A Summer of Kings
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A Summer of Kings

4.0 12
by Han Nolan

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It's 1963 and fourteen-year-old Esther Young is looking for excitement. Cursed with a lack of talent in a family filled with artistic types, Esther vows to get some attention by initiating a summer romance with a black teen accused of murdering a white man in Alabama.

King-Roy Johnson shows up on Esther's doorstep that summer, an angry young man who feels

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It's 1963 and fourteen-year-old Esther Young is looking for excitement. Cursed with a lack of talent in a family filled with artistic types, Esther vows to get some attention by initiating a summer romance with a black teen accused of murdering a white man in Alabama.

King-Roy Johnson shows up on Esther's doorstep that summer, an angry young man who feels betrayed by the nonviolent teachings of Martin Luther King Jr. Sent north by his mother to escape a lynch mob, he meets a follower of Malcolm X's who uses radical teachings about black revolution to fuel King-Roy's anger and frustration. But with each other's help, both Esther and King-Roy learn the true nature of integrity and find the power to stand up for what is right and true.

National Book Award-winning author Han Nolan brings readers a bold new voice--by turns funny and poignant, innocent and worldly--in this powerful coming-of-age story set during the turbulent struggle for civil rights.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Nolan (Dancing on the Edge) movingly conveys a teen's introduction to the civil rights movement in this intimate story set in the summer of 1963. Esther, the daughter of a renowned New York director, has led a sheltered, unhappy existence in suburbia. Overshadowed by her highly gifted younger siblings, she feels inadequate and lonely. Esther's view of herself, her family and the world undergoes a radical change during her 14th summer when her parents agree to provide refuge for an 18-year-old African-American named King-Roy, who is accused of killing a white man (his mother and Esther's mother were childhood friends). While the adults in the household (especially Esther's eccentric Auntie Pie) remain wary about protecting a fugitive, Esther eagerly befriends their guest. Throughout the summer, she learns about injustices in the South that have caused King-Roy to become angry and mistrustful, but she disagrees with his notion, adopted by Malcolm X, that violence is the only answer to prejudice. The frequent allusions to the Nation of Islam and Martin Luther King at times can feel forced, but this thought-provoking novel will likely raise young readers' consciousness alongside Esther's, as she broadens her perspective of social ills, gains self-confidence and eventually steps out of the shadows to stand up for what she believes. If minor characters, particularly Esther's insensitive mother and bratty sister, come off as stereotypes, Esther emerges as a convincing, admirable heroine. Ages 12-up. (Apr.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
Esther Young does not seem to fit in anywhere. The fourteen-year-old is upstaged by her director father and two young siblings who are as brilliant on stage as they are in learning. Esther has been rejected by girlfriends who think she is immature and reject Pip, her short best friend who proclaims his love for her. She lives in a Westchester mansion crowded with an unusual cast of characters, including an eccentric great-aunt, an unemployed actress, a French tutor, and a martyrish mother who is more focused on helping a dying friend than on running the family. In the summer of 1963, she is finally free of tutors and hopes to find herself. When King-Roy Johnson, a young black man accused of murdering a white man, moves in, Esther is determined to turn him into her first love and feels an immediate connection. This becomes complicated when King-Roy runs away to Harlem where he meets up with Ax, a follower of Malcolm X, and determines that violence is the only way to overthrow "white devils." Gradually Esther and readers begin to know his reasoning and his story. Han Nolan's coming-of-age story of one girl parallels an embattled nation struggling to find itself. Esther shows us how passion can be fueled and directed to make change in the world. 2006, Harcourt, Ages 12 up.
—Susie Wilde
During the civil rights movement era, Esther feels as if she is standing still while everyone else around her is growing and changing. Her friends from school have abandoned her for the summer, consumed with boys. Even her pal Pip seems to be growing away from her. He is more interested in working on his cross-country stamina and his newest pen pal, a girl. Esther feels isolated and unloved. When King-Roy Johnson arrives from Alabama, Esther's life is changed irrevocably. King-Roy, the son of her mother's childhood friend, is suspected of killing a man who turned a hose on him and his younger sister and brother during a protest march. New York seems to be a safe haven for King-Roy until he meets Ax, a radicalized young man who makes King-Roy begin to distrust Esther and her family simply because they are white. Esther spends considerable time with King-Roy over the course of a summer that will change both of them. Nolan supplants history to a minor role in this novel. Instead the book is all about relationships-between whites and blacks, between boys and girls, and within the family. Her touch is delicate; in the hands of a lesser writer, this balancing act could be disastrous. But as she has demonstrated in Born Blue (Harcourt, 2001/VOYA October 2001), the line between race is one that can readily be blurred. History teachers will appreciate the discussion that Esther and King-Roy have about the opposing philosophies of two leaders of this era, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. VOYA CODES: 5Q 3P J S (Hard to imagine it being any better written; Will appeal with pushing; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2006, Harcourt, 352p., $17. Ages 12to 18.
—Teri S. Lesesne
School Library Journal
Gr 6-9-Infused with rhetoric that is as meaningful today as it was two generations ago, this young teen's account of a life-changing summer not only opens a window to history, but also displays Nolan's brilliant gift for crafting profoundly appealing protagonists. Increasingly resentful of her forced role as the dim, responsible one in her gifted, well-to-do New York family, Esther acts out with increasing bitterness in a struggle to earn some respect and elbow room. Her rebellion begins to gain traction after King-Roy, the 18-year-old African-American son of her mother's childhood friend, travels up from Alabama to escape accusations that he murdered a white man. As he becomes a radicalized, tough-talking supporter of Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam, Esther counters by studying the words of James Baldwin, Dr. King, and Mahatma Gandhi-and finds an epiphany in Gandhi's challenge to "be the change we want to see in the world." In the end, Esther's family is persuaded by her passion to join her in the famous 1963 march in Washington, DC, and King-Roy heads back home in the wake of uglier events. What sets Esther apart from everyone else in the story-and most readers for that matter-is her ability to see the differences between her own expectations and those that are imposed from outside. Her genuineness is not only wholly admirable, but it also drives King-Roy and her parents crazy, adding a leavening of humor to her narrative's powerful mix of triumph and tragedy.-John Peters, New York Public Library Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
King Roy is the alleged murderer who comes to live with Esther's eccentric privileged family in their 30-room mansion in the summer of 1963. Daddy's a director; brother and sister are gifted child actors; and other guests, mostly related to the theater, all fail to appreciate Esther's own contributions to their world. Pip is a neighbor boy, convinced that he and Esther will marry, but in the initial scene where they scrape up roadkill to feed Auntie Pie's injured hawks, it becomes clear that independent Esther has a different idea about their future. King Roy's life in the south hasn't prepared him for his new digs, but in the process of handling his own anger and conversion to the teachings of Malcolm X, he manages not only to teach innocent Esther about some of the injustices that make up his life, but about her own power to make change happen in the world. The interaction between personal and national politics transforms ideas into emotional reality. The brilliantly portrayed cast of characters illuminates the gut-wrenching history of the time, making tangible the sorrow and hurt that is always personal. (Fiction. YA)
From the Publisher

"Infused with rhetoric that is as meaningful today as it was two generations ago, this young teen's account of a life-changing summer not only opens a window to history, but also displays Nolan's brilliant gift for crafting profoundly appealing protagonists."--School Library Journal

"Idealistic readers will relate to fierce Esther's determination to join the March on Washington and realize positive change, even as the powerful, troubling conclusion resists sentimental solutions."--Booklist

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Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 1.03(d)
950L (what's this?)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

A Summer of Kings

By Nolan, Han

Harcourt Children's Books

Copyright © 2006 Nolan, Han
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0152051082

Last summer a murderer came to live with us. Well, that's what I had called him. Our neighbor Pip and my Auntie Pie called him the cold-blooded killer, but my mother and father said he was just a victim of prejudice and circumstance. King-Roy Johnson, a black boy just 18 years old, was accused of killing a white man down in Alabama. Before anyone could catch him, though, this King-Roy escaped up here to New York, and, with instructions from his mother, who was once best friends with my mother, ended up at our house in Westchester County.

He arrived on a Friday, a day later than we had expected him. He came while my mother was still in the city, at the theater with my brother and sister, who were auditioning for a Broadway musical, and while my ­father, a director, was at another theater with one of our houseguests, Monsieur Vichy, the snooty avant-garde playwright who hated me most particularly. Our other houseguest, Beatrice Bonham, the actress, was sleeping off a doozy of a hangover after giving her final performance of Jubilatin'!, a really, really terrible play, and one that I had to sit through five deadly long times.

Friday was also the day that Auntie Pie, Pip, and I were out scooping up dead squirrels off the road for a couple of injured hawks Auntie Pie had rescued. Mymother always disapproved of these outings, saying to Auntie Pie and me more than once, "Do you want the people in this town to think you're crazy? Do you want them to think we're all hillbillies; that we eat those disgusting things?" Which is why we only went out when my mother was away and couldn't lecture us.

We drove the old 1947 Ford Super Deluxe station wagon, another reason why we snuck out when my mother wasn't looking. The wagon was my father's old car, and he treasured it because he had purchased it with the money he made from his first hit play, but Mother believed we looked like beach bums in that car. "It's unseemly for us to be seen riding around in that broken-down bus," she told me once. "I wish your father would burn that thing!"

Broken-down bus was right. The car only ran backward and the passenger door swung open whenever it made a sharp turn, forcing the person inside to hold on to the open glove compartment for dear life. It was the only car Auntie Pie could drive without having to worry about causing too much damage, though, so off we went, traveling backward down the street, past the many stately homes on either side of us, barely missing hitting drivers in their shiny new station wagons and sedans heading in what most people would call the right direction, as we kept a lookout for dead animals.

We were in the early days of our summer vacation, and I felt in great need of a new adventure. I looked at the two dead squirrels in the box that sat between Pip and me; looked at same-old Pip-squeak, the boy who lived across the street and was in my class at school, which made him a year younger than I was because I had stayed back a year; looked at Auntie Pie, sweating and twisted around in the driver's seat trying to drive in a straight line even though she was legally blind and wore eyeglasses three inches thick, and I thought, This is not the adventure I'm wanting to have.

Every summer of my life had been the same, whether we vacationed in Europe or at home. In Europe everybody in the family got to go on sightseeing trips and have adventures while I stayed in the rental apartment and got tutored so I would be sure to pass all my subjects the following year. If we stayed home during the summers, my younger sister and brother acted in plays or in television commercials or went to a smarty camp while I got tutored so I would be sure to pass all my subjects the following year. Ever since I had stayed back in third grade, Mother had demanded this extra insurance that my summer tutoring provided her, but for me it only made my school year long and boring since I had already galloped through the same subjects the summer before. The only difference for me between a summer in Europe and a summer at home was that at home I had Pip.

Pip thought he was in love with me. He has been in love with me, he said, since he was four and I was five and his mother put us in the bathtub together to bathe us after an exciting morning creating mud pies and throwing them at each other. He told everyone at school that we've bathed together, which is one of the many, many reasons I was not in love with him.

That hot, fifth day of July in 1963, sitting in the backseat of the 1947 Ford Super Deluxe station wagon with all but one of the windows stuck shut, in the first summer vacation in forever that I didn't have to be tutored, I decided that this would be the summer of a new me, a more mature me, a more mysterious and exotic me, and I determined that our new houseguest, the murderer, was to play a starring role in my new life. So, when Auntie Pie backed into a spot on the side of the road somewhat near where yet another squirrel had been run down, and Pip and I climbed out of the steamy car to go collect it, walking along the road all the local college students used whenever they walked to town, I told Pip about my plan.

"This murderer, this King-Roy Johnson, he's only 18 years old," I began.

"Yeah, I know. So?" Pip said.

I swept my damp bangs out of my eyes and said, "So, he's just four years older than I am."

"Well, bully for him. So what?" Pip looked irritated. His dark brows bunched together and he clenched his jaw so hard I could see the muscle popping in and out on the side of his face. Anytime that morning that I brought up the subject of the murderer, Pip made the same face.

"My mother and father are four years apart, too," I said. "Mother says a four-year age difference in a couple is just right since men mature a lot slower than women."

Pip swiped the sweat off his forehead like he was trying to mash an insect and fling it, then said, "What are you getting at, Esther? You think you and this cold-blooded killer are going to become a couple? He's a Negro and a cold-blooded killer. Are you crazy?"

Pip looked stunned by the idea of it all. His small face and big ears always reminded me of a koala bear, and right then, with his deep-set dark eyes blinking behind his glasses and his mouth open, he looked like a koala bear that had just fallen out of its tree.

I shrugged. "I don't know. He sounds exciting to me, and exotic. Don't you think?" I loved using the word exotic. I felt exotic just saying it.

A couple of college girls with perfectly flipped hairdos, looking fresh in their brightly colored sundresses, walked by, and Pip waited a few seconds to let them get out of hearing range, then said, "You think you're going to fall in love with him? With a killer? You can't plan love. It's not a road trip, you know."

We had reached the spot where the squirrel lay flattened and dry upon the side of the road. I heard one of the girls who had passed us, say, "Oh, cool, look," and I knew she had noticed our car. All the college kids loved the 1947 wagon, and over the years several of them had offered to buy the car from my father, but my father always said no. I smiled to myself when I heard the girls behind us strike up a conversation with Auntie Pie.

I wiped the sweat from under my eyes and watched Pip pull a trowel out of the back pocket of his baggy African safari shorts and stoop down to pick up the squirrel. Then, with the dead squirrel lying on the trowel held out in front of him, he looked up at me through his heavy-framed glasses and said, "Love is an affair of the heart, Esther." He put his free hand, the one without the garden trowel in it, up to his heart and said, "Love is a tender thing, not a game, not a toy."

I held out the squirrel box and sang "Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing" in my most dramatic voice, and Pip stood up and dumped the squirrel in the box with a thud, then marched off toward the car without saying anything.

I ran after him. "What? I was just kidding."

Pip stopped and turned around. He was only four feet ten inches tall, although he claimed he'd grown two more inches; but even so, that still made him four inches shorter than I was, and standing as close as we were, he had to look up at me, which he always hated doing. He backed up a little and said, "You were kidding about going after that . . . that killer?"

"No. I was kidding with the song. I'm serious about the murderer. I'm already partly in love with him, anyway."

Pip ran his fingers through his hair, pushing his short bangs off his forehead so they stood straight up, and said, "Esther, you haven't even met him."

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Excerpted from A Summer of Kings by Nolan, Han Copyright © 2006 by Nolan, Han. 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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Meet the Author

HAN NOLAN is the author of six previous highly acclaimed novels published by Harcourt.

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A Summer of Kings 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I love this book. It has taught me so many things about life & how you have to be the change that you want to see in the world. I recommend that everyone would read this book because you will definitely learn a thing or two about life.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was the best book i have ever read it was really good i cried so much when kingroy died
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Guest More than 1 year ago
I love this book Its so amazing there isn't a word great to do it justice
Guest More than 1 year ago
its a ok book... it touchs the white/black differeces. the innocence of a child and the lack of true knowledge that they had. It has a really boring middle
Guest More than 1 year ago
i am reading this i am enjoying it and i would read it over and over like the other one.
Victoria Gladin Gladin More than 1 year ago
This book was my faviort because Roy King was thouth of a murrder but was not so this girl Esther loved him but in the end roy king loves her bake it is an inspiring book of courage sudpenc love and best of all adventer.
Colinlover More than 1 year ago
I hate this book sooo much. Had 2 read 4 school. Is really wierd and I fell asleep reading it! mad i had 2 put even 1 star down!