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Gray Baby
     

Gray Baby

5.0 1
by Scott Loring Sanders
 

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At six, Clifton watched as two white police officers beat his black father to death. The official report called it an accident. But Clifton and his mother, who was also there, know the truth.

Ten years later Clifton's life has been shaped by that horrible event. He's a social outcast, his mother has sunk deep into alcoholism, and the only connection has with a

Overview

At six, Clifton watched as two white police officers beat his black father to death. The official report called it an accident. But Clifton and his mother, who was also there, know the truth.

Ten years later Clifton's life has been shaped by that horrible event. He's a social outcast, his mother has sunk deep into alcoholism, and the only connection has with a living thing is with the dog next door whose life is as bad as Clifton's.

But then Clifton's principal comes up with the idea to have all the students release balloons with notes attached. It's meant to build school spirit, but it also gives Clifton an idea. What if, somehow, he was able to reach someone somewhere far away, and actually make a connection? Maybe even have a friend. So instead of balloons he uses bottles, and sets them afloat with notes inside down the New River.

Amazingly, Clifton actually does here from someone. His name is Swamper, he's got to be at least 70, and he lives in a shack on the river, meaking out a living selling fish. Swamper and Clifton strike up a friendship and it looks like Clifton may be okay after all.

But then the kidnapping of a young girl that Clifton witnesses brings back all of his old demons. How can he go to the police after what they did to his father? And his mother, she's useless. So he turns to Swamper, and in the end, discovers truths about his family, his life, and himself, that he never would have imagined.

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Leila Toledo
Clifford, who lives in Virginia with his mother and father, is the product of an interracial marriage. His mother is white and his father is black. He is a so-called gray baby. While on the way to a movie they are accosted by two white policemen. Clifford witnesses the brutal beating of his father by the policemen. It was not a lynching but his father ends up dead. Both he and his mother are devastated. There lives are forever altered. The horror of the violence causes their emotional state to pummel. How do they deal with such a tragedy? Clifford does what I am sure some of us dream of doing when we feel lonely and depressed—he puts a message in a bottle, throws it in the river, and hopes that someone finds it and responds. That is what Clifford does and he gets an answer. His life is changed by the outcome of this small jester. The violence in the book is graphic and the text is laced with curse words. Because of the violence and the memories that it invokes, I found it difficult to read, but it is a story that needs to be told. Reviewer: Leila Toledo
VOYA - Amy S. Pattee
Eight years after witnessing the police beat his father to death, sixteen-year-old Clifton ekes out a lonely existence with his depressed and alcoholic mother. Inspired by his school's annual "Balloon Ascent," in which students release balloons with attached messages in hopes that someone will find one and respond, Clifton crafts short notes that he places in glass bottles and heaves into the river. An unexpected response from a local man—a self-reliant senior citizen called Swamper—leads to the development of an intergenerational relationship as well as to the exposure of a family secret. Set in the early 1980s, Sanders's novel, with a character of mixed race as its protagonist, brings to light the racial tensions that continue to exist in many areas of Southern and rural America years after the Civil Rights movement. Although the novel's primary plot involves Clifton's growing relationship with Swamper, the boy's involvement in a local kidnapping provides an exciting counterpoint. The kidnapping and relationship plots both have elements of almost unbelievable coincidence, and the conclusion of the story is a bit pat. It is easy to overlook these narrative weaknesses, however, in the context of the greater, richer novel in which the well-realized southwestern Virginia setting becomes a character alongside Clifton and Swamper. Reviewer: Amy S. Pattee
School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up—Clifton Carlson is a gray baby, a racially mixed child. He doesn't think of himself, or anyone else for that matter, as either black or white, but he knows the cruelty of racism. He witnessed his black dad's brutal murder at the hands of white police officers when he was only six years old and now, ten years later, Clifton is often tormented by a high school classmate. Haunted by the loss of his father, and neglected by his alcoholic mother, he feels adrift and disconnected. Desperate for intimacy, he writes a letter, stuffs it into a wine bottle, and throws it into the river, where it's retrieved by an old man who's equally starved for companionship. The two strike up an unlikely friendship that reveals painful secrets, heals old wounds, and helps each to grow into a better man, especially when Clifton finds himself in a situation where he has to seek help from the same police who killed his father. Sanders has written a beautiful novel that explores the power of forgiveness and demonstrates that it's not what happens to you that shapes who you become, but rather the choices you make in response.—Terri Clark, Smoky Hill Library, Centennial, CO

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780547394220
Publisher:
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
06/01/2009
Sold by:
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
336
File size:
226 KB
Age Range:
12 Years

Meet the Author

Scott Loring Sanders's work has been published in both literary magazines and larger publications, including Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. His awards and honors include a writer-in-residency fellowship from the Camargo Foundation in Cassis, France; a fiction award from The Atlantic Monthly; a fellowship from the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts; and a Pushcart Prize nomination. He was also a semi-finalist for the James Jones First Novel fellowship and received nominations for Harcourt's Best New American Voices in 2004 and 2005. He lives in Virginia, where he writes and teaches writing.

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Gray Baby 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Sad story but touching to watch the relationship grow between two unlikely characters. Well written and brings you back to a forgotten era.