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West of Rehoboth

West of Rehoboth

by Alexs D. Pate

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Set in the early 1960s, West of Rehoboth is the moving story of twelve-year-old Edward Massey. Each summer, to escape the heat of Philadelphia, Edward's family travels to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. A pristine resort untouched by racial integration, Rehoboth Beach offers work for his mother and a sandy playground for his sister. But for Edward — an


Set in the early 1960s, West of Rehoboth is the moving story of twelve-year-old Edward Massey. Each summer, to escape the heat of Philadelphia, Edward's family travels to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. A pristine resort untouched by racial integration, Rehoboth Beach offers work for his mother and a sandy playground for his sister. But for Edward — an imaginative boy smitten with Agatha Christie's master sleuth Hercule Poirot — it offers the the chance to understand his curmudgeonly uncle Rufus, a man caught in a swirl of hard luck and bad choices.

Forging a tenuous bond, their relationship will take Edward on a harrowing journey through Rufus' past — an amalgam of violence, disappointment, and frustration. As he tries to make sense of the sadness and despair of his uncle's life, Edward must struggle to avoid losing himself to the same destiny. In this mesmerizing and elegant story, Pate tells the tale of a family on the brink of turmoil — and of the compassionate and healing power of one unforgettable boy.

Editorial Reviews

“In this richly detailed masterpiece, Pate’s writing soars.”
starred review Booklist
“Pate creates extraordinarily well-developed characters, and his prose is eloquent and nuanced. A powerful coming-of-age tale.”
Minnesota Monthly
“A poignant tale . . . A multilayered exploration of love and redemption.”
Patty Rice
“Reading West of Rehoboth was like being grabbed by hand by an adventurous friend and taken on a memorable expedition.”
Publishers Weekly
Richly conceived if sometimes garbled in the telling, this novel by the author of the official tie-in to the Spielberg movie Amistad relates the story of 12-year-old Edward Massey, chubby self-appointed boy detective, and his summer adventures at Rehoboth Beach. The year is 1962, and Edward and his family have escaped the festering gang violence of steamy Philadelphia to spend the summer in deceptively cool Rehoboth, Del. The beach-town community, now the playground of the wealthy but originally settled by those seeking religious unity and escape from the moral decay of cities, is a world of contrasts, with its segregated beaches and restricted areas. The white inhabitants depend on the African-American residents to staff hotels, restaurants and homes, but do their best to ignore their presence. Edward's Aunt Edna is a pillar of Rehoboth's black community, the owner of a restaurant and candy store where the black townspeople gather. For five years, Edward and his family have spent their summers with her, and for five years Edward has wondered about the man living in a shack on Aunt Edna's property, a man he is told to call "Uncle Rufus." This summer, primed by his reading of Agatha Christie tales, he is determined to solve the mystery of Uncle Rufus. His investigations take him into dangerous territory, and he comes to learn much about love, murder and redemption. Pate's characters are fully imagined, breaking from stereotype, but his prose is rocky and disjointed in places, perspectives skipping unsteadily from speaker to speaker. Middle-class black life in the 1960s is ably captured, but the convincing scene-setting may not be able to distract readers from lapses at the sentence level.(Sept.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A profoundly affecting story about a bright black kid's first brushes with bigotry, in a fifth novel from the award-winning author of The Multicultiboho Sideshow (1999), etc. It's 1962, early July, in sizzling, smoldering North Philly-no place for a 12-year-old African-American who happens to prefer Agatha Christie to street fighting. Every summer Edward Massey's working-class parents, fiercely protective, hustle him out of town and down to Rehoboth Beach, where his Aunt Edna runs a thriving restaurant/boardinghouse. Well, not Rehoboth Beach exactly, Jim Crow being what it was back then, but rather West Rehoboth, that "coloreds only" country on the other side of the canal. Aunt Edna, a remote, unsmiling woman who makes Edward nervous, is a person to reckon with in her volatile community, but it's the man mysteriously connected to her, the one he's been taught to call Uncle Rufus, who fascinates Eddie, and who challenges his cherished alter ego, Hercule Poirot. He decides, therefore, to devote the summer to ratiocination, to solving the puzzle of this scary, hard-drinking semi-recluse through investigation and logic. But why won't people answer any questions about Rufus? Where does he go when he disappears from the shack that seems to be his Elba? And, most vexing of all, how could he have brought himself to murder Eddie's pet, the turtle Mr. Peabody? Circumstances throw them together, the bitter old man and the precocious, tirelessly inquisitive young boy. Rufus, drunk, smashes up his truck with Eddie in it. Both are pinned in the wreckage, and while they wait for rescue, Eddie, somehow, embarks on a strange, sort of metaphysical journey into Rufus's other world-a world in which youngRufus was free to make choices that didn't result in rage, defeat, and, inevitably, self-hatred. What Pate, writing from the heart, makes particularly vivid is the way endemic, inescapable racism suffocates and ruins.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Edition description:
1 ED
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.89(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The soft summer held them all. They gently sat upon the shimmering flecks of sun hidden in the cut grass. They came together like this every Fourth of July. It was a time when Lemon Hill Park was at its height of sweetness. They came together to grill hot dogs and hamburgers, to play catch, to escape the raging heat of North Philly. They sat among the trees and flowers, and for a short time the adults could throw their heads back and sigh. Inhale fresh life.

It was 1962. It was what white people called a holiday and the folks from the neighborhood were at the park. Doing what they wanted to do. Laughing. Telling stories. There were five blankets spread over the ground -- a blanket for each family. The young folks were all over the place. The girls were playing dodgeball, some of the boys were playing catch. The mothers were huddled together playing bid whist. The fathers weren't there. A baseball game on television held most of them at home, although Edward was pretty certain his father was firing up the grill. This was no place for fathers anyway, he thought. None of the fathers he knew could so completely relax and just "be" like his mother and her friends could. A day in the park almost never included the men.

Edward Massey was the only boy not playing. There were times when he just couldn't be like everyone else. Even though if he could control everything, he really wanted to be doing whatever the other boys were doing. Playing whatever silly game they were playing. Or talking about girls or sports or even sneaking a puff on a cigarette. But there were moments, like thismoment, when sitting still, in thought, burrowed deep into his own mind, was all he wanted to do.

"Paradox," he said in the barest of whispers. It was a word he'd only recently learned.

The boys were now choosing sides for a baseball game. They had discovered another group having a picnic and realized there were enough kids to maybe play seven to a side. Edward knew that any minute somebody was going to run over and try to get him to play. After all, he was the best catcher out there. He was the thickest of them all, chubby even. The perfect size to sit behind the plate and throw runners out. But he would have to confess that he just plain did not want to play. Beside him sat a book which he intended to read a little of and the rest of the time he just wanted to think. The peace of the park was rare. The air, laced with the happiness of so many of his friends at one time, rarer still.

Sure enough, his best friend, Sonny Goodman, was jogging in his direction. "C'mon, Eddie, man. We're gettin' up a game. We need you."

"I don't feel like it today, Sonny," Edward said quietly, hoping his mother who sat behind him wouldn't interfere. He knew she sometimes worried that he didn't play enough. Luckily she was so caught up in her card game she didn't even turn in his direction.

"We need a catcher."

"I'm reading," Edward said as be picked up his book.

"You can read later, man. Let's play some ball."

Edward could see Sonny's body already turning back toward the other boys. "I don't feel like it."

"Don't be lame, man. We just need one more player."

"Sorry, man. I don't want to right now." Was all that Edward had to say to finally send Sonny on his way. He opened his book.

Fifteen minutes later Edward sat, his back against his mother's back, reading Poirot Investigates. Hercule Poirot was his favorite detective. No one could compete with the brilliant deductive powers of the Belgian sleuth except perhaps Sherlock Holmes. There was something seductive about Monsieur Poirot that pulled Edward into the stories. Edward loved Poirot's arrogance, his profound self-confidence, and especially the fat Belgian's use of his "little gray cells."

Edward was nearly always reading. His mother paid him a dollar for every book he read in addition to the one he was assigned in school. That meant that every book during the summer was worth a dollar. It didn't matter which book, but if he finished it, after a brief quiz, he was given an additional dollar over his allowance. He was up to two dollars a week. His goal was to read three books a week over the remainder of his vacation.

As he sat reading, he felt the pressure of his mother's body against him. When her time came to play a card, she would lean forward. He would try to anticipate her and hold his back stiff, awaiting her return. And even as he tunneled into the mysterious world of Paris high society, the banter of the women penetrated. It was rapid-fire, free-ranging, bouncing from neighborhood news to card-game boasts and taunts.

Edward looked up from his book. His own gray cells stimulated, he focused on the other boys. They were always playing.

They never hardly talked about books. Even Sonny, one of the smartest, never seemed to be serious about anything. And Rooster, well, to Edward, Rooster was one step away from being a member of one of the many gangs that surrounded them. They were both the same age as Edward -- twelve.

He often had to suffer the teasing and ridicule for being so much of a "bookworm." But what else was he supposed to do with his time? Aside from the fact that he actually did love to read and his mother literally fed him books like snacks, he had nothing else to occupy himself. Yes, he could play baseball in the summer and football in the winter, which he did...

West of Rehoboth. Copyright © by Alexs Pate. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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