Spite Fences

( 8 )


Thirteen-year-old Maggie Pugh has lived in Kinship, Georgia, all her life.
In all that time almost nothing has changed. If you are poor, you live on the west side of town. If you are rich, you live on the hill in the north end and get to go boating at the country club in Troy. If you are white you use one bathroom at Byer's Drugs and if you are colored you use another.

All that starts to change in the summer of 1960. It is the summer when ...

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Thirteen-year-old Maggie Pugh has lived in Kinship, Georgia, all her life.
In all that time almost nothing has changed. If you are poor, you live on the west side of town. If you are rich, you live on the hill in the north end and get to go boating at the country club in Troy. If you are white you use one bathroom at Byer's Drugs and if you are colored you use another.

All that starts to change in the summer of 1960. It is the summer when Maggie's younger sister, Gardenia, triumphs in the Hayes County Little Miss Contest. It is the summer when Maggie must decide whether or not to tell anyone about the horrible thing she saw. Most of all it's the summer of Maggie's first camera, a tool that becomes a way for her to find independence and a different kind of truth.

As she struggles with her troubled relationship with her mother during the summer of 1960, a young girl is also drawn into the violence, hatred, and racial tension in her small Georgia town.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
International Reading Association Children's Book Award
A Publishers Weekly "Flying Start Author"
An ALA Best Book for Young Adults
A Parents' Choice Honor Book

*"A superbly crafted first novel...Maggie is a 13-year-old white girl whose friendships within the black community threaten an entire society's way of life...It is a masterful, sobering display."

*"This painfully realistic novel evokes tensions in the South at the brink of the civil rights movement."
--Publishers Weekly, starred

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
"This painfully realistic first novel evokes tensions in the South at the brink of the civil rights movement," said PW in a starred review. Ages 12-up. (Sept.) r
Children's Literature - Marilyn Courtot
Growing up in Georgia in the 1960's, Maggie Pugh sees for herself the cruelty and injustice that the local black people faced when they defied segregation. One day, Maggie witnesses the beating of a black man, Zeke, who is her friend, by a group of whites that include her trashy and sexually aggressive next door neighbor Virgil Boggs. Afraid to tell what she saw, and struggling to escape her own dysfunctional family, Maggie is drawn even closer to Zeke and his activist friend. In the end, she shows her courage and realizes the importance of telling the truth in this compelling story of the early Civil Rights movement.
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up-Magnolia Pugh, 13, is poor and white. Her friend Zeke is black; his gentle companionship helps her escape her mother's abuse. However, one day, while perched high in a tree, she witnesses a horror that she cannot escape. To punish Zeke for defying a segregation policy, a group of whites beat him senseless, strip him, and urinate on his naked body while one of them masturbates; that man is Maggie's next-door neighbor, Virgil Boggs. Maggie dares not tell anyone what she has seen, but the memory haunts her. Virgil unknowingly keeps the experience vivid in her mind with his sadistic torments-he attempts to rape her and plays cruel pranks on her little sister. Being at home becomes more and more difficult, so Maggie is thrilled when Zeke gets her a job keeping house for a well-educated black man who has come to her small Georgia town to organize nonviolent protests within the black community. A bond of trust and respect grows between Maggie and her employer and she tells him that she witnessed Zeke's beating. Feeling free for the first time, she begins to understand why facing up to the truth is so important. This extremely complex story, filled with wonderful imagery, is told with amazing skill. To read it is to climb inside the narrator's skin, share her emotions, and gain the wisdom she acquires. Its only serious flaw is the confusing use of flashbacks combined with an overly contrived attempt to emphasize the metaphor of truth and photography. Nevertheless, the characters are entirely believable and the brutality of the events is balanced by the delicacy of the language and the strength of Maggie's spirit. Krisher masterfully encapsulates a touching personal history of the early 1960s within universal themes.-Margaret Cole, Oceanside Library, NY
Frances Bradburn
Thirteen-year-old Maggie Pugh has lived in Kinship, Georgia, all her life, biking along its paved and dirt streets with her friend Pert and buying odds and ends from Zeke, a black trader who is a fixture in town. But the summer of 1960 is different: Zeke has given Maggie a camera, a tool that allows her to focus in on what life in Kinship is really like and helps her to see the physical abuse she suffers from her mother as being unnatural. "Mamas don't act like that," she states. Likewise, Maggie gradually perceives the horror of the abuse that Zeke and others in Kinship's black community are facing at the hands of a particularly cruel and bigoted group of white citizens. Only through the anonymity of photography and a conscious effort to capture single events in focus through the camera's lens is Maggie able to face the evil around her. The courage she musters to stand up to her mother and to her vile teenage neighbor Virgil Boggs is the same courage Maggie will need to help the black community gain its freedom. A superbly crafted first novel, despite a rather abrupt conclusion, this is a difficult book to read. The abuse of both Maggie and the black community is graphic. Not only is Maggie physically--and psychologically--harmed by her mother, but she also is menaced constantly by Virgil, an escalating torment that eventually results in her almost being raped. Even today the story's premise is controversial: Maggie is a 13-year-old white girl whose friendships within the black community threaten an entire society's way of life. The courage and vision of the 1960s South, as well as its ugliness, are posted on "Spite Fences" for all to see. It is a masterful, sobering display.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780440220169
  • Publisher: Random House Children's Books
  • Publication date: 8/28/1996
  • Series: St. Antony's MacMillan Series
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: REPRINT
  • Pages: 283
  • Age range: 12 - 17 Years
  • Lexile: 800L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.74 (w) x 6.88 (h) x 0.79 (d)

Read an Excerpt

I was digging down into one of Edmonia's tomato baskets when I heard Zeke's voice. I'd know that voice in the dark. It was deep and trembly like a slide trombone. "Heard about your mama's ad, Maggie," he said. "Still need work?"

I stopped my digging and smiled up at Zeke, hoping my smile said it was sure fine to see him. "Sure do, Zeke," I said. "Work and money are the same things to Pughs, and I don't have either one."

I started rooting in the tomato basket again. Some of the tomatoes were still attached to fuzzy lengths of vine that felt like caterpillars when they brushed my fingers. I picked up a big firm tomato, pushing on it to feel how ripe it was.

"I think I can get you somethin', Maggie," Zeke said.

I stopped pushing on the tomato and looked at him. "Sure 'nough, Zeke?"

"But it's real special, Maggie. It's a job for a real special person."

"What do you mean by that, Zeke?"

"Well," Zeke said, looking around, waiting to finish until Edmonia had gone back into the house and the screen door made a little slap behind her. He began talking again when he saw that only Lewis Jennings, Edmonia's son, was left on the porch. Lewis was climbing on and off the front porch railing; after he tired of climbing, he began jumping off the porch onto the grass below. "It requires someone who can clean real good," Zeke said.

"That's me, for sure, Zeke," I said. "But being able to clean's not anything special."

"It's special to your employer, Maggie. But there's something more to this job than just cleanin'."

"How you mean, Zeke?"

"Well, you might have to deliver stuff."

"What kind of stuff?"

"Oh, letters to the post office. Packages to me. Maybe a few things to Reverend Potter."

"Zeke," I said, "what's so special about that?" I had decided that the big tomato in my hand wasn't ripe enough. I bent back to the baskets. The tomatoes still gave off the sharp green smell of their vines.

"It's special to your employer," he said again. "It's special to me."

"Well, Zeke," I said, "I can't see what's so special about cleaning up somebody's mess and taking a few things to the post office."

Zeke's big hand pulled a tomato from the basket next to mine. His entire palm closed around it. "I want you to listen to, me, now, Maggie," he said, tilting his head in my direction. "The job requires cleanin' and deliverin' a few things. But that's not really what makes it special."

"What does, Zeke? What does make it special then?" I wasn't understanding him.

"What makes it special, Maggie," he said, looking around again before he went on--Lewis had run next door and was throwing sticks at the neighbor's dog--"what makes it special," he said, "is that the job requires you to keep secrets."

"Secrets?" I asked. On the ground lay split tomatoes seeping juice.

Zeke grinned. "These secrets is so secret, I can't even tell you, Maggie. Best I can tell you is that for every question that might come to your mind, the right answer is 'Don't ask.' "

"Well, now, how to goodness can anybody in Kinship expect to keep anything a secret? You know that this is the nosiest place in the world."

"Sure is," Zeke said. "That's why I want you for the job."


Zeke nodded. "One thing I know, Maggie, is that Maggie Pugh knows when to talk and when to keep quiet. Been knowin' that for a long time now."

Inside I felt myself swelling up just a tiny bit. I knew Zeke was right. If there was anyone in Kinship who could keep a secret, it was me. After all, I'd been living with Mama for almost fourteen years.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 8 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 9 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 29, 2009

    Four words

    Very emotional. True meaning.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 4, 2005

    Spite Fences

    +Spite Fences This book is about a girl named Maggie and her family. Maggie is a poor white girl who has a younger sister named Gardenia. Maggie is keeping a secret from her family about something so tragic it replays in her mind over and over again. Her friend Zeke, that she never sees a lot anymore, got her a housekeeping job. She knows she is working for a man named Mr. Hardy, but she doesn¿t know what color he is. In chapter three Maggie¿s mom and dad tell her that they are going to a hardware store and told Maggie to watch her sister while they were gone. When her parents left, Maggie went to work cutting the rose bush. All of a sudden while Maggie was working went to see what was wrong, and Gardenia told her that the next-door neighbors dog took her doll. Maggie had to go get it as much as she hated the Boggs. When she went over there to get it from a boy named Virgil (which she didn¿t like at all) answered the door. Maggie told him that she was coming to get her sisters doll from his dog. Virgil went and got it, but before she gave it to him he ripped the clothes off. He also ripped the arms and legs out of the sockets and let the dog slob all over it then gave it to her. When she got back to her yard her sister tried to take it from her and thank her for getting it, but when she saw her doll all broke up she started to cry and her mom pulled up and Maggie got in trouble because her mom said she must have not been watching her very good. One day Maggie, Pert, and her friends were going to see a show that just came out. They went and got Gardenia to go with them. Something terrible happens but the only way for you to find out is to read it for yourself. I t was good. I thought it was interesting because she finds out new things as she keeps working for Mr. Hardy.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 22, 2005

    Maggie Purgh

    This book is about a 13-year-old girl named Maggie Purgh who lived in Kinship, Georgia with her family. Where Maggie lived, there was a lot of racism going on. Maggie was a white girl but she had a black friend named Zeke. One day Maggie went to the store for her mom to get some tomatoes at Byers Drug store a couple of blocks from her house. When she went in to get the tomatoes she saw three black boys going into an all white bathroom, she didn¿t know what to do. But when she looked she noticed one of the boys it was her friend Zeke. The owner said if you don¿t get out of my store I¿m going to have you arrested. Only two of them left but what she did notice is that Zeke wasn¿t one of them who left out. She heard the police sirens but she didn¿t know what to do. She wanted to help him so bad but she couldn¿t cause she¿s white and he¿s black. So the police came in and dragged him out on the way when they dragged him out they stopped and stared beating him so bad. She never told anyone what happened that day she just kept it to herself but she was like ten years old. Years still past and she never told anyone. Maggie¿s father gave her this cameras and she took a picture of her black friend Zeke. She went to get it developed and when she came back they said that the pictures weren¿t ready yet so she went back home. When she was going home she got to the fence in front of her house there was the picture posted on her fence with words written on it. ¿NEGER LOVER,¿ her mom was really upset with her. Her mom told her to go get some paint so that she can paint over the black paint. She didn¿t want her family to suffer anymore so she went to stay with one of her friends. I think that this was a good book because its just different then how usually in a book the black kids can¿t even look at white kids. This is about a 13 year-old white girl being friends with a black people but I think she is a caring and a really nice person to hang and be around with.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 26, 2004

    A Powerful Book

    Wow! This book is really powerful. Maggie is so sweet and kind, i don't why her mother is abusive towards her. I love how she rises above that and the segregation in Kinship and submits those pictures to show what it is like in Kinship. I love this book and would recommend it to anyone looking for a book that you can't seem to put down!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 16, 2001

    What a great book

    I really enjoyed reading Spite Fences. I thought it was a great book and sicne it is a book for the young adults, it teaches you about how blacks were treated by the whites. It really showed history from the segregationalism during the 1960s. I loved the way the author portrayed Maggie Pugh as a hardworking young girl, who wasn't appreciated by her mother. Yet, she was always strong headed and level minded about things. And Zeke! What to say about this character is that he was utterly amazing! hehe.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 31, 2001

    Amy B. from Florida

    Spite fences is a book for adolescents between the ages of 11-15. Approximately 230 pages. This book is educational as well as fun for young teenagers. There is not much history, but adolescents can learn about the separation of black and whites, and how it would be to live as either of them. Vocabulary is good, not advanced. There is no bad language. The story makes you feel as if you were there.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 4, 2000

    Spite Fences

    Spite Fences is a good book for people who are interested in the history of blacks and whites. It gives a good idea about how they felt about each other. This story takes place in Kinship, Georgia and tells the story of a young white girl named Maggie Pugh. This story tells about the problems that she faces in her town and with her family, especially with her abusive mother. Maggie is not the favorite in her family, unlike her like her younger sister, Gardenia who is spoiled by her mother. Maggie is known for her hard work and her willingness to help out. This comes in handy when her father looses his job and her family is in desperate need of money. Zeke, a black man, one of Maggie's closest friends, who is always watching out for her, finds her a job as a housecleaner for a professor. Maggie does not know much about this man since she only cleans when he is working. This does not bother her though because she is just determined to earn money. When Maggie finally meets her employer and finds out that he is black, she is shocked. She knows that her mother would never approve of her working for a black man. Despite what her mother thinks, Maggie becomes friends with this man and it causes a lot of life-changing problems for her. I liked this book because it shows Maggie's loyalty to her friends, no matter what color they are. She stands up for what she believes is right, and not what others think is right. She also doesn't care about what other people think of her. The mean things that people said about her because she is friends with blacks doesn't bother her because she knows in her heart that she is doing the right thing. I got a better understanding about how the blacks got treated by white people, and how they both felt about each other. This story told the thoughts and feelings of both sides, and I really liked that it wasn't just one side of the story. I would strongly recomend this book to anyone looking for a good book that is hard to put down.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 20, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted July 14, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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