Boyce, one of 12 black students who integrated Clinton, Tennessee’s public high school in August 1956, following racial desegregation, relays the story of that harrowing experience in verse. Levy (I Dissent) notes that poetry is a particularly appropriate choice, given the “musicality” of her coauthor’s voice, which is also insightful, immediate, and passionate. Recognizing the duplicity of the court-ordered integration, Boyce writes: “We’re in, yes./ But it’s more complicated than that./ Or, looked at another way—it’s simpler./ ...You can’t stay after school,/ when the fun stuff is whites-only./ Glee club, football, cheerleading?/ No, no, and no./ Simple. That’s the complication.” Boyce poignantly describes the cruelty of white students, as “the little shoves” become “the shove that almost knocks Gail Ann out the window... From the little slights/ come the larger evils,/ and they feel/ monstrous.” While she acknowledges that it’s difficult “to change a promise of change/ into real change,” Boyce never loses hope in the belief that racial equality is attainable and that she can help make it happen. Though her parents (fearing for their safety) moved the family to California in December 1956, and Boyce left Clinton, readers will appreciate that she did make a difference by standing up for her beliefs with resolve and persistence, attributes that shine through in this lyrical yet hard-hitting account of a pivotal chapter in the history of desegregation. Ages 8–12. (Jan.)
Gr 4–8—This evocatively told, carefully researched memoir-in-verse is the story of a group of 12 teenagers from Clinton, TN, who, in 1956, were among the first black students to pave the way for school integration. Free verse and formal poetry, along with newspaper headlines, snippets of legislation, and other primary sources about national and local history are mixed with Boyce's first-person narrative. The book opens with an overview of life in segregated Clinton and the national events leading up to the desegregation of Clinton High. The rest of the work follows the four months in the fall of 1956 when Boyce and the other 11 teens attended Clinton High. They faced angry white mobs outside the school, constant harassment from white classmates, and a hostile principal who viewed integration as a legal choice rather than a moral one. The book includes an introduction and epilogue, authors' notes, brief biographies of the involved students, photographs, a time line, and a bibliography. The writing invites readers to cheer on Boyce for her optimism and her stubbornness in the face of racism, without singling her out as a solitary hero. This story adeptly shows readers that, like the Clinton Twelve, they too can be part of something greater than themselves. VERDICT A must-buy for tweens and teens, especially where novels-in-verse are popular.—Erica Ruscio, formerly at Rockport Public Library, MA
An autobiographical account in verse of a teen pioneering school desegregation in the South.
Jo Ann Allen lives up on a hill with the other black residents of Clinton, Tennessee. They travel to Knoxville to attend the black schools, but in 1956, two years after the Brown v. Board of Education decision, a judge in Knoxville tells Clinton officials that they must integrate immediately. Jo Ann is one of 12 black students who enroll in the all-white Clinton High School. With co-author Levy, she tells her story of that year in poems grouped by her relationship to her town ("Mine, Theirs and Ours"; "Fear," etc.). Most of the white people who support the black students do so only out of civic duty to obey the law. Still, there are moments of hope, as when her white classmates elect her vice president of their homeroom; it seems she might make friends. But then hatred and violence overtake the town of Clinton, necessitating federal law enforcement to keep the peace. Readers will empathize with Jo Ann's honest incredulity: "Mouths spewing insults. / (Do these mouths sing hymns on Sunday? / Do they say ‘I love you'?)" One timely poem remembers a local election in which "every single / white supremacist/ segregationist / candidate / lost." Such gems relevant to today's politics, along with the narrator's strong inner voice, make this offering stand out.
Powerful storytelling of a not-so-distant past. (epilogue, authors' notes, photos, timeline, sources, bibliography, further reading) (Verse memoir. 9-14)
Readers will empathize with Jo Ann's honest incredulity . . . Such gems relevant to today's politics, along with the narrator's strong inner voice, make this offering stand out. Powerful storytelling of a not-so-distant past.” Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“Insightful, immediate, and passionate . . . Lyrical yet hard-hitting account of a pivotal chapter in the history of desegregation.” Publishers Weekly, starred review
“This evocatively told, carefully researched memoir-in-verse . . . adeptly shows readers that, like the Clinton Twelve, they too can be part of something greater than themselves.” School Library Journal, starred review
“This moving and timely memoir should have a place in all libraries that serve young adults.” School Library Connection, starred review
“Sure to mobilize youth to action and change, this book is necessary for all library collections that serve youth.” VOYA, starred review
“Engrossing, informative, and important for middle-grade collections.” Booklist
“Accessible text and fast-paced narration make this a strong recommendation for 'One School, One Book' middle-school reading.” BCCB
“[A] fine addition to texts about the integration of public schools during the civil rights era in the United States. . .” The Horn Book Magazine