cover image Guardian


Julius Lester, . . HarperTeen/Amistad, $16.99 (129pp) ISBN 978-0-06-155890-0

A sense of foreboding permeates the first half of this powerful novel, which opens with an allusion to a lynching: in the Deep South, says an unidentified narrator, the oldest trees “do not speak because they are ashamed.” Lester (Pharaoh's Daughter ) begins the action proper in the summer of 1946, homing in on Ansel Anderson, being trained to take over his father's business at the age of 14—old enough, his father, Bert, thinks, “to understand what it meant to be white” and for shop assistant Willie, whom Ansel treats like a brother, “to understand what it meant to be a nigger.” After Willie's father is falsely accused of raping and murdering the preacher's daughter—by the man demonstrably guilty—the townsmen clamor for a hanging. Ansel demands that Bert back up Willie's testimony; Bert silences him and makes him help get the rope from the family store, then watch the lynching. Focusing on the repercussions of white guilt, the author's understated, haunting prose is as compelling as it is dark; if the characterizations tend toward the extreme, the story nonetheless leaves a deep impression. Ages 14–up. (Nov.)