cover image Follow the Leader

Follow the Leader

Vicki Winslow. Delacorte Press Books for Young Readers, $14.95 (224pp) ISBN 978-0-385-32285-0

This winner of the Delacorte contest for a first middle-grade novel offers readers an authentic glimpse of the everyday difficulties experienced from a white girl's point of view during the first days of North Carolina's school desegregation in 1971. Winslow sets up the two camps well: 11-year-old Amanda is bereft when her best friend since first grade, Jackie, chooses to attend an all-white private school rather than the racially integrated East Windsor Elementary. The author is at her best when painting the schoolroom scenes, as when Amanda has to read from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: ""Maybe it was a test, so I started to read, but instead of saying the n word, I said `friend.' "" Amanda's relationships with Mrs. Gandy, her wise and funny piano teacher (""You sit on that stool like you were waiting for a bus"") and Henry Bailey, a tough guy with a big heart, are particularly well realized. However, two moments pivotal to the novel (when Amanda slaps Jackie for calling Mrs. Gandy the n word, and when Amanda later calls a classmate the same word) fall flat because the buildup and Amanda's reaction are not fully fleshed out. Still, the realities and pains of sixth grade ring true here (Amanda yearns to belong and mourns the loss of Jackie's friendship), as does Amanda's growing respect and appreciation for the differences and similarities between herself and her African American classmates. Readers with an interest in understanding this historic moment in America's history will find that this novel competently illuminates the issues. Ages 8-12. (Nov.)