cover image Listening for Leroy

Listening for Leroy

Betsy Hearne. Margaret K. McElderry Books, $16 (224pp) ISBN 978-0-689-82218-6

Hearne (Eliza's Dog) resurrects landscapes, characters and events from her childhood to create this gentle, reflective coming-of-age novel. Divided into two sections, the first part of the story takes place in Alabama from 1954 to 1955. Isolated in the country and home-schooled by her liberal parents (her father is a physician from India and her mother a ""Yankee"" concert harpist), Alice has no friends her own age. Her only companions outside her family are her cherished volume of fairy tales and Leroy, the black man employed by her family to help run the farm as well as her father's medical clinic. Through Alice's experiences with Leroy, readers view the struggles of a deeply divided South; Leroy's storytelling--which often underscores the lessons gleaned from his own fight for freedom--sticks with Alice long after a pivotal scene in which he is run out of town and her own family consequently moves to Tennessee. There (in the novel's second section, from 1955 to 1956), Alice must attend public school where she desperately wants to fit in with the other fifth graders, but she knows that she will always be different (when she sees everyone else dressed in identical shoes, she realizes ""she could stay on this playground a thousand years and still look strange""). Her unconventional opinions (e.g., her opposition to segregation), which are scorned by her peers, shed light on her compassionate nature. A montage of impressions crystallizes the essence of each major character, and the author's fluid prose subtly conveys Alice's revelations about herself, her family and a prejudiced society. Ages 9-12. (Nov.)