cover image High Skies

High Skies

Tracy Daugherty. Red Hen, $12.95 trade paper (112p) ISBN 978-1-59709-445-0

Daugherty’s engrossing latest (after the collection American Originals) focuses on the small community of Midland, Tex., in the late 1950s as it reels from severe weather, Cold War paranoia, and school integration. Troy, the asthmatic protagonist, is 10 when his mother is first stricken by a migraine during a dust storm. At school, Troy helps his friend Stevie, who has arthritis, get on the ground during “duck and cover” drills. And when the school board moves to convert an abandoned Quonset hut on school property into classroom space for students from a neighboring Black high school that was damaged in a storm, local tensions come to a head. Vice principal Raymond Seaker is placed in charge of the project, which many families object to as a step toward integration. Seaker visits with families whose children have dust-storm–induced illnesses and is confronted by the community’s unjust fears over the spread of diseases by Black students rather than environmental factors as he works to carry out the plan, which the school board has approved for financial rather than progressive reasons. In an illuminating coda, Troy and Stevie reminisce about Seaker’s efforts and the town’s slow, staggered march toward change. Daugherty adeptly creates a toxic environment where people’s fears obscure their rationality and impair their judgment. The account of one man left out to dry makes for a stark, memorable outing. (Oct.)