cover image WITNESS


Karen Hesse, . . Scholastic, $16.95 (161pp) ISBN 978-0-439-27199-8

The author of Out of the Dust again turns language into music in her second quietly moving novel written entirely in verse. Here, 11 narrative voices chronicle actual events occurring in a sleepy Vermont town after the arrival of the Ku Klux Klan in 1924. Those victimized by the Klan include the families of Leanora Sutter, a 12-year-old African-American girl, and Esther Hirsh, the six-year-old daughter of a Jewish shoe salesman. Rounding out the portrait of the town are community leaders (an enlightened physician, a newspaper editor who moves from neutral to anti-Klan) as well as less prominent folk—shopkeepers, a Protestant minister—who are swayed into joining the white supremacist group. Their chorus of hatred rings loudly at first, but is tempered by their dawning realization of the severity of the Klan's punishment to their targets as well as the more rational, compassionate strains of the Klan's opponents. Hesse offers glimpses of the world at large through references to Prohibition, the Leopold and Loeb case and a letter Leanora pens to Helen Keller. The author distinguishes the characters (whose pictures appear in the front of the book) not only by their varying opinions but also by their tone of speech. The simpler, candid language of the two youngest cast members, Leanora and Esther, effectively crystallizes their gradual loss of innocence. Easily read in one sitting, this lyrical novel powerfully records waves of change and offers insightful glimpses into the hearts of victims, their friends and their enemies. Ages 9-12. (Sept.)