Thursday, July 5, 2012

Review - "Crow"

Sometimes (more often than not, it seems), history can be a little dicey.  The course of human events is rarely neat and perfectly packaged.  We’re messy people, and our history reflects that.  Historical fiction thrives on our messiness and our mistakes.  We love to read about people who rise above their situations and survive the tides of history.  One such story is that of young Moses, in Barbara Wright’s Crow.  His journey through a rather unfortunate chapter in American history makes for a thrilling tale.

 One generation removed from slavery, Moses lives a good life in Wilmington, North Carolina.  His Howard University educated father is an Alderman, publisher of the only daily black newspaper in the South and a respected member of the African American community.  His mother has a steady job and his grandmother, Boo Nanny, is a fount of wisdom and stories.  But the innocence of Moses’ childhood bubble is about to break, with racial tensions soaring in town and a rising dread of what might happen if things get out of hand.  An editorial in the paper sparks a fire, and suddenly the streets are filed with mobs of Red Shirts, white men unhappy with the way things have changed and ready to take action with violence to change them back.  Moses finds himself in the middle of a firestorm, and must find hidden depths of courage he never knew he had.
It’s a sad thing to admit, but until I read this book, I wasn’t really aware of the Wilmington Massacre of 1898.  The name was vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t have told you any details if I tried.  That’s why I love books like Crow so much.  They open my eyes.  Moses’ story begins very episodically, with stories of school and strained friendships and new friendships, and a particularly memorable scene involving a stolen bike.  But as you read on, Wright pulls you farther and farther into Moses’ world until you’re completely immersed in the history and the violence and terror Moses faces leaves your heart beating in your throat.  This is not an easy book to read.  It presents a very ugly part of our past, and does so unflinchingly.  It’s for mature middle grade readers, that’s for sure.  But for those made of stern enough stuff to dive right in, it’s a sterling story, filled with wonderful characters and an ending that might have you reaching for the tissues, but feeling proud at the same time.

Crow by Barbara Wright
2012, Random House Books for Young Readers
Library copy

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