as “Perhaps the best work of fiction ever done about the civil rights movement.”
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Editorial Reviews

Samuel G. Freedman
It is impossible to praise Freshwater Road too much, in part because it arrives without a large promotional campaign or much publishing-industry buzz. The credit, then, goes not only to the author but to Agate, the publishing house in suburban Chicago that has brought such a worthy book into print and, with any luck, given Denise Nicholas yet another career, this one as a novelist.
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
In her rich, absorbing debut, actress Nicholas (Room 222; In the Heat of the Night) follows a young woman South to "trench Mississippi, gutbucket Mississippi" during the summer of 1964. The daughter of a Detroit bar owner/numbers runner and his estranged, class-conscious ex-wife (whose light complexion enables her to pass as white), Celeste Tyree has enjoyed a comfortable, sheltered middle-class life for all of her nearly two decades. But when activists talking of nonviolent revolution visit her Ann Arbor college campus, she determines to go South to help register blacks to vote. It's a decision she shares with her stern father, Shuck, in a "By the time you read this" letter, and Shuck's self-identification as a race man wars with his concern for his daughter. Part of what drives wide-eyed Northerner Celeste is her sense that her life little matches common black experience; her work in Mississippi is an attempt to validate her identity as a black woman as much as it is a journey to help lift the veil of oppression. Nicholas tests her protagonist's mettle in multiple ways, and Celeste finds previously untapped reserves of strength, learning lessons about activism and secrets about her own family. Sometimes gorgeous, sometimes terrifying, this novel marks the debut of a talented writer. Agent, William Reiss. 10-city tour. (Aug. 26) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
KLIATT - Claire Rosser
This is a story about Freedom Summer in Mississippi, 1964. It is based on the author's own experiences of that time. The main character is a black student, Celeste, who is a sophomore at the University of Michigan, a child of Detroit who had never been South before. She knows her parents wouldn't want her to risk her life in Mississippi so she doesn't tell them her plans until she is already in Jackson. The main narrative is about Celeste's experiences living with an elderly woman in a small community; she teaches children during the day and prepares adults to register to vote in the evenings. The young black man driving her to the town is stopped by police and beaten, with Celeste waiting, trembling in the car; white people shoot up the house she stays in, so she has to sleep on the floor the rest of the summer; the local black church where she meets her students every day is burned down; she herself is arrested and threatened by the sheriff, told to go back where she came from and not meddle in their lives. This is a powerful story in itself. Another part of Celeste's story is that of her identity as a black woman. Her mother is quite light skinned and dismisses their heritage whenever possible; she left her children with their father, a successful bar owner and numbers runner in Detroit. Celeste dated a white man her first year in college, but had just broken up with him, confused, as she left for Mississippi. Some of the story is told in intermittent chapters about Celeste's father (these sections aren't going to be as powerful for YAs) as he worries about Celeste's safety and voices his pride in being black; he wants to protect his children and see that they get educated and havesuccessful lives. Oddly enough, the old Southern woman housing Celeste voices much the same argument to her when Celeste considers taking a leave from college and remaining in Mississippi through the winter—that Celeste should finish her education, not worry her father, and can help her race best by being successful. Celeste meets Ed, a black graduate student also working in the One Man, One Vote campaign, and they are strongly attracted to one another. Not only is there the physical magnet, but they are joined together in this movement that is larger than themselves—the fear, the despair, the hope. This is an honest and vivid story, a complement to any study of the Civil Rights Movement. The discussion questions at the back of the book help clarify the many issues raised by Celeste's experiences.
Library Journal
This uneven debut novel about the Civil Rights era mostly relates the experiences of Celeste Tyree, a black 19-year-old college student who na vely and courageously travels to the South to take part in the 1964 summer campaign to register disenfranchised African American voters in Mississippi. The narrated events in Mississippi alternate with a distracting subplot about Celeste's successful night club-owning father in Detroit. In its most effective parts, the novel clearly conveys the idealistic determination and heroism of the young volunteers and the local Mississippians who took part in the campaign as well as the awful fear that pervaded the segregated South at the time. But its prose style fluctuates between the mundane and a kind of forced baroque, while too many characters border on-or in fact are-one-dimensional. With the recent trial and conviction of one of the white racist murderers of three Civil Rights workers from that summer as well as the reopening of other long-dormant murder cases, this book is timely. But problems with its style, characterization, and focus hold it back. Recommended for public and academic libraries where interest warrants. [Nicholas is an actress who starred in the TV series Room 222 and In the Heat of the Night.-Ed.]-Roger A. Berger, Everett Community Coll., WA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
One of the civil-rights movement's most iconic projects, Freedom Summer 1964, is revisited in this first novel by an actress who was also a participant. Celeste Tyree is a 19-year-old light-skinned black woman from Detroit who has come to Mississippi as a volunteer. She does so without telling her father Shuck, a prosperous bar owner who fusses over her dangerous mission. Movement headquarters sends Celeste to the small town of Pineyville, scene of a 1959 lynching, near the Louisiana border. She stays with Geneva Owens, a dignified, intensely religious widow, in her tumbledown home (there's an outdoor spigot and an outdoor toilet). Celeste must sleep on the floor after the windows are shot up. By day, she teaches five children in the black church; at night, she prepares adults for voter registration. Registration at the county office yields the book's climax. Dynamic community leader Reverend Singleton is hurled to the floor by the sheriff, who puts a gun to Celeste's head. They are briefly jailed and their church is burnt to the ground, yet, on their third attempt, they register three voters, a small but significant victory. Despite overheated language, Nicholas conveys the pervasive fear; the confrontations with the white power structure are effective; and she enlarges her picture of freedom fighters battling bigots with a thuggish fellow volunteer and a tyrannical black father. Still, Freedom Summer 1964 has been amply documented in print and on screen and Nicholas falls short in presenting the subject in a fresh light. She focuses on Celeste's troubled relationship with her mother, living with her second husband in New Mexico, and on her identity issues. Celeste's internal strugglegoes unresolved and acts only as a distraction from the nightmare of being black in Mississippi. A painful journey over well-trod ground.
From the Publisher
"Surely the best work of fiction about the civil rights movement since Ernest J. Gaines's The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman." - The Washington Post

"Breathtaking.... Perhaps the best work of fiction ever done about the civil rights movement." -- Newsday (New York)

"Hypnotic.... [Nicholas] conjures an insidious mood of fear and writes with lyrical prose." -- Entertainment Weekly

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781572846098
  • Publisher: Agate
  • Publication date: 3/1/2009
  • Series: Nia Guide to Black Women
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 335
  • Sales rank: 383,891
  • File size: 471 KB

Meet the Author

Denise Nicholas is an actor who starred in the TV series Room 222 and In the Heat of the Night, among many other tv, film, and theatrical productions. Freshwater Road is her first novel.
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Read an Excerpt

Freshwater Road


By Denise Nicholas

Pocket

Copyright © 2006 Denise Nicholas
All right reserved.

ISBN: 1-4165-2482-7


Chapter One

Out of Memphis with night drawing up thick to the windows, Celeste felt the air pressing down. She'd dressed in a gabardine jumper and a long-sleeved blouse against the lingering cool of a June Ann Arbor morning. Now, her clothes weighed on her like a damp blanket. She closed her eyes. Before sunset, the trees had segued to a double-dyed richness of color and the loamy soil had turned blood-rust. Soft-talking voices of the train passengers mutated from the flat singsong of the Midwest to the sloping drawls of the deep South. She shuddered, remembering a life she'd never lived, then laughed at the irony. Every Negro in America had a nightmare of Mississippi, of dying in the clutches of a hatred so deep it spoke in tongues.

The conductor, a tall square-jawed dark-skinned man, his upper body leaning into the car as if primed to run in the other direction, called out, "Senatobia." He clanged the metal door closed. Earlier, he'd walked the aisle swaying with the train, announcing the names of towns, his resonant voice a clarion call to freedom. He nodded to her quiet self, scrunched in her corner, a map of the Southern states spread on the seat next to her. The mimeographed sheets from One Man, One Vote blared out in bold type, "How to Stay Alive in Mississippi." He knew why she was on this train.

She peered through the dirty window when he poked his head into the car andcalled out, "Sardis." Not a soul on the platform. They barely stopped. The train lurched forward, slow-waddling south.

Sardis. Senatobia. Idyllic names. She checked her map.

"Grenada." What's he saying? An island paradise in the Caribbean with long, sun-drenched beaches and fountains splashing cool water on lush flowers? A quick glance to her. Why does he duck his head in and out like he's hiding in a closet? His eyes are like black marbles in the murky train light.

Saliva had pooled in the corner of her mouth by the time he called out, "Vaughan." At the soft edge of sleep, Celeste dreamed of Negroes darting their ghostly selves like wild children playing hide-and-go-seek. The conductor peeked from behind a tree. She forgot completely where she was going and why. When he called out "Canton," her stomach growled in yearning for Chinese food at one of Shuck's stops in Detroit. Egg foo yung, shrimp in oyster sauce, sweet and sour pork. Shuck's diamond pinkie ring sparkled against his brown skin in the neon light as he held the white carry-out bags away from his camel hair coat.

In the foggy back hollow of her surface doze, a new voice calls out, "Jack-son, Miss'sippi." Miss Sippi lives down the street. She longs to sleep past her ticketed stop, but can't escape the appalling pictures of hunted people scattering behind her eyes. "Jack-son." When the train braked with a low howl and a long screech, she woke fully, gagging on the oily aftertaste of a Memphis ham sandwich, remembering Momma Bessie's warning that pork dreams were always nightmares.

By the time The City of New Orleans Limited rolled into the Jackson station, Celeste had been slouching upright on a worn-down seat for more than twelve hours. Counting the night trip from Ann Arbor to Chicago and the hard wait at the station there, it was closer to twenty-four. No sign of that conductor. Maybe he'd never been there at all. She hoisted her green canvas book bag onto her shoulder by the strap, wrestled her suitcase from behind the last row of seats, and stepped down to the platform. She took off toward the lobby, her suitcase banging her side, her book bag bouncing against her back.

When a rich, low voice called out, "Suh, lemme git dat fa ya, suh." Then, "Ma'am, I got dat, ma'am," Celeste turned to see a Negro porter bowing, grinning, and grabbing suitcases in one fluid intonation of the past. The porter caught her gape-mouthed stare, rolled his eyes, then flashed his pearly whites at the white passengers and continued his work. Ah, she thought, this was the real deal. Mississippi had to be the birthplace of the grovel, handmaiden to the blues, the crown jewel in the system of slavery, the kick-down place.

Celeste walked faster, her thighs chafing in the swollen heat, blessing her gym shoes with every step she took. She whizzed by lacquer-haired women wearing outdated sundresses and cigar chomping men. Out of the corners of their eyes came slices of stares, sharp as razor blades, which seemed to say, "I know why you're here, and you better go on home where you belong." The cigar smoke irritated her nose. At the end of her train, the dark well of soot-covered tracks disappeared into a pitch-black tunnel. She hurried on.

Under the yellowish glare of bare fluorescent tubes, just off the central waiting lobby of the station, Celeste came face-to-face with the first Whites Only sign she had ever seen in her life. She stared at the sign tacked to the ladies' room door, its letters hand-printed and uneven. She needed to go to the bathroom. A blush warmed her ears and acids grumbled her stomach. She surveyed the nearly deserted lobby, the stragglers from her train passing through to the street and a few bag-toting travelers loitering about, smoking. No signs pointing the way to the Negro restrooms. Anger tightened her jaws. The pressure in her bladder grew. It had been a long time since the rest stop in Memphis. Just then, another Negro woman, colorful scarf over a head of rollers, suitcase and bags beating her body, pushed herself, back first, into the ladies' room as if that sign were not there. Celeste followed her in, afraid to turn around to see if anyone noticed.

The woman moved fast, shoving her things under a washbowl and then ducking into a stall. Celeste did the same. Squatted over the dirty toilet, panties down, she imagined being grabbed by the ankles from under the door. Her mind snapped to the television news film she'd seen of young people, Negro and white, yanked off buses and beaten until blood flowed down their faces. Whites Only signs flashed like backdrops to a bloodletting. Two minutes off the train and here she was already breaking the law. Her imagination ran on full. But this was real. Her father, Shuck, used to say she had good book sense and not too much of the other. She heard the woman flush and exit the stall. She took deep breaths, pulled the flush chain, and came out into the glass-hard light of the bathroom.

Celeste eyed the ladies' room door, anxious to wash her hands and be on her way. "Is it okay to be in here?" She and the hair-rolled woman were co-conspirators. There was comfort in the assumed comradeship. At least she wasn't alone. They were in the Whites Only bathroom, had already used it. She had a story to tell, and she hadn't even gotten to the One Man, One Vote office.

The woman glanced at her sideways, digging in one of her bags, standing in front of the scum-pocked mirror. "Okay by who?" Her round eyes protruded slightly just above full cinnamon-brown cheeks. "Where you from?" Her head lurched back then settled as she worked on herself, her bag heaving up a comb and brush, toothpaste, a box of powder, a frayed puff, lipstick, rouge.

"Detroit." Negro people from the South favored the city of Detroit, that mystical blue-collar heaven of jobs. Shuck and Momma Bessie both did a lot of fussing about Negroes still coming up from the deep South searching for jobs that no longer existed, running the city services down the drain simply by the press of their numbers and needs. Celeste plunged soap containers along the line of washbowls. They were all empty. Still, she rejoiced at rolling up her long sleeves to the elbows and getting that fabric off her damp skin.

"Detroit, uh?" The woman smiled a knowing smile, as if honoring Celeste with a good check mark. "Chile, nobody pays that sign no mind no more. Course now, white ladies stopped coming in here." She indicated the overflowing trash receptacle, the dirty mirror and basins. "The law says we can come in here, it don't say they have to come in here." She squinted in the mirror.

Celeste took it in, trying to grasp the logic. "Where do they go?" She saw long corridors of bathrooms with color-coded signs, some white, some Negro, some integrated, and some unmarked. Wrong door, bad news. Maybe they gave their old ladies' rooms to Negroes and built spanking brand-new ones for themselves, left the signs up to confuse everyone. How long could they do that?

"I don't give a damn where they go." The woman applied her makeup as she talked, manicured nails glowing fuchsia. Then her deft hands quickly removed hair rollers. She brushed her hair, then applied rouge and powder to her face. "Those signs were down 'til the white folks got word about this Freedom Summer thing." She glanced at Celeste with a suspicious narrowing of her eyes, then coughed. She took a plug of toothpaste on her finger, rubbed it on her teeth, bent to get a swig of water from the faucet, gargled, then spat the residue in the bowl.

Celeste, remembering the instruction from One Man, One Vote about announcing to strangers her reasons for being in the South, rinsed her hands under the warm water, splashed some on her face, and volunteered nothing. No way to know who might run straight to the local police, the Klan, or some other enemy. Too late she discovered the paper towel dispenser was empty, too. "You from Jackson?"

"Mound Bayou." The woman paused. "Ever hear of it?"

"No." Celeste stood there dripping.

"It's a all-colored town, north of here. Bolivar County. Ain't nothin' up there but a post office and a lot of mud. But it's ours."

Wouldn't be long before Detroit was an all-colored town, too, if you listened to Shuck and Momma Bessie. Shuck always had a story about some white business or another moving to the suburbs. Still, she thought, she might like to go to Mound Bayou, see it for herself. She'd never realized how Negro Detroit was until she arrived in nearly all-white Ann Arbor. She'd missed Detroit in her bones that first semester and ran home every weekend - until she met J.D. That ended the trips home; Shuck didn't take to her dating a white guy, and he let her know it in no uncertain terms.

"You can't stay in Mound Bayou too long. Sure to lose your mind." The woman laughed. "Somebody like you, from way up there in Detroit and all, you sure to God would forfeit your mind."

The woman made Detroit sound like it was all the way to Hudson Bay, Canada.

Celeste chuckled and got a good look at her own tired face in the mirror.

"They got other ones. Different places in the South." The woman packed her things, took off her flats and slipped on pink pumps, shoved the flats into one of her bags. "Don't want to miss my train. Going to New Orleans for a few days. Get out of Miss'sippi for a minute. Catch my breath." She headed for the door, high heels clicking on the dirty tile floor. "Always wanted to go to Detroit. Get me one of them jobs at Ford's Motor Car Company."

Celeste might have told her that those jobs were now as rare as gold nuggets in a well-panned stream. She took one last glance at her sallow, travel-weary face in the mirror. Her shoulder length hair had risen to its peak of fullness and become a frizzled helmet of curls, waves, and flyaway strands. Her gray-green eyes had receded under heavy dark brows, sunk in pits of fatigue. Her lips needed color. She needed color. Whatever makeup she'd had on when she began her journey lived now on the small train pillow she'd left on her seat. She grabbed her suitcase and book bag and followed the woman to the door. Didn't want to be in that Whites Only ladies' room alone, whether anybody paid the sign any attention or not. It was still up there.

The woman bumped half way out then turned back, her face primed and ready. "What's your name, girl?"

"Celeste Tyree."

"I'm Mary Evans. Pleased to meet you. You ever been in Miss'sippi before?" She had a dubious look on her face as she appraised Celeste.

"No. First time. First time in the South." Even in her fatigue, Celeste's face pressed forward with expectation and fear.

"Well, let me tell you something. You be careful, girl, you hear. Miss'sippi ain't nothin' to play with." She lowered her voice for the last of it, eyes doing a fast flit around the lobby. "You have a nice stay, now, you hear?"

"Thank you." Celeste angled out the door checking for any hard-eyed men in uniform with billy clubs, cattle prods, snarling dogs. "Have a good time in New Orleans."

"Sure to do that. It's a good-time place." The woman sang the words as she fast-walked away, her pink pumps gleaming in the dingy, yellow-lit station.

Celeste figured the woman had guessed why she was there by the way she'd looked at her, sizing her up. But she'd said nothing. Knew better than to venture into that conversation. She checked again for enemies in uniform then bounded across the emptying lobby, through the double glass doors into the dank air of a June Mississippi night.

A sparse parade of cars moved slowly up and down the street. In her rising confusion, she considered trying to hitch a ride. How far could it be? Not here. Across the way were closed stores, a darkened coffee shop. She waited under the hooded overhang of the station, the dim yellow lights throwing shadows on the pavement, the late-night air heavy as a stack of Momma Bessie's Kentucky-made patchwork quilts. She pulled the paper out of her book bag with the phone number and the address of the One Man, One Vote office, but she didn't want to call before she'd exhausted her options.

Anxious to be on her way, she stepped to the curb and reached for the door handle of the only empty cab. The cab jerked forward, then stopped a few yards beyond her reach. An embarrassment flushed her warm body, followed by a flash of chills. She took a sneaky look around and locked eyes with the grinning porter, who had just clanked his metal-wheeled cart onto the pavement trailed by a small pack of white people who seemed to snicker at her obvious ineptitude at things Southern. The porter gave her a tit-for-tat glance as he loaded his passengers into the waiting cab. Her cab. He rolled his cart back into the station, eyes glued to the air in front of him. Celeste stood alone on the pavement, Mississippi like a stain spreading through her body.

"Wharsomevers y'all goin', ah can fetchu."

The voice sounded like liquid, the words humbled and broken. She turned to see a dark, bent-over man standing in the yellow hue of the station lights. He had the blues all over him and not a note of music played. He doffed his black cabby hat when he spoke.

"Ah say, wharsomevers y'all goin', ah can fetchu. I's a caib."

A reminder this time, as if her confusion and fear had mounted on her face and he'd seen it. Relieved, Celeste showed him the mimeographed paper with the address, not saying a word. The cabby nodded with a hint of a smile and directed her toward his cab. Only now did she see the other taxi stand, the Negro one, down the block, a good hike from the station entrance. She followed him, the front of her head tightening into a mask of fake nonchalance as she stepped into the backseat holding her book bag in her lap like it was a child. The cab was black with light writing on the side. She needed to remember that. Easy. It was black. The cabby hefted her suitcase into the trunk then hunched himself into the driver's seat. They inched away from the station, Celeste having no idea where she was going or if she'd ever get there. She wanted to mark the place she was leaving but her neck wouldn't turn.

The slow-moving car and the heavy heat made her head loll back, though she didn't quite close her eyes; instead, she stared into the cab's dark ceiling, wondering what Shuck would think when he got her letter. He more than likely would blame her white boyfriend - now ex-boyfriend - for this decision to go south. Shuck's gaze charred the air in front of the student union when he first laid eyes on J.D. He'd ordered her into his sleek Cadillac and drove around in circles, telling her that a Negro woman with a white man would always be lonely. She'd never seen Shuck like that. "It has to do with history," he said. "And no one woman is strong enough to buck it."

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Freshwater Road by Denise Nicholas Copyright © 2006 by Denise Nicholas. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Introduction

Reading Group Discussion Guide

Introduction:

In June of 1964, University of Michigan sophomore Celeste Tyree leaves her middle class life traveling to Mississippi to volunteer for Freedom Summer. She joins student volunteers from across the country whose collective mission was to register disenfranchised black citizens to vote. Celeste is assigned to Pineyville, a small town best known for a notorious lynching. By day, she tutors the town's children in a freedom school. At night, she prepares the adults to take and pass the state's voter registration test, long used as a tool to disqualify black people from voting. As the summer unfolds, Celeste confronts not only the political realities of race and poverty in this tiny town, but also deep truths about her family and herself. She is drawn to Ed Jolivette, a deeply committed fellow volunteer and is schooled in the ways of the south by her hostess, the very religious, Mrs. Geneva Owens. She stands with the people of Pineyville in their quest for human and civil rights and learns the quality of their character and of her own.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What roles do her parents, Shuck and Wilamena, and her white boyfriend, J.P., play in Celeste Tyree's decision to volunteer with civil rights activists in Mississippi during Freedom Summer? How does Celeste's decision relate to her treatment of others in her childhood?
  2. "Miss'sippi ain't nothing to play with." How would you characterize the hostility and violence Celeste encounters during her summer as a volunteer? How do the mysterious disappearances of Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney —student activists — affect Celeste and the other volunteers involved in the One Man, One Vote campaign?
  3. How do Celeste and Geneva Owens come to depend on each other over the course of Celeste's stay in Pineyville? What does Celeste's regret at mentioning Mrs. Owens by name from the pulpit suggest about her integration into the congregation and the community?
  4. How would you characterize Mr. Tucker's relationship with his daughter, Sissy, and his conflicted feelings about Celeste and her formation of the freedom school? How did you interpret Celeste's suspicions about Mr. Tucker's role in Sissy's death?
  5. "Negro is their word. Black is mine." How does Ed Jolivette challenge Celeste over the course of Freshwater Road? What explains their mutual attraction, and to what extent does it seem grounded in their shared commitment to advancing social justice?
  6. How does Wilamena's revelation about Celeste's biological father affect her daughter? Why do you think Celeste chooses not to pursue this information with either of her parents?
  7. "Niggers don't belong in here. Voting ain't got nothing to do with you." Why do Celeste, Reverend Singleton, and others refuse to give up in the face of local opposition to their requests? What fuels their resolve?
  8. How does the policy of nonviolence outlined by the civil rights leaders in the 1960s serve both to help and hurt activists and volunteers like Celeste Tyree? What are some of the advantages in responding to violence and hostility with nonviolence?
  9. "That 'sir' defined the entire relationship between Negro men and white men." How would you characterize the relationship between blacks and whites in Pineyville, and to what extent is the author's portrayal of race relations in Freshwater Road consistent with your knowledge or memories of this era in American history?
  10. The author describes Matt Higgens and Ed Jolivette on their visit to Pineyville as: "strangers in town, the threat to all that had been before, gunslingers with no guns." Why might male volunteers be perceived as more threatening than female volunteers, like Celeste?
  11. Over the course of her summer in Pineyville, what has Celeste come to understand about social justice, race relations, her parents, and her feelings for Ed Jolivette, and what do these discoveries enable her to understand about herself? Would you describe Freshwater Road as a "coming of age" novel? Why or why not?
  12. Freshwater Road introduces fictional characters in a setting grounded in actual historical events. How did this approach to storytelling affect you as a reader? How did it bring the realities of the segregated South of the 1960s alive for you?

Enhance Your Book Club:

  1. To learn more about the history of Freedom Summer, the goals of volunteers active in the movement, and the seemingly insurmountable challenges they faced, visit: http://www.core-online.org/history/freedom_summer.htm
  2. To see moving black-and-white images of some of the thousands of volunteers who dedicated their energy to the causes of Freedom Summer like Celeste Tyree in Freshwater Road, visit: http://198.170.117.226/images/imgfs.htm
  3. Did the descriptions of Geneva Owens's southern cooking make your mouth water? If you'd like to try your hand at making some Mississippi specialties, visit: http://www.classbrain.com/artstate/publish/mississippi_recipes.shtml

Denise Nicholas is an actor who starred in the TV series Room 222 and In the Heat of the Night, among many other tv, film, and theatrical productions. Freshwater Road is her first novel.

Read More Show Less

Reading Group Guide

Reading Group Discussion Guide

Introduction:

In June of 1964, University of Michigan sophomore Celeste Tyree leaves her middle class life traveling to Mississippi to volunteer for Freedom Summer. She joins student volunteers from across the country whose collective mission was to register disenfranchised black citizens to vote. Celeste is assigned to Pineyville, a small town best known for a notorious lynching. By day, she tutors the town's children in a freedom school. At night, she prepares the adults to take and pass the state's voter registration test, long used as a tool to disqualify black people from voting. As the summer unfolds, Celeste confronts not only the political realities of race and poverty in this tiny town, but also deep truths about her family and herself. She is drawn to Ed Jolivette, a deeply committed fellow volunteer and is schooled in the ways of the south by her hostess, the very religious, Mrs. Geneva Owens. She stands with the people of Pineyville in their quest for human and civil rights and learns the quality of their character and of her own.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What roles do her parents, Shuck and Wilamena, and her white boyfriend, J.P., play in Celeste Tyree's decision to volunteer with civil rights activists in Mississippi during Freedom Summer? How does Celeste's decision relate to her treatment of others in her childhood?
  2. "Miss'sippi ain't nothing to play with." How would you characterize the hostility and violence Celeste encounters during her summer as a volunteer? How do the mysterious disappearances of Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney — student activists — affect Celeste and the other volunteers involved in the One Man, One Vote campaign?
  3. How do Celeste and Geneva Owens come to depend on each other over the course of Celeste's stay in Pineyville? What does Celeste's regret at mentioning Mrs. Owens by name from the pulpit suggest about her integration into the congregation and the community?
  4. How would you characterize Mr. Tucker's relationship with his daughter, Sissy, and his conflicted feelings about Celeste and her formation of the freedom school? How did you interpret Celeste's suspicions about Mr. Tucker's role in Sissy's death?
  5. "Negro is their word. Black is mine." How does Ed Jolivette challenge Celeste over the course of Freshwater Road? What explains their mutual attraction, and to what extent does it seem grounded in their shared commitment to advancing social justice?
  6. How does Wilamena's revelation about Celeste's biological father affect her daughter? Why do you think Celeste chooses not to pursue this information with either of her parents?
  7. "Niggers don't belong in here. Voting ain't got nothing to do with you." Why do Celeste, Reverend Singleton, and others refuse to give up in the face of local opposition to their requests? What fuels their resolve?
  8. How does the policy of nonviolence outlined by the civil rights leaders in the 1960s serve both to help and hurt activists and volunteers like Celeste Tyree? What are some of the advantages in responding to violence and hostility with nonviolence?
  9. "That 'sir' defined the entire relationship between Negro men and white men." How would you characterize the relationship between blacks and whites in Pineyville, and to what extent is the author's portrayal of race relations in Freshwater Road consistent with your knowledge or memories of this era in American history?
  10. The author describes Matt Higgens and Ed Jolivette on their visit to Pineyville as: "strangers in town, the threat to all that had been before, gunslingers with no guns." Why might male volunteers be perceived as more threatening than female volunteers, like Celeste?
  11. Over the course of her summer in Pineyville, what has Celeste come to understand about social justice, race relations, her parents, and her feelings for Ed Jolivette, and what do these discoveries enable her to understand about herself? Would you describe Freshwater Road as a "coming of age" novel? Why or why not?
  12. Freshwater Road introduces fictional characters in a setting grounded in actual historical events. How did this approach to storytelling affect you as a reader? How did it bring the realities of the segregated South of the 1960s alive for you?

Enhance Your Book Club:

  1. To learn more about the history of Freedom Summer, the goals of volunteers active in the movement, and the seemingly insurmountable challenges they faced, visit: http://www.core-online.org/history/freedom_summer.htm
  2. To see moving black-and-white images of some of the thousands of volunteers who dedicated their energy to the causes of Freedom Summer like Celeste Tyree in Freshwater Road, visit: http://198.170.117.226/images/imgfs.htm
  3. Did the descriptions of Geneva Owens's southern cooking make your mouth water? If you'd like to try your hand at making some Mississippi specialties, visit: http://www.classbrain.com/artstate/publish/mississippi_recipes.shtml
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 60 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(33)

4 Star

(16)

3 Star

(5)

2 Star

(4)

1 Star

(2)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 60 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 12, 2007

    Good Read

    Freshwater Road was a powerful book to read about a brutal era in the South. The novel did a nice job of depicting the Black community as diverse and human, not totally good and not totally bad. The characters were not just victims as some other literature might portray them, but rather as empowered. After reading this novel, I developed a very deep respect for those who risked their lives in the Civil Rights Movement so that the vote could be available for everyone in America. I also liked reading about Detroit, my home town. Kudos to Ms. Nicholas on her first novel. It was truthful and well-written and drew me into the lives of the characters. Thank you for the history lesson!

    7 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 5, 2012

    Beautifully written historical fiction

    The well written and equally well researched "Freshwater Road" kept me turning the pages, unable to put it down. I found the slower parts to be descriptive and, at times, extremely poetic. Thanks to the author's descriptive style I swear I could breath in the scent of pine needles and hear the Cicadas in Mrs. Owens' back yard, craved a tall glass of crisp, ice cold gingerale along with Celeste, wilted in the oppressive Mississippi heat waving my paper fan with the members of the AEM Church, and sunk into the cool leather seats of Shuck's Old Spice scented Cadillac. These slower parts perfectly mimmicked the hot and hazey feeling of summer afternoons. I felt the story played out well and was satisfied with the ending, though others have complained about resolution. To me, the author did a believable job of introducing and letting us get to know the Pineyville residents in a believable and organic way through Celest's outsider eyes. She captures that feel of summer's slow and at times seemingly endless passage, yet at the same time going by so quickly that Labor Day sneaks up on you as the reader just as quickly as it does for Celeste and the other characters. At the same time the almost unbelievable events of the civil rights movement in the deep south are painted in vivid colors and, like everything else in the book, seen through the eyes of an idealistic and enthusiastic, if naive, young women. Celeste's coming of age fits hand in hand with the remarkable changes for Pineyville, Mississippi, and all of the south. My only complaint is that this particular E-version had alot of random words in italics. Other than that it seemed well edited with no spelling or grammatical errors. All in all I found this book to be an eye opening and satisfying historical read.

    4 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 8, 2012

    This is a book that conveys the traumatic events of those Freedo

    This is a book that conveys the traumatic events of those Freedom Summers and portrays to those who have never experienced it the second class citizenship that millions of our citizens had to endure in the Deep South, from the period after Reconstruction until the polling places were fully opened to them. The author writes as one who was both there and who talked to many participants. This is a great first novel and I look forward to the author's next one.

    3 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 3, 2012

    Boooo

    Another put down to mississippi, the south and whites in general. This is a terrible book full of lies and misrepresentations.

    2 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 23, 2012

    Well written and hard to put down

    This was the best Free Friday book I've read. Well researched and informative, too.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted November 19, 2012

    Interesting read

    This could have been just an exciting story about the Freedom SUmmer of 1974. Instead, the shifting between two points of view gives the characters depth and makes the story that much richer. Recommended (PS Just to deflect a sadly inevitable comment: No, the story does not mention "all the good white people." That wasn't the point of the book).

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 14, 2007

    Wonderful details.

    This was a wonderful book, with beautifully described details... you could almost smell the smells, see the skies, feel the heat. Though some points in the story were predictable, I still enjoyed it.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 9, 2006

    GREAT READ

    This is non stop reading. Every page is breathtaking. I am waiting for her next Novel.

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 11, 2013

    Well written piece of historic fiction. I enjoyed her narrative

    Well written piece of historic fiction. I enjoyed her narrative of the time, the places, and her struggle to find herself both as a woman and as a negro. Even at that time being raised in the north was so much different that being raised in the south - especially the deep south. I barely aware of this time in history, but this made it so much clearer how hard it was and is to make changes in our culture. Could hardly put the book down.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 30, 2006

    Good But Drawn Out

    Freshwater Road is an interesting look at the Civil Rights Era, racism and the Deep South. Those who remember this time will reflect on this country's painful, not-so-long ago past. Others will learn a valuable lessson. While the story is entertaining, the writing is a tad overdescriptive causing the story to move at a much too slow pace.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 13, 2005

    Great Book

    This is truly a classical story of growth and knowledge

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 20, 2014

    Excellent Story

    Must Read!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 26, 2013

    This was a sample of 20 pages.

    When I down loaded this excerpt, I was unaware it was just a sample. It is only 20 pages. I could not really get into the story because of the length. What I was able to read seemed very well written and edited. Most of the excerpt was background details. None of the reviewers mentioned that was a sample, nor did the cover or overview. I thought it was a full length novel.

    AD

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 14, 2013

    Great read

    Beautifully written. A natural flow. Good dialogue. Couldnt put it down

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 3, 2013

    "Have you seen Emberheart? He is missing!(speech)"

    "Hello, cats! Leaders, deputys and warriors! Appretinces, elders, kits and queens! Emberheart of Aquaclan HAS GONE MISSING. If you find him, you will earn my caring respect. Give me your name, and you can become a trusted friend. But if anyone is mouse-brained enough to kill him, StarClan forbid what happens. Emberheart is a sleek, black cat with a white under-belly and paws. He has unusual green eyes. Try if you will, and good luck!", meowed Daisypelt of AquaClan. She runs to result 6. "Bye!"

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 27, 2013

    Wolfstar

    Wont be on till next monday. Moons in charge.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 15, 2013

    Awesome in many ways This book engaged me from the beginning. I

    Awesome in many ways
    This book engaged me from the beginning. I came to understand the characters and the important historical era much better than before. I enjoyed good writing and a good story.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 2, 2013

    Enjoyed

    I found the story engaging. The characters are very relatable.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 24, 2013

    Ripplepelt to all

    I won't be on for a while. See Into the Wild for details.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 24, 2013

    YO GUYS

    Ozzie just killed an innocent kit at result one. Man you aqua clanners are nuts. Well godbye.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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