"Caleb is compelling and believable, and Dudley's rich writing is impressive, clearly showing the various wars black Americans were fighting in the 1940s, both abroad and closer to home."
School Library Journal
African-American teenager Caleb Brown faces battles around his Toad Hop, Georgia community during the summer of 1944. He resents racial intolerance and social expectations for him to conform to the demands of whites. Caleb retaliates with vandalism, fights bullies, and yearns for respect. He is curious about Camp Davis, the prisoner of war (POW) camp for captured Germans located in the countryside and worries about his brother Randall, who is a soldier serving with segregated troops in Europe. Caleb strives to please his pious mother and not provoke his temperamental father. Angry because his father whipped him, Caleb secures a job at the Dixie Belle Cafe which serves only white customers instead of helping with his Pop's carpentry business. The diner's owners, the powerful Davis family, avoid military service and profit from the war by using POW laborers, annoying Caleb. When a German prisoner, Andreas, works at the diner, Caleb struggles with his unexpected empathy regarding an enemy conflicting with his patriotic duty, especially when Nazis imprison Randall. Furious when he sees POWs eating at the diner, Caleb protests. Believable character development chronicles how Caleb seeks to be true to himself, defending his beliefs despite socioeconomic and internal obstacles. Caleb's relationships with people of diverse ethnicities and ages reveal his evolving maturity. Scenes depicting Caleb and Randall together emphasize their aspirations for post-war lives free from racism in communities where African Americans can thrive. Unresolved issues suggest a sequel might explore Caleb's continued quest for racial equality. Student papers could analyze figurative use of prisoner and imprisonment imagery throughout the narrative. Read with Jack Bickham's
All the Days Were Summer (1981) and Tanita S. Davis' Mare's War (2009). Reviewer: Elizabeth D. Schafer
Children's Literature - Elizabeth D. Schafer
Gr 7–10—In 1944 rural Georgia, 15-year-old Caleb has been taught to step off the sidewalk whenever white folks approach and not to talk back to a white person of any age. His older brother enlists to fight the Nazis and is relegated to an all-black unit supervised by white officers. When Caleb's father beats him one time too many, Caleb approaches Mr. Davis about work. The plantation owner has pulled some strings to get German POWs incarcerated close by, so he has all the field help he needs, but he offers Caleb a dishwashing job in his Dixie Belle Café. Then he decides to bring one of the POWs in to the Dixie Belle to help out in the kitchen. Over time, the soldier proves to be a quiet, steady worker, and slowly he and Caleb develop a friendship. When Caleb's parents get news that their older son has been injured and taken prisoner, he feels guilty about the relationship: How can he be civil to a person who represents the enemy? His confusion grows when he sees several POWs eating at the Dixie Belle: even though the townspeople detest them, the color of their skin allows them to be served. Furious, Caleb sits down, leading to a confrontation with Mr. Davis that provides no easy answers, but hints that his battles are just beginning. Caleb is compelling and believable, and Dudley's rich writing is impressive, clearly showing the various wars black Americans were fighting in the 1940s, both abroad and closer to home.—Kim Dare, Fairfax County Public Schools, VA
In small-town Georgia in 1944, 15-year-old Caleb is surrounded by war.
His older brother, Randall, is serving in a black Army unit overseas, and a German prisoner-of-war camp just opened outside town. Caleb's mother wants him to be baptized in a faith he's not sure he believes in, and his overbearing father fights him over every aspect of his life. But worse than all that is the constant battle African-Americans have, in the segregated South, to be seen and treated as fully human. Caleb defies his father and gets a job washing dishes in a whites-only restaurant, where he is horrified to find a German soldier working beside him. The other restaurant workers, both black and white, are equally horrified, but Andreas, the German, seems to want to be Caleb's friend. Dudley's characterizations are sure and complex. His use of dialect, initially a bit jarring, eventually adds depth to the richly evoked setting. Only an improbable and unnecessary subplot involving faith healing distracts slightly from the story's momentum. The ending, in which a white character reveals the full nature of racism—that blacks might be considered friends but never, ever, equals—is startling, swift and sure, pointing to America's next great war, the battle over civil rights.
Provocative and interesting.
(Historical fiction. 14 & up)