Alligator Bayou

Donna Jo Napoli, Author . Random/Lamb $16.99 (280p) ISBN 978-0-385-74654-0

Based on the 1899 lynching of five Italian immigrants, this thought-provoking book draws its power from vivid depictions of late–19th-century Louisiana and little-known historical facts. Settled in smalltown Tallulah, 14-year-old Calogero and a handful of other Sicilian immigrants find themselves isolated: by law they are not “white,” but white people discourage them from mixing with Negroes (the sheriff, forbidding Calogero to attend the town school, advises him that he'd be better off uneducated than attending the Negroes' school). But social pressure doesn't keep Calogero from a budding romance with smart, pretty Patricia, even after he's almost beaten up for “fraternizing with them cotton pickers.” Napoli (Hush ) sketches out some economic and political roots of racism as the white citizens' resentment of the Sicilians builds. While the author leaves some seams showing in her attempt to incorporate background information, her protagonists are convincingly vulnerable, and the violent climax will ensure that readers remember her message. Ages 12–up. (Mar.)

Reviewed on: 02/02/2009
Release date: 03/01/2009
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