cover image A Summer of Kings

A Summer of Kings

Han Nolan, . . Harcourt, $17 (334pp) ISBN 978-0-15-205108-2

Nolan (Dancing on the Edge ) movingly conveys a teen's introduction to the civil rights movement in this intimate story set in the summer of 1963. Esther, the daughter of a renowned New York director, has led a sheltered, unhappy existence in suburbia. Overshadowed by her highly gifted younger siblings, she feels inadequate and lonely. Esther's view of herself, her family and the world undergoes a radical change during her 14th summer when her parents agree to provide refuge for an 18-year-old African-American named King-Roy, who is accused of killing a white man (his mother and Esther's mother were childhood friends). While the adults in the household (especially Esther's eccentric Auntie Pie) remain wary about protecting a fugitive, Esther eagerly befriends their guest. Throughout the summer, she learns about injustices in the South that have caused King-Roy to become angry and mistrustful, but she disagrees with his notion, adopted by Malcolm X, that violence is the only answer to prejudice. The frequent allusions to the Nation of Islam and Martin Luther King at times can feel forced, but this thought-provoking novel will likely raise young readers' consciousness alongside Esther's, as she broadens her perspective of social ills, gains self-confidence and eventually steps out of the shadows to stand up for what she believes. If minor characters, particularly Esther's insensitive mother and bratty sister, come off as stereotypes, Esther emerges as a convincing, admirable heroine. Ages 12-up. (Apr.)