cover image The Unsung Hero of Birdsong, USA

The Unsung Hero of Birdsong, USA

Brenda Woods. Penguin/Paulsen, $16.99 (208p) ISBN 978-1-5247-3709-2

Woods (Zoe in Wonderland) contemplates American history in this sobering novel set in Birdsong, S.C., during the summer of 1946. On the day that Gabriel, who is white, receives a new bicycle for his 12th birthday, he runs a red light and is nearly struck by a car. Meriwether Hunter, an African-American mechanic who is looking for work, saves him. Gabriel helps Meriwether, a U.S. Army veteran who can fix almost anything, land a job at his father’s auto shop—much to the frustration of another mechanic, who is white, “mean as a raccoon with rabies,” and rumored to have friends in the KKK. Hearing Meriwether’s stories, and taking his advice to “try to see the goings-on of life through more eyes than just your own,” Gabriel is made aware of the divide between the lives of the town’s white and black residents, but his new knowledge might not be enough to save Meriwether and his family from harm. Even readers who have been taught about segregation in the South are likely to deepen their knowledge of the nuanced history through the novel’s handling of how white and African-American veterans were treated differently after WWII. The characters of impressionable Gabriel and Meriwether, whose patience is tried by society’s unfair rules, ring true as the story shows that “the world, including Birdsong USA, isn’t always pretty.” Ages 10–up. [em](Jan.) [/em]