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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Revolution Redux

First of all, you should know that I am simply not the audience for this book.  I find the plot too slow and the characters uninteresting, and the whole thing was kind of a slog to get through–and I always feel that way about Deborah Wiles’s books.  For me, the history in this story was the most compelling part, but I felt that I could get that much better in FREEDOM SUMMER and THE FREEDOM SUMMER MURDERS.  This book offers a perspective, however, that neither of those books do.  I am clearly the problem here, of course, and you should take everything I read with a huge grain of salt.

That said, I can recognize that this book has many distinguished qualities for the right reader, and I’m not at all surprised that it made our shortlist or that it is being seriously discussed as a Newbery candidate.  For me, it doesn’t attain that heights that BROWN GIRL DREAMING and THE FAMILY ROMANOV do, and I would probably vote for THE PORT CHICAGO 50 as my third place vote, but I could support REVOLUTION over JOEY PIGZA (speaking of the other shortlisted titles we have reconsidered here).

One point that I did want to revisit–the one that I think generated the most discussion–is the treatment of Raymond.  This *is* clearly Sunny’s story, and I don’t necessarily have a problem with how much screen time Raymond gets.  Considering how brief those vignettes are, and how infrequent, too, Wiles does an admirable job with the character of Raymond.  And yet I still absolutely believe what Nina wrote earlier: Everything about his story feels purposefully there to move Sunny’s character.  Moreover, I would add that some of the decisions about point of view seem arbitrary and random.  Why are Sunny and Raymond written in first person, while Gillette (and his step-father) are written in third person?  Why is chapter 52 written in third person?  It’s an account of your typical African American church meeting, one that Raymond could have easily attended and reported on.  Why does the design obfuscate this?  These aren’t criticisms.  They’re questions.  I would need to resolve them satisfactorily before I could consider putting this one on my ballot, personal preferences notwithstanding.

 

 

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Jonathan Hunt About Jonathan Hunt

Jonathan Hunt is the Coordinator of Library Media Services at the San Diego County Office of Education. He served on the 2006 Newbery committee, and has also judged the Caldecott Medal, the Printz Award, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. You can reach him at hunt_yellow@yahoo.com

Comments

  1. One of the things I admire so much about this book is its obscure complexity. Wiles could have built the story on a more careful and logical framework, dividing the Sunny and Ray chapters evenly and alternating between them according to some methodical design. But the looser approach she took feels organic. Combined with the unpredictable and immediate interstitial documentary content, it leaves the reader a bit off balance, without a solid foundation from which to witness the events. And that uneasy sensibility works so well with Sunny’s awakening to what’s going on. We get to feel confused and overwhelmed with her. It’s word-painting of the highest order.

  2. Mark Flowers says:

    I just finished this one in anticipation of the Mock Newbery. I am probably not the audience for it either and also found it a big of a slog, but I appreciate a lot about it.

    I didn’t have any problem with the treatment of Raymond in terms of plot, but I did have an issue with the representation of African American Vernacular English. Now, I am by no means an expert in this subject, and I’d really like to have a linguist read the book for an expert opinion, but to my ears, and after reading the Wikipedia page (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/African_American_Vernacular_English) and some other web sources, Raymond’s voice did not sound like real AAVE–it sounded instead like someone trying really hard to write in “black” dialect. Again, I’m not an expert, and I welcome someone who is one correcting me, but to my ears it sounded wrong, and if true, that would be a big problem for me in honoring this book.

    • Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

      Mark, I did wonder about this, too, but since I’m not an expert, then I would defer to those who are. Two of the NBA judges were African American, and the book was a finalist so I assume that if it was problematic to them then it was a peccadillo and not a fatal flaw.

  3. Nina Lindsay Nina Lindsay says:

    I recently finished my re-reading of this, and while my appreciation for Sunny’s point of view has grown (I agree wholeheartedly with Thom’s comments) and think Wiles is fabulous at authentic and subtle character building for *this* character, I did find my dismay with Raymond’s POV growing as well. I’ve realized that it’s not the *amount* of screen time, but really, how it’s used. Mark’s point is part of it–I find the voice awkward. I also continue to find Raymond’s character flat. We don’t get to know him as well as Sunny–fine, Sunny is the main character. But then the first person voice for Raymond, and not Gillette, seems odd. I also feel we don’t get to know him as well as other white side characters with considerably less screen time, most noticeably Gillette. Raymond only seems to play two roles in this story: a passive witness to the Black community, or an angry black male youth who “acts out” and is good at sports. While this may be authentic to actual people and appropriate for the story at the time, because he never feels like a real person, he ends up feeling like a stereotype. I know this was not Wiles’ intention, and I see that his character was necessary to get the complexity of viewpoints (from his community) into the story. But it’s just a piece of this otherwise remarkable story that I find Wiles’ does poorly, and it really gets in the way of my ability to connect with the book in a “distinguished” way.

    The Raymond passages end up standing in stark contrast then to some really wonderful scenes… p.150-1 where Annabelle’s feelings are illustrated through her actions (salt in the sugarbowl)….every scene that hints at Parnell’s closested homosexualtiy (I know some of you will take me to task on this–the point is it could be, or maybe not, either way, Sunny can’t tell, but the hints are there for the reader who cares to suppose)…

  4. Leonard Kim says:

    Mark and Nina,

    I think you both may be right about Raymond’s language and that he may be a “stock” character. And there is the sensitive issue that even a positive but stock portrayal of a minority character can be culturally corrosive (e.g., the “Magic Negro” character.) Is Raymond more “archetype” or “stereotype”? He is in some ways a conventional “hero” in this book: in what he does, in how he develops (I argued elsewhere he shows the most, albeit conventional, character development of anyone), in what happens to him, in how Sunny and Gillette come to perceive him…

    I think the argument for REVOLUTION comes from two directions. One is the pure writing argument (what I called the Kate DiCamillo argument). For example, look at Raymond’s first chapter — yes both Mark’s and Nina’s points hold here. What impressed me is the breathless rush of words that mirror Raymond’s sprint (“Trip across the railroad tracks and fall face-first into the land where your people sleep together, eat together, and sing Hallelujah together and keep to they own kind except when they cross the tracks to clean the white folks’ house or tend the white folks’ children or pick the white folks’ cotton or say yassuh and nossuh or ‘shine yo’ shoes, sir?’ or go to jail at the courthouse for no good reason,” all of which, cutely, comes to a screeching stop on the word “Run!”) This is prose that works like poetry, all the more impressive for being so different from the introductory documentary material and Sunny’s first two chapters. I would even say this introduction is almost as striking as the standout introduction of Josh in THE CROSSOVER. And is Josh, resentful, good at sports, whose moment of “acting out” is an important plot point, really any more realized than Raymond? (And I think the argument could be made that Benji of MADMAN is more one-note as a character than either of them.)

    And that’s the other argument for REVOLUTION. Take any criterion, and REVOLUTION is at least almost as good, and often better, than any of its less multi-dimensional peers. I don’t know whether I’ll end up comparing every book on the shortlist to REVOLUTION, but REVOLUTION is at least in the ballpark of doing non-fiction as well as the non-fiction books, of inspiring readers as well as the feel-good books, of being as poetic as the poetry books, of structuring a plot and realizing characters (at least some of them, I hope we can agree) as well as the novels. It excels in more dimensions than the others, its breadth of excellence encompasses the others so that it can be the frame of reference against which the excellence of other books may be judged (and sure, in any one particular dimension, other books may be better.) That is why it’s the most distinguished book of the year.

  5. Dean Schneider says:

    Jonathan — If the whole point of Heavy Medal is to model how the Newbery Committee works, comments like “I am simply not the audience for this book” or “I always feel that way about Deborah Wiles’s books” would not fly. Nina was the head of the Newbery Committee when I was on it, and she would never have let comments like that fly. Being on the committee MAKES you an audience for that book, and you would not be allowed to compare the book at hand with others by the author, I certainly would not want someone on my committee who says I have to take everything you say with “a huge grain of salt.”

    I wonder about your later comment: What makes two African American judges experts on all things dialectical; dialects vary from region to region, time period to time period. I’m white but would never presume to be an expert on white regional dialects today or in the past. Deborah Wiles grew up in the town she’s portraying, She grew up hearing the speech of the people around her. I trust her representation of Raymond’s speech, not just because she grew up hearing it, but because she’s a an accomplished writer and researcher. I presume her publisher vetted the book, and I figure the Newbery Committee has done so, too.

    I appreciated Thom’s measured and insightful comments. It is, indeed, the complexity of the novel that draws readers in, that makes Sunny’s experience of growing up in a confusing, life-altering time so believable. I think Wiles did an amazing job of bringing Sunny’s life and times to life.

    REVOLUTION got starred reviews in every magazine that reviewed it, including my review in Horn Book. (I don’t know why the BULLETIN didn’t review it.) Teaching it to my 7th graders only made me appreciate it even more. It’s easy to get caught up in the great historical material in the book, but teaching it–and reading so much of it aloud–made me appreciate the remarkable prose, often quite elegant. My wife and I listened to the book on CD on a recent road trip to civil rights sites in Birmingham and Montgomery, and I was pleasantly surprised at how well the book works as an audiobook. All of those historical scrapbooks are more than just visuals; they really work well as audio documents to complement Sunny’s and others’ narratives. In fact, I came back from the trip, and played a couple of the CD’s scrapbook sections to my class, even though we were almost finished with the novel at that point. I hope there’s a member on the Newbery Committee who has this experience with the novel–how readers take to the book, how the historical documents enhance and enrich the novel when read and heard.

    My class read BROWN GIRL DREAMING next. What a great one-two punch, as REVOLUTION provided such a great historical context for Woodson’s remarkable memoir.

  6. Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

    Well, Dean, modeling is certainly one of the points of Heavy Medal, but we would be foolish if we didn’t discuss some of those other things that we can discuss precisely because we are not at the table, things that might cloud our judgment, for instance, and indeed you’ll note that our sister blogs, Calling Caldecott and Someday My Printz Will Come, often introduce elements which may be out of bounds at the table. As table-unworthy as my comments were, I do note that your rebuttal contains references to the number of starred reviews and comparisons to the audiobooks which are probably equally taboo at the table. 😛

    Another point of Heavy Medal is that it’s not my job to argue in defense of your favorites; it’s your job. For the first time that I can remember, we picked a book for our shortlist that neither Nina nor I are crazy about which is not to say that we cannot see or appreciate it’s strengths, but it’s led to a couple of damning-with-faint-praise posts, one from Nina in September and this one from me. And the book deserves more than that. Every book should be so lucky to have an advocate as passionate as Leonard. I’ll also admit that my post isn’t as in-depth as it could have been, either in covering the strengths and/or weaknesses, but I think that’s been true of my posts all year long. For some reason, I’m finding Calling Caldecott a much more compelling blog this year. 🙂

    One way of looking things is that we, as readers, are perfect and infallible. That if there is a problem, then it’s the book’s fault. That kind of committee member isn’t very much fun either. The opposite tack is that the books are perfect, but it’s the readers who are flawed. The truth lies somewhere in between, of course, and that’s simply one of the many things that the committee is trying to negotiate. The pacing of this book is slow, and if you want me to be the first kind of reader then this alone takes the book out of contention for me. 🙁

    Again, I’m not an expert on the dialect in the book that Raymond speaks, and would be more than happy to defer to those who are whether they be African American, Southerners, or both. While his voice gave me pause, I thought it was a brave choice nevertheless, and you’ll note that I did not raise this issue; Mark did. The only thing I can do is compare the voice to those that have been published this year, and go with my gut instinct on this. Even so, if this is problematic (which is an “if”) then I think it’s a peccadillo rather than a fatal flaw. I think you’re barking up the wrong tree.

    If pacing (plot), voice (style and character), and the haphazard/complex structure of the text are concerns for me–no, that’s too strong of a word–if they are question marks for me, I still think most of the other elements of the novel place it among the very best of the year, perhaps the best. Novel, that is. I still unapologetically think that BROWN GIRL DREAMING and THE FAMILY ROMANOV are clearly more distinguished.

  7. Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

    I neglected to mention that one of the things I liked about this book was the title, and how we see occasional glimpses into the Vietnam conflict. It’s a thread that isn’t picked up in the narrative, but I’d be surprised if this doesn’t move front and center in the third volume. Anyone know?

  8. NINA: “I don’t think I saw or appreciated the risk, and I didn’t mean to imply (but realize I did) that Wiles’ didn’t dare to do something fully new. I do think the “documentary novel” aspect of this book distinguishes it, and I think that it’s effective. But it fades into the background for me, and that may be me at fault forgetting I’m an adult reader, but I don’t see the nonfiction sections advancing the guts of the story. They provide needed context. ” [Quoted from over in the BROWN GIRL DREAMING THREAD]

    NANCY: No, not at all. I don’t think your lack of appreciation for that aspect of the book has anything to do with you as an adult reader, but is due to your particular preferences as a reader. We all have them. Some kids like only fiction, some like only animal stories, some want action – you are focused here on story. (Though given that you are someone who always gives nonfiction its due, I am a little surprised at your overlooking the primary sources in REVOLUTION, and how they affect story.)

    Quick pause to reflect that Sunny’s main story line is about her blended family, which she isn’t sure she wants. She has a dream of the perfect mother instead, a fantasy to which she clings for comfort, and which she must give up in order to appreciate the good that she has been given instead. Now, the significance of this story line as a metaphor for the Civil Rights movement is obvious, so we won’t dwell on it, but I do want to point out that it’s so perfectly handled, and Sunny’s emotions are so personal and vivid, that it’s actually easy to miss the parallel. Sunny’s story is itself, but it is ALSO a metaphor for Freedom Summer.

    Back on track! Primary sources! Placement in the text! How the documentary pieces advance the guts of the story. Let’s look at two primary sources:

    The “hate sheet.” P. 283. Notice that this document is NOT part of a scrapbook – Wiles made the decision to interrupt one of Sunny’s chapters to insert it. It’s an attack on Sunny’s beloved Leflore theater – she’s going to take that personally, all right — and ends with this “We recognize the Civil Rights bill as a mislabeled, unconstitutional, freedom-destroying, vicious, and un-American piece of legislation and we do not intend to obey it under any circumstances.”

    It tells us quite a bit about who Sunny is becoming that she makes eye contact with Vidella (and notice that Annabelle, lovely though she is in many ways, is totally disinterested – maybe Sunny isn’t totally wrong that Annabelle is less than what she would have dreamed of, as a mother) and that Sunny absolutely recognizes the sheet as one of a type, and then she reads it as soon as she can, just like Vidella intended she should. She reads it TWICE, mind you. (That tells the reader to not skim it, by the way.) And then, despite her fighting with Gillette, Sunny makes absolutely sure he reads it too. Why? Because “something in me tells me he will know what to do, that he has been scared like this before, and that he can help me. Because I’m scared, and I have no one else I can talk to about it. I am holding onto so many secrets that need telling, I’m likely to pop. There is no one who will understand them like Gillette will. If anyone has held on to secrets in his lifetime, it’s Gillette.”

    See there, how the hate sheet intersects with the story of Sunny’s family? See how it draws Vidella and Sunny together… and pushes Annabelle a little bit away…. And causes Sunny to reach out to Gillette? The hate sheet, which is a primary source document, is an active part of the plot here, and adds to Sunny’s fear and eventually, to the build-up of resolution inside her.

    I would also like to show a similar intersection between another primary source in the text, another hate sheet, the KKK leaflet that Raymond picks up (p. 449). We live in a world in which Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn is banned for its inclusion of the N word. How much integrity and courage must it have taken Deborah Wiles to include this leaflet? Now, notice how artfully she uses it. She doesn’t have us read it over the shoulder of Sunny this time—no, she chooses Raymond. This choice allies the reader firmly with Raymond, and makes the reader feel as slapped and as angry as Raymond does. And we get to react with Raymond: “I tear those hateful words into tiny pieces.”
    Now, notice something here. We see Raymond pick up the leaflet, we see him read it, we see him get angry, we see him tear it up – and then and only then is the content of the leaflet reproduced for us to read as well, to understand what made him so angry. Wiles does not let us read it alongside Raymond here, but only afterward – subtly guiding us (guiding the child reader) to first see his reaction to this filth. Now, if you experiment in your mind with moving the leaflet up a few paragraphs, so that it follows “I turn over the paper and read it. I read it again. And again” – you’ll see the care in that choice of placement. I spoke earlier about the acute artistic sensibility and sensitivity necessary here. This is one of the places that illustrates what I mean.

    In my view, every single item, from Beatles lyrics to photographs (I forgot to mention the photographs earlier!) to slogans (“Ain’t Gonna Study War No More”) to diary excerpts from the freedom workers – all the primary source material reproduced in the book – was carefully selected and placed to braid into the story of Greenwood, Mississippi during Freedom Summer, so that the experience of one girl is amplified into the experience of a town, a people, a nation in the grip of change. And different readers will focus on different types of primary sources. Different people are engaged by different aspects. There is something for all of them here.

    Finally (and aren’t you glad?!), one of the wondrous things about REVOLUTION is that it’s a complex book with a complex structure that is nevertheless capable of meeting the reader wherever the reader is. In Nina’s case, you have a reader who is admittedly largely unengaged by the historical documents. That’s fine—such a reader can focus on the story alone. With a reader more interested in fact, the story might fade into the background and that reader would focus on the biographies, the scrapbooks. And for the “ideal” reader (who might emerge actually only on a second or third reading of this book), everything comes together. All the parts of the novel support each other and REVOLUTION is suddenly more than the sum of its remarkable parts. This reader can see how the story of Sunny’s family struggling to become whole is a metaphor for the struggle of a nation. The trauma of blending two families into one; the risk; the fallout; the turmoil.

    The personal IS political — the novel’s theme.

    • Leonard Kim says:

      Amen. That was great. It gave voice to something I wouldn’t have been able to put to words myself, but reading it, makes me realize, hey, that’s how I feel!

  9. One last post (with different thoughts! I promise!) on the nonfictional elements of REVOLUTION.

    It is also worth considering the nonfiction for “delineation of setting.” Nina described the nonfiction in REVOLUTION as “providing needed context.” Does anyone else feel as I do, that for this particular book, which is of course historical fiction, context is effectively another term for setting? For me, the historical documents are vital to our full understanding of the setting of Greenwood, Mississippi, in the summer of 1964. Another one that takes my breath away is on pp. 163-164, the instructions to the Freedom Riders, which as we read, puts us in their shoes as they are being told to enter rooms that say “Colored Ony”: “You break that law. You break it because it is both evil and is against the Supreme Court of the United States.”” — from this, we understand how Jo Ellen has been trained and what she is thinking as she comes to Mississippi.

    But I also want to mention the integration of real historical figures in the story. I find myself thinking of the scene in which Sunny and her grandmother Meemaw are walking down the street in Greenwood and they encounter Byron “Delay” de la Beckwith, who I didn’t know about before. (P. 214, for any of you crazy kids following along at home.)

    So, within the book, we’ve heard about Delay Beckwith before — p. 111 — we heard from Sunny’s friend Polly that he was acquitted of murdering a black man, and now he’s back in Greenwood and he just brought a gun to church and waved it around and told everyone he had an arsenal of weapons and planned to use them and “Who’s with me?” Which really happened.

    Also interesting to notice in this scene how the kids in their hideout skip in a breathless second from talking about a crush on the Beatles to talking politics…. a truth of the times. Actually, once you look closely at any scene in this book, you see how it accomplishes a minimum of two purposes, and in many cases, four or five. Sorry. I’m off point.

    Back to Beckwith on p. 214, a man who carries a gun around all the time and aims to use it the second he personally decides he feels threatened — and yes, we are very familiar with that again today in our world — a discussion that I am sad to say you can have with many a child in a 5th or 6th grade classroom today.

    Beckwick spots Meemaw and Sunny, and greets them with a deep bow.

    >>
    “Meemaw reached down and took my hand in hers.” (NANCY: note the protective move.) “How are you, Delay,” she said, in a voice that meant she didn’t want an answer.

    “Mr. Delay blocked the sidewalk with his bow, with his arm extended to the curb …. ”
    <>
    “Your beautiful granddaughter, I presume?”

    Meemaw held my hand tighter and said, in a not-unpleasant voice, “Yes, this is Jamie’s daughter, I’m sure you know.” She didn’t mention my name, and she gave me the tiniest shove with her clasped hand that led me to try to take a step around Mr. Delay.
    <<

    Just in this snippet — and there's more to this scene — you see the way in which De La Beckwith holds relatively decent people hostage (though we do have our issues with Meemaw), how their fear and wariness makes them polite to him, even though they do not approve of him and feel he endangers them, too. Later we learn that Meemaw "didn't say a word about it, so neither did I" — and that's how the white folks live in Greenwood, with one foot on a banana peel.

    So here's a question: How effective would this scene be, if Delay Beckwith were not a real person in history? How much does our knowledge (from the nonfictional material) that he is real help us to understand Greenwood, as setting? My guess is that, if this were a traditional novel with a fictionalized character standing in for Beckwith, the drama of the scene would be almost as powerful. I would say that it's only afterward, on that second or third reading, or in a classroom discussion (e.g., like the one Dean Schneider did with his class), that it can explode in the minds of the readers: OMG. THIS GUY WAS REAL.

    Historical fiction that interleaves real historical people can be more powerful that historical fiction that "fictionalizes," At the same time, some (most? as a student, I always found I learned more in discussion than I did trapped in my head) readers will really need close study, with a teacher like Dean, to get the benefit of the "explosion" of THIS IS REAL and then connect it to their own worlds, today.

    Which is the real gift of historical fiction.

    • Leonard Kim says:

      This is not a particularly analytical comment and this issue was actually confusing to me for a long time, though now I think it’s kind of cool. Wiles’ first opinionated biography is of Bob Moses. Raymond last appeared 10 pages before and doesn’t appear again for about another 40 pages. When he does return on pp.112-113, when the adults are discussing the bombing of the last Freedom House, we get, in a single, unelaborated statement, “‘I know,’ says SNCC Bob. ‘I was there.'” Bob Moses, right? We get more and more appearances by “SNCC Bob.” But then, here’s the confusing part. During Raymond’s last appearance before Freedom Day, on p.394, we get, “‘Gonna be a long day,’ say SNCC Bob. White Bob. ‘Can we count on you and you FreedomMakers here?”‘ And I’m going, huh, so I guess SNCC Bob wasn’t Bob Moses? And I wonder, maybe SNCC Bob and others are fictional creations? But later, after Raymond / Silas McGee is shot, we have again in chapter 66 (Sunny’s) p. 468, “‘Give me your shirt!’ yells SNCC Bob — white Bob — as he peels off his undershirt and begins to wrap it around Raymond’s head.” And then I realize. SNCC Bob *was* Bob Moses. SNCC Bob, white Bob, is Bob Zellner. Because only in fiction do characters never have the same name, especially a common name like Bob. Then I go back to p. 219 and realize yep, “I know all they strange names now. Willie Peacock, Sam Block, Bob Moses, Bob Zellner, Dewey Greene, Stokely Carmichael, Casey Hayden, Annelle Ponder, Linda Wetmore, Sally Belfrage, Eli Zaretsky, Monroe Sharp.” And yes many of these people do show up throughout the book as SNCC Dewey and SNCC Eli and SNCC Stokely etc. And then I realize the very next sentence includes, “. . . spell out all the names I can remember, even Yellow-Hair Jo Ellen, and they put me right to sleep.” Jo Ellen, is of course, fictional, except she is and isn’t (as Wiles notes) Linda Wetmore.

      This is almost more than historical fiction. This is like alternate reality. Which is why that strange chapter 52 which Jonathan and I have commented on, Wednesday, July 15, 1964, the one chapter not told from any character’s perspective, is so strange and wonderful — the coming together of history and (in the last paragraph where 6 “minor” fictional characters join hand) invention.

      Nina, could it be that we can’t get to know Raymond and Jo-Ellen precisely because they are ghostly amalgams of fiction and actual historical figures? Wiles can’t flesh these characters out any more than she could Bob Moses and Delay Beckwith. And that’s why it’s hard to see Jo-Ellen outside of Sunny’s blinkered infatuation (and Franny’s quite different, but equally colored take) which, yes, does turn her into an angelic white savior (though again this is deftly balanced by Raymond’s warier perspective.) And that’s why Raymond may come across as a symbol or archetype (still prefer that interpretation to stereotype), because he is also Silas, and we can’t presume to “get to know” intimately a historical figure. But we can understand their significance, their role.

      Found this must-read online here: http://www.crmvet.org/nars/stor/s_linda.htm

      “Everybody was schmoozing, but Silas had decided to stay in the car. It was pouring rain out and dark, when this white pickup came by with some young White Citizen Council — Sons of the White Citizens Council — with their rifles, and one of them shot Silas in the head. We inside heard a “pop,” went running out, and opened the door of the car he’d been driving and he fell into the water.

      Some social worker from New York, a white guy, and I think Bob Zellner, took off their shirts [to staunch the blood]. They told me to get in the car. I had on just a blue cotton dress — we couldn’t wear pants or anything down there. I got in the backseat, and they put his head on my lap, their shirts were saturated with blood already. My dress became soaked with blood.”

  10. Nina Lindsay Nina Lindsay says:

    Nancy, thanks. Your and Leonard’s comments continue to help me see and remember the intricacies of what makes this book excellent. To clarify a little, I’m not at all unengaged by the documentary material. But it engages me SO much as an adult based on my personal experience, that it is very hard for me to see and imagine how a child reader is engaged by it. I do believe they are engaged, and I do believe it’s done extremely well. The examples you give, where a single document is interlaced with the story, are some of the best. I’m talking mostly about the longer intermediary segments… which are again wonderfully put together, and can be engaged with on different levels, but, as an example…

    Let’s take the segment that starts Part Two, page 130. This is an amazingly curated set of quotes and photos that introduce those who came to Mississippi for the Freedom Summer, and why. It is “arranged” to go with the song “Down by the Riverside” as produced by Pete Seeger and others. For me, that song puts me in a very specific place: people who don’t know each other, and from completely different experiences, coming together with passion to move forward together (literally, in a march), to correct an injustice that is so large it requires this big of a voice and movement: these thousands of people to sing together. I believe this is exactly what Wiles was intended to call to mind in this scene. For me, it is immediate, and made all the more powerful because I know how far we got in 64 (caveat here: I was born in 71), and where we are today, in a way that no young reader can. So, I have to picture the young reader who may not know the song, but listens to it online as they read this section and really go through it a few times to truly “hear” it. I think they get it, absolutely. But they don’t get it the way I do, or Wiles does, and I’m not sure how much it stays with the reading when they return to Sunny’s story. I think it is absolutely a crucial part of the setting and the context. But I’m asking adult readers to consider how they are responding to it, separately from how a younger reader may respond to it.

    I’m going to introduce here some details for me about what does continue to bother me with Raymond’s voice. I don’t know that this is a deal-breaker for me anymore, but since we’re discussing it at this level, I should explain it better. I indicated in my comment up above http://blogs.slj.com/heavymedal/2014/12/18/revolution-redux/#comment-167775
    that I continue to find Raymond’s character flat, almost to the point of a stereotype, in comparison with others, and the colloquial voice of the black community a bit simplistic. Additionally, despite the fact that there’s many examples of Black activism, there’s also a little tiny bit of the “white savior” perspective throughout, from the tone/impact of the section where Miss Jo Ellen is teaching children that “Africa counts” (p.308) to Sunny’s Dad’s literal saving of the boys in the theater and then Raymond when he is shot. I realize I’m putting Wiles’ in an impossible position here: she needed to put Sunny in the action, and this is how she did it. And the “white savior” issue was absolutely one of the complications of the Freedom Summer. However, I don’t know that she brings that out at all. (And the however to that is that Sunny wouldn’t have seen it herself, I guess).

    I kept on putting these feelings aside throughout my reading, thinking they are minor, and that I’m overreacting. But I still find they rankle, especially as Sunny’s story culminates, and in the car with the bleeding Raymond she says ““It was me, in the pool. ….I didn’t know you then.” (p.470) The implication is that she knows him now. I see she believes she does, and I know she knows a lot more than earlier in the summer. But she doesn’t know Raymond, and neither does the reader of this book.

    This is what I set next to everything else I see and am shown about how great this book is. I haven’t come to the point that I can set it aside completely. This could serve as an example, actually, of how consensus on the Newbery committee works, within confidence. If a reader cannot accept that the book with the medal was the most deserving, she may be able to accept that colleagues, who she knows have given each book the same rigor and open-minded examination do. It can require each of us setting each other fully through the paces of our thinking.

    With that, gotta get some snacks together for this afternoon’s discussion. You’ll hear from us very soon.

  11. >>This could serve as an example, actually, of how consensus on the Newbery committee works, within confidence. …. It can require each of us setting each other fully through the paces of our thinking.<<

    Yes, I agree completely. More, I love that thought. Enjoy the in-person discussion!

    Leonard, wow, thank you for that amazing link to Linda Wetmore's speech / testimony about Silas McGhee's shooting. This is amazing stuff from her:

    "I recently retired from teaching in East Oakland where I taught for 36 years, always with the understanding that teaching can be a revolutionary act. I do think it took courage for those of us who were not from Mississippi to join the struggle that summer, but it took far more courage for the African-American community who had been and still is living there. That kind of constant courage is what I strive for. I guess I'll always be a work in progress … because you know, when you're in the bathrooms, and you hear racist comments, — do you confront them, say something, let it slide? I don't know. But I encourage all the young people to be as constantly courageous as you can."

    Also, your reading gets to the heart of the situation with the Bobs, I agree. And I'm nodding about your interpretation re Raymond/Silas and Jo Ellen/Linda Wetmore. If the author breathes too much life into the fictional stand-in (using the kind of craft Nina spoke of, in the creation of other characters in this book like Parnell and Annabelle), those details would not be true of the real-life person. A difficult, delicate problem from the standpoint of writing technique and also, and more importantly, in terms of ethics.

    • Leonard Kim says:

      Reading more about Silas (which I probably should have done long ago) I found a long article in the Boston Globe that features both him and Linda Wetmore among others.

      Silas was 21 in 1964.

      “When SNCC held a rally at the McGhee farm in ’63, Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger performing before the crop rows, Silas wandered off to play baseball.”

      “While SNCC was laser-focused on the vote, Silas, at 21, wanted to test the new law. . . . he kept walking to the Leflore Theatre, the jewel of the city’s four movie houses. . . .

      The woman behind the glass looked stricken at the sight of Silas, but the manager insisted she sell him a ticket. When other patrons started pouring popcorn and Coke on Silas, though, the manager did nothing. Soon, about a dozen jumped him and beat him. . . .”

      “In Greenwood, Linda got off to a rocky start, driving local project leader Stokely Carmichael crazy. She floundered teaching lessons in the Freedom School — growing up in Hanover, Mass., she’d never heard of Frederick Douglass or Richard Wright.”

      “Silas rarely talks about those days, not because they were hard but because he has never been one to look back. Also, he says, “it wasn’t about me.” But when he does, he laughs. There was pain, of course, but also the satisfaction of the good fight. “I really was having a ball,” he says. “I’m serious. It was fun!” He still wonders why anyone cared so much about him trying to go to the movies, but he was never surprised that they did.”

      http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2014/08/30/freedom/GWBWN0guTCFsJhI8Lgj5jP/story.html

    • Leonard Kim says:

      2 more bits from the Boston Globe article I referenced. The first I think bears on Nina’s trouble with the tone of the classroom scene:

      “While others taught about the Middle Passage and Martin Luther King, Ellen played to her strength as a visual artist. When the children drew only white faces, she encouraged them to imagine African villages. . .”

      and the (2nd) movie rescue:
      ” another mob — many brandishing guns — surrounded the exits before the Justice Department intervened, coaxing local law enforcement to lead the McGhees out with an escort.”

      • Nina Lindsay Nina Lindsay says:

        Leonard,
        It’s not a question of whether these things happened, but how they are depicted within the book. They are all convincing in themselves, but as a pattern through the text, suggest something different.

        I would expect that the actual Newbery committee has a somewhat less homogenous response to these parts than did our mock group yesterday.

      • Leonard Kim says:

        Nina, I think we’re having a GHOST HAWK disagreement here. I appreciate how acutely sensitive you are to the depiction of race relations and minority characters, but I also have trouble seeing how any solution would meet your standard. More than once, you basically stated that it would be “impossible” for Wiles. I brought up those examples to show that they were part of the complex history that I think evidence shows Wiles is trying to be true to. I am personally impressed by how little license Wiles took in depicting precisely those historical events that people seem to think were “literary” devices. To suggest something is a stereotype is to suggest that the author is working from a place of either malice of ignorance, neither of which applies to Wiles. She’ll never be Raymond or someone like him, and lacking that, I don’t see how she could have done more, as an author and as a researcher, to make the character one I think you’d be comfortable with.

        I wonder if there is an analogy here to the discussion in WEST OF THE MOON about the depiction of even a suggested threat of sexual violence, where for certain readers (for understandable reasons) the only realistic satisfactory solution is to leave it out completely of any Newbery-eligible book. If authors as accomplished as Cooper or Wiles can’t do it, who can?

        Looking at chapter 42, from our differing perspectives, I’m hard-pressed to see how there’s even “a little tiny bit of the ‘white savior’ perspective” here, unless you mean Wiles depicting the scene at all. Given that it is part of the historical record (one example of which I quoted) that Freedom School teachers encouraged students to realize that their African heritage could be part of their education, that this was their curriculum, what does Wiles show? First, Jo-Ellen isn’t portrayed as some teacher-savior who transforms her students (which is actually how the Freedom School experience seems to come across in Rubin’s non-fiction FREEDOM SUMMER.) We first see her having to ask Raymond for help, because she is having trouble connecting with the students: “I want you to help me understand some of my students, and to interpret what I say for them.” Doesn’t this seem intended to mitigate the idea of Jo-Ellen as white savior? Nor is Jo-Ellen shown as having any real directedness in getting to the “that counts” denouement, the way a stereotypical literary teacher-savior would. Wiles gets to “that counts” through a chain of fortuitous events: the kids tiring of coloring and painting and basically pulling at random “a schoolbook from a white school”, Jo Ellen reading from the book (would love to know whether that was a real line from a textbook), then (one feels) having her SNCC training kick in (and even then, needing Raymond to make it work).

        “Miss Jo Ellen look at us like she want to scoop us up and slather us with everything she know.” I love this sentence. I am trying and maybe succeeding in seeing how this might rankle someone. But I think this description grows out of statements made by Freedom School teachers about their idealistic mindset. I think it’s a sentence about Jo Ellen, not about saving kids, and, in my gut, nothing to do with race.

        Chapter 50. I don’t see how Jamie is “literally saving” the boys at the theater. As far as I can tell, the literary license here is that he’s the one who places the call to Mr. Carr, after which events seem to follow history: “the Justice Department intervened, coaxing local law enforcement to lead the McGhees out with an escort”

        Chapter 65-66. I don’t see Jamie having any role in saving Raymond when he gets shot.

        Nina, I’m sure I’ll never convince you on this point, and I’m sorry you can’t embrace this book. It does seem like a lot of people share your reaction. I myself am not completely comfortable with Forrest Gump/Zelig-type approaches to history. Learning how closely Wiles hewed to history actually doesn’t make me more enthusiastic about the book for this reason. But I do think it combats some of the accusations of literary failings.

      • Leonard Kim says:

        Oh, and I forgot to note the chapter doesn’t end on “that counts.” It ends on “Just Jo Ellen.” Because the chapter is Raymond’s, his character, what he sees, and how it changes him. I can’t play Monday Morning Author with Wiles because I and I suspect many of us would not have the wisdom not to end on “that counts” which I think would’ve played more to Nina’s trouble with this chapter.

      • Nina Lindsay Nina Lindsay says:

        Because I disagree with you I have impossible standards? Leonard, I think we just have a difference of opinion, one which I think you’re overstating at this point. There’s no “solution;” Wiles wrote the book she wrote and that’s what I’m commenting on, a book which I have more fully embraced through this discussion, but in which I still hear a false note. That’s about as much as I can say.

      • Leonard Kim says:

        Nina, I apologize. I thought I was quoting you in using the word “impossible”, something along the lines of Wiles setting herself an impossible task, but I don’t find that now looking in your comments, so I remembered wrongly and that was wrong of me to write. Sorry.

  12. Yeah! Leonard, REVOLUTION invites the reader to go and find out more — and when you do, it’s all the more powerful because you come to it with background. Another terrific link.

    Also, for a kid, “finding out more” (at least for a while longer) doesn’t just mean research and googling, but also asking parents and grandparents and teachers and relatives and friends for their memories. Nina points out that she has her own strong memories of Pete Seeger and the Movement, memories triggered by music, which REVOLUTION called up in her. A child reader wouldn’t have that reaction, but it’s a reaction that can be shared. As Linda Wetmore says, “Teaching is a revolutionary act.”

    And then there’s stuff in this book that the Newbery committee simply won’t be permitted to talk about, like the songs. But forget the committee and think about readers. A kid reader can easily find “Down by the Riverside” and listen to Pete Seeger singing it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yE7S0qsSfMs

    I really and truly was going to shut up. Leonard, you keep making me talk.

  13. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Many thanks to all those–Thom, Dean, Leonard, Nancy–who have spoken up in favor of this book. I do think it helps us to see the distinguished elements of the novel in a new light. 🙂

  14. I too want to thank you all for your comments. I still have my original take on the book which is one of complete admiration. Yet Nina’s issue about Raymond’s perspective concerned me and so have appreciated tremendously those of you who have weighed in on it and related points so thoughtfully. I admit, not being on the real Committee or a Mock Committee, I have not done the re-readings or research others of you have done so I am incredibly grateful for those of you who have. Leonard in particular — your research and advocacy is wonderful.

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