Adjusting to life in a new country is difficult enough for most individuals. For nine-year-old Michelle LeBeau, the child of an American father and a Japanese mother, relocating from her birthplace in Japan to live with her grandparents in the fictional town of Deerhorn, WI, is especially complicated because her grandfather Charlie is a bigot. Michelle deftly narrates her struggles with being taunted at school for her appearance. But she eventually draws Charlie to her; he even teaches her some basic self-defense, and the bond between them grows. Michelle's problems with discrimination disappear when the town shifts its focus to the new African American couple, a nurse and her substitute-teacher husband. What follows is Revoyr's (The Age of Dreaming) hauntingly provocative and disturbing tale of blatant racism in small-town America. With shades of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, this work is replete with racial epithets that may shock and offend some but are aptly suited in the context of the story. VERDICT Dealing with issues of race, relationships, and injustice, this tragic tale makes an excellent choice for book discussion groups as it will force readers to dig deep and look inward.—Shirley N. Quan, Orange Cty. P.L., Santa Ana, CA
Revoyr's fourth novel (Southland, 2008, etc.)is a coming-of-age saga in which racism cuts across loyalties between family and friends.
It's the early 1970s, and post-Vietnam social turmoil is unabated. Not yet 10, Michelle LeBeau is left with her paternal grandparents in the blue-collar town of Deerhorn, Wis. Michelle's mother, a native of Japan, had abandoned her husband and daughter several years earlier, and Michelle's unstable, restless and disgruntled father thinks he can convince his wife to return, if he can only find her. Michelle feels abandoned when her father slips away without saying goodbye, but she also dotes on her grandfather, Charlie, a man who despised his son's interracial marriage but treasures the child it produced. He affectionately calls her "Mikey" and discovers that she is a willing participant in all things hunting and fishing that his son avoided. Told from the viewpoint of an adult Michelle, the novel rings with insight about the world of adults, even while it simultaneously portrays young Michelle authentically. Readers hurt when she is bullied, harassed and isolated because she is an exotic mixture of races, and readers understand when she discovers a version of her own troubles in the town's outright hatred of two other Deerhorn newcomers, an African-American couple, the Garretts. These characters—the woman a nurse, the husband a substitute teacher—are somewhat one dimensional, but nevertheless sympathetic and believable. Revoyr also does well in portraying the Garretts' primary nemesis, Earl Watson, "war hero and business leader and upstanding citizen." But Watson lives with a dark, brutal secret. The author is to be applauded for her ability to effectively portray Charlie, a thoroughly complex human being undone by grief when hatred and friendship, loyalty and love collide. As the adult Michelle wonders if "there are sins for which there is no redemption," the melancholy resolution concludes the narrative convincingly.
Gripping and insightful.