With Wings as Eagles

Patsy Baker O'Leary, Author Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) $15 (272p) ISBN 978-0-395-70557-5
Under a thick coating of forced colloquialisms (""You better quit that squirming. You get grass stains on your clean pants, and Mama'll tan your hide""), O'Leary's sluggishly paced first novel depicts Depression-era hardships and interracial friendships. Israel Wade (""as good a colored as God ever made"") treats his young neighbor ""Bubba"" Harkins like a son while Bubba's father, Jed, is in prison for a crime he did not commit. Now that Jed has returned home a ""skinny stranger,"" the 12-year-old is not sure where his loyalties lie. Children at school accuse the Harkinses of being ""nigger lovers"" while adults treat Jed like a criminal. Then Bubba learns that his father was protecting Israel by going to prison. It is only after the Harkins family faces another crisis (the foreclosure of their farm) that Bubba comes to understand their bond to Israel (and his soothing wife, Lily). Bubba's Tom Sawyer-like impishness is as overwrought as Israel's humility, Lily's goodness and the malice of ""Ole Raggey,"" a sadistic teacher who tries to ""steal"" the Harkinses' farm. The plot is meaty enough to provide younger readers with some food for thought, but not enough to compensate for the novel's shortcomings. Ages 13-up. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 09/29/1997
Release date: 10/01/1997
Genre: Children's
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