Tuesday, July 22, 2014


It's 1867, and the Civil War is over, but life in Richmond is nothing close to back to normal.  Richmond residents have lost the war, their property, and their pride.  The city is overrun with Yankee soldiers who are eager for any opportunity to kick the beaten rebels while they are down.

Shad's father died in the war, and he and his mother work for Granddaddy's tailoring business to support the family.  Shad is becoming a skilled tailor even though he is only fourteen.  None of that matters because his older brother, Jeremiah, is the favorite.  Jeremiah will inherit the tailoring business even though he's never shown any interest, and Shad is pretty sure his hothead older brother is drinking and antagonizing Yankees when he should be looking for work.

Jeremiah is a bully who never did anything for his little brother, so Shad knows the only way to find out what Jeremiah is up to at night is to follow him.  That's how he accidentally gets initiated into the brotherhood, the KKK.  They don't seem too bad to Shad though--just good old boys getting together to sing songs on take care of war widows.

Something else is happening to change Shad's world.  He's always felt stupid because he can't read, but there's a new teacher in town who thinks he can help.  The only problem is Mr. Nelson is in Richmond to teach at a colored school, and he wants Shad to go there, too.

Shad knows it would be devastating for Jeremiah and the brotherhood to find out about the colored school and his participation in it, but the promise of learning to read is too good to pass up.  But when the brotherhood turns out to be more dangerous than he could have dreamed, Shad will be caught up in conflicting loyalties and choices that could have deadly consequences.

A.B. Westrick's story of postwar Richmond is fascinating and thought provoking.  This is a tale with few moral absolutes and plenty of danger and intrigue.  It's the story of Shad's transformation, and we see him in a way we rarely see characters in children' literature.  You won't like Shad all the time, but you will see him for what he is--a product of his upbringing and environment.  This makes the changes in his character all the more powerful.  I highly recommend it!

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