Rating – 3/5 stars
Date Finished – August 16, 2017
68/120 in 2017
Publication Date – February 21, 2017
On the first day of Rowan’s summer vacation, a skeleton is found on her family’s property. The skeleton’s discovery leads Rowan to learn more about Tulsa’s history – specifically about the events of the Tulsa race riot in 1921.
One hundred years before the skeleton is found at Rowan’s house, 17 year old Will Tillman is struggling with questions of right and wrong in Jim Crow era Tulsa. As the 1921 race riot begins and intensifies, Will makes life-changing decisions and deals with the consequences.
This novel does a great job of capturing two adolescents at painful and defining moments in their lives. Will must decide to defy his Father and do what he feels is right. Rowan learns about her family’s history in Tulsa, and begins to see that the scars that Tulsa carries are not yet healed. This is a great example of YA – there are some stories that are best told through the eyes of adolescent characters, and this is a great example.
My complaint is with Will Tillman’s character. I’m so tired of Jim Crow era stories told through white male eyes. We have so many Atticus Finch white male characters who are unendingly praised for doing one thing that defies the cultural expectation. Will wasn’t that interesting of a character, and he didn’t do enough. His internal struggle is so boring and so tired, and as a reader, I did not care about him. Any other character in Will’s half of the book could have told a more compelling story.
I didn’t know anything about the riots in Tulsa in 1921. I grew up in Wilmington, NC, where the thriving black business community was targeted and destroyed in 1898. Hundreds of people were driven out of town or killed, and businesses and homes were burned to the ground. Wilmington is still healing from that “race riot” more than 100 years later – it is just now being acknowledged in schools, and has become common knowledge only recently.
Fiction is powerful in telling stories like these. Sadly, we have lost so many stories – especially those of marginalized people. Authors like Latham who fill in the blanks and put faces to the stories offer a valuable way to access the trauma of events like these and begin the process of healing.