cover image YANKEE GIRL


Mary Ann Rodman, . . FSG, $17 (219pp) ISBN 978-0-374-38661-0

In this impressive debut novel set in 1964, Rodman infuses the familiar struggle of the new girl in town with immediacy, danger and historical relevance. Alice Ann Moxley, daughter of an FBI agent, moves from Chicago to Mississippi right before sixth grade begins—and just as her new school receives its first "colored" students. As she takes in the local customs (seventh graders wear lipstick, the ladies all have maids because "nigras work for nothing"), Alice yearns to fit in with the popular and powerful cheerleading crowd, but they ignore her except to brand her Yankee Girl. She briefly and unsuccessfully attempts to befriend the lone black student, Valerie Jackson, who braves the initial crowds of jeering adults and seemingly ignores the cheerleaders' constant taunts and increasingly nasty pranks. The girl bullying theme may be universal, but what makes this novel stand out are the compelling threads in Alice's outsider's insights on the Southern milieu, her friendship with the boy next door, the institutionalized racism (a glamorous teacher disinfects her desk after Valerie touches it; a shop clerk won't allow a black customer to try on a dress), and Alice's fears as the KKK stakes out their house. Despite one or two unnecessarily neat plot twists, Rodman shows characters grappling with hard choices, sometimes courageously, sometimes willfully, sometimes inconsistently, but invariably believably. Whether or not readers are familiar with civil rights, they are likely to find this novel memorable because it so strikingly identifies the bravery, cruelty and vulnerability of characters their own age. Ages 10-up. (Apr.)