Sunday, December 11, 2016

1977 - Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, by Mildred D. Taylor, took me a long time to read. Only 276 pages in a smaller sized paperback, but I did not zip through it like I could have done. It sat on my bookshelf for a year before I decided I had better get going on it. It was the cover. I knew it would not be pleasant. I knew it would be sad and hopeless and I would feel the horrid injustice of the racist evil present in our county a generation ago, and be reminded that all is still not well in America. But I faced up to what was right, and that was to read, and to gain knowledge and wisdom from reading good literature. And to trust that the Newbery brand on the cover spoke for its integrity and worth.

So I read a couple chapters, and put it down. Some days later, I read another couple chapters. And then after a few weeks, another chapter. Finally I decided to get with the program and get the thing read.

The Logan children ranged from ages 12 to 6, with Stacey the eldest, then Cassie, telling this story in her own first-person words, Christopher-John, and Little Man. Their Mama and Papa, Grandma "Big Ma," and Mr. Morrison, the hired hand made up the rest of the household. They lived on their own land in 1930's Mississippi cotton fields. Living and working on their own land sets the Logans apart from most of their neighbors, who are sharecroppers. The importance of keeping their land is the fabric of which the background of the story is made of.

The indignities and slights and injustices that made up parts of their daily lives are laid into the tale, without mining them for melodrama or manipulation of emotion, but not glossing over the stark realities of growing up black in the deep south. Cassie is a lively bold girl who does not quite understand her position in the community as being "less than" her white neighbors. And her parents are reluctant to make her grow up too soon by educating her in those things. Which makes for some tense situations, such as when Cassie doesn't understand why the white shopkeeper keeps waiting on white customers ahead of her, when she had been waiting before they entered the shop. Indignant, she tries to bring the merchant's attention to his rudeness, but instead gets chased out of the shop by angry men, asking the crowd, "Whose little nigger is this?" For a bright girl, Cassie seems really slow to pick up on some of the harsher realities of life.

While the children have their conflicts and relationship issues in their world, the grown-ups have their problems too, one of them being the local bigwig who wants to own the Logan land. The kids' and the adults' crises come together near the end of the book, with a crime, a near- lynching, and a fire. The end is not entirely satisfying, but is realistic, which is as it should be.

Having the story told through the eyes of Cassie is effective in making the topic accessible to young readers and helps keep the uglier realities at an appropriate distance, while still being an honest eye-witness to the facts. But to do this, the author has to keep Cassie on her toes, eavesdropping on every important conversation, sneaking out of her room past the sleeping "Big Ma" multiple times, talking her way into going along when something interesting was up. It made me begin to wonder what the story would have been like if told in a different perspective. And she is sassy and talk-back, enough to make you think, "You are hiding! For Pete's sake, shut up!"

Yes, I would recommend this book for kids to read; it's an important story to be heard and thought about. And the warmth of this family, and the safe place that home is, regardless of the uncertain world outside, that is also an important feeling to know.

This copy was given to me as a previously read book.

No comments: