Prince Edward

Prince Edward

3.3 3
by Dennis McFarland

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Prince Edward is the profound story of Benjamin Rome, a ten-year-old boy living through the summer and fall of 1959 in Prince Edward County, Virginia. The stage for the massive resistance of local whites against nationwide desegregation, the county is a frightening and passionate place of shifting loyalties and ardent belief. It is here that Ben must learn

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Prince Edward is the profound story of Benjamin Rome, a ten-year-old boy living through the summer and fall of 1959 in Prince Edward County, Virginia. The stage for the massive resistance of local whites against nationwide desegregation, the county is a frightening and passionate place of shifting loyalties and ardent belief. It is here that Ben must learn to navigate not only his adolescence, but the politics of the time through his powerful family. A brilliant melding of historical record and personal experience, Dennis McFarland’s fifth novel is an affirmation of his devastating emotional insight and graceful narrative gifts.

Editorial Reviews

Madison Smartt Bell
Despite the superficial resemblances, Prince Edward isn't trying to replicate To Kill a Mockingbird at all. In Lee's novel the Finch family's eccentric but righteously wholesome home life triumphs over evil; in McFarland's, the Romes' family life is the root of the evil. The issue, as McFarland delicately unfolds it, is everyone's tacit agreement to endure the unspeakable in silence, whether it's the private horror of Daddy Cary's molestations or the howling public injustice of shutting half the population out of the schools.
The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
McFarland is a novelist of quiet eloquence (Singing Boy; The Music Room) whose powers of careful observation and refusal to venture into melodrama are particularly evident in his latest, a picture of that fateful summer of 1959 when Prince Edward County in Virginia closed its public schools rather than open them by court order to black children. The story is told through the eyes of 10-year-old Benjamin Rome, son of a segregationist chicken farmer, whose best friend is Burghardt, a bright black youngster who shares his dreary farm chores. It is told through Benjamin's eyes, but not in his voice; McFarland does not attempt any of the kind of ventriloquism so popular these days, but writes as an intelligent adult seeing with the limited vision of a boy Ben's age as his mother and father squabble; his older sister, Lainie, goes off for a wonderfully described abortion; and older brother Al tries to stay on the sidelines in the racial battle shaping up. McFarland has introduced some of the real local characters of the time into his story, but just as convincing is Ben's grandfather Daddy Cary, presented in a remarkable portrait of elderly and self-indulgent Southern delinquency. The foreground of this fine and affecting novel is alive with the sights and sounds of a sweltering Virginia summer, but it is the author's real achievement to make it simultaneously clear that in the barely perceived background a world is turning upside down. (May 5) Forecast: McFarland already has an admiring following, which should relish his quietly thoughtful reconstruction of a momentous time now 45 years in the past. Author tour. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Reacting to the Supreme Court's earlier landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education in the summer of 1959, the white citizens of Prince Edward County, VA, vote to close their public schools rather than integrate. Their solution is to create a new system of private schools before the fall semester, by any means necessary. Benjamin Rome, a curious ten-year-old who loves to eavesdrop, discovers that his father and his older brother are helping to stock the new school with stolen books and athletic equipment. And Ben's grandfather belongs to a cabal of smug businessmen, journalists, and clergy conspiring to intimidate dissenters. McFarland (Singing Boy) uses the inexorable collapse of the Rome clan to demonstrate the corrosive effects of racism on the larger community. The narrative moves at a slow and deliberate pace, straight out of the 1950s, and the supposedly scandalous sexual revelations are completely predictable. This fact-based historical novel seems to have been written with book clubs and discussion groups in mind. Recommended for larger fiction collections and libraries with a special interest in Virginiana. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 1/03.]-Edward B. St. John, Loyola Law Sch. Lib., Los Angeles Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-This evocative novel depicts the white power structure's cruel response to the Brown v. Board of Education decision: shutting down the county's public schools from 1959 to 1964. Ben Rome describes the tense summer of 1959 in Prince Edward County, VA, when he was living on his segregationist father's chicken farm. The 10-year-old is bewildered and fascinated by frantic efforts to establish a system of whites-only private education before the fall term begins. Indulging a vague ambition of becoming a spy, he eavesdrops and snoops on the adults, learning more than he bargains for as he observes how community anxiety intensifies troubles among the complex characters populating his universe. His sister Lainie is depressed about giving up college for marriage and an unwanted pregnancy, his parents rage at one another, his older brother becomes increasingly furtive, and the "teasing" that Ben endures from his powerful, malevolent paternal grandfather escalates from humiliating to perverse. Most worrying is the plight of Ben's friend Burghardt, the youngest member of a black tenant family, whose fearless Granny Mays is determined he will get an education no matter how threatening the obstacles. As recalled in the adult Ben's measured, lucid voice, a significant time and place come to life as the Romes and their neighbors struggle in a world about to change irrevocably. An author's note comments on the story's historical context and on the real-life figures who appear in it. A good choice for pairing with Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird (Lippincott, 1961) for classroom or book-group discussions.-Starr E. Smith, Fairfax County Public Library, VA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The growth of a southern white boy's moral consciousness. McFarland's affecting but uneven fifth outing (after Singing Boy, 2000, etc.) is based on fact: the defiance of a 1959 Supreme Court order to integrate public schools, by Virginia's Prince Edward County, whose white residents conspired to build a (private) "Foundation School" that would exclude black children. Our narrator, ten-year-old Ben Rome, observes this process and events related to it with mingled excitement, fear, and guilt. He's concerned for his black friend Burghardt, son of the Romes' "tenant" Julius, who shares Ben's chores on the Rome egg farm. Ben labors to understand his father's ingrained racism, his mother's emotional instability, the resentments nurtured by his adult brother Al and married (and pregnant) sister Lainie-and also the nature of the threat posed by his prosperous grandfather Daddy Cary, "an enormous bullying man" whose teasing of both Ben and Burghardt takes uncomfortably intimate form. Ben's habit of "spying" on inexplicable adult behavior leads him to empathize with Burghardt's elderly Granny Mays, whose commitment to educate herself and her own arouses her neighbors' antipathy-and to eavesdrop on the violent scene that effectively ends Daddy Cary's reign of terror, though the lessons Ben learns from this traumatic incident are neither fully understood by him nor spelt out by McFarland. Prince Edward is earnest and compassionate, told in a hushed lyrical voice that's often reminiscent of To Kill a Mockingbird; Ben is also an appealing protagonist indeed, and several of the other characters here are quite credibly complex. But McFarland diffuses his effects by layering in undramatized chunks ofexplanatory historical material-as if the adult Ben, looking backward, is composing a research paper rather than reliving his own perfectly lucid and revelatory experiences. A near-miss then, though well worth reading. Agent tour

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Product Details

Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
6.34(w) x 9.68(h) x 1.35(d)

Read an Excerpt

From Prince Edward:

Mother turned quickly from the sink, and I saw them exchange a deeply meaningful look. I was used to it. I'd noticed that adults rarely said all they knew, and they often seemed to suggest, with what they did say, that they were holding back a great amount of knowledge, even if they weren't. This dubious skill was apparently a cardinal attribute of being an adult. By the age of ten, I'd already heard enough about the cruelty of children, but no one ever mentioned the fact that with children, cruel or not, it was a lot easier to know where you stood. I'd also learned that there was status to be gained by acquiring and controlling more and more information, then holding as much as possible close to your chest. Meanwhile, all over the world, teachers, preachers, and scoutmasters exhorted children to tell the truth—it was even a Commandment—and from the way they stressed it, you would think they were actually afraid that children might grow up to become this rare and hideous spectacle, the adult who kept secrets. But of course children could see quite early that everybody grew into an adult who kept secrets.

Meet the Author

Dennis McFarland is the author of five novels, including Singing Boy and The Music Room. He lives with his family in Boston, Massachusetts.

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