In 1959 Virginia, the lives of two girls on opposite sides of the battle for civil rights will be changed forever.
Sarah Dunbar is one of the first black students to attend the previously all-white Jefferson High School. An honors student at her old school, she is put into remedial classes, spit on and tormented daily.
Linda Hairston is the daughter of one of the town’s most vocal opponents of school integration. She has been taught all her life that the races should be kept separate but equal.
Forced to work together on a school project, Sarah and Linda must confront harsh truths about race, power and how they really feel about one another.
The story is told in four parts, two from Sarah, one from Linda and one which alternates between the two girls. My favourite of the main characters was definitely Sarah. I found myself really empathising with her, especially on her first day at the school. The racism she faced was really shocking, and yet none of it felt over the top – it’s sad that I could imagine people having to face this kind of prejudice but I thought Robin Talley did a great job of writing these chapters.
I thought that Linda’s story arc in the novel was really interesting. She comes from a situation a lot of young people can find themselves in where they parrot beliefs of their parents without really understanding them for themselves. As the book continues Linda goes through a change as she becomes closer with Sarah and I think that teaches an important message to younger teens who might be reading the book.
I learned a lot from this book about race relations and the desegregation of schools in the US. This is something I knew very little about – our race relations issues in the UK are very different (although certainly not much better!) For example I didn’t really know that the south was seemingly much later in regards to equality that the northern states, and that there was so much racism regarding schools becoming integrated.
I am normally a big fan of LGBT+ books, but in this book I felt like the queer aspect wasn’t given enough time for it to be included in the story. If this was a contemporary novel it wouldn’t affect the story much whether it was F/F or F/M but because of the historical context of the 50s I felt like there wasn’t enough consideration of lesbians in this time era because the novel spent the time on the arc of integration. This then took me out of the story quite a lot – I’m sure there must have been people who were lesbian at that time who also had feeling for people of other ethnic backgrounds, but the book just didn’t have time to focus on both.
For that reason, the almost typical YA ending didn’t feel very well executed. It felt almost speculative to just ignore the fact that this was two girls of different races in a time of even greater racism and homophobia.
I gave this book 4/5. This book taught me a lot about this specific time in American history that I didn’t really know anything about and I think it addressed the issue of race relations in a much more nuanced way that black = good, white = bad. I know a lot of people love The Hate U Give, but I much preferred the way race was discussed in this book.