Sunday, August 2, 2015

Livin' in a Powder Keg and Givin' Off Sparks

Ashley Hope Pérez
Minneapolis, MN: Carolrhoda Lab, 2015.
ARC provided by Carolrhoda Lab/Lerner Publishing

Henry, Naomi's step-father, and twins Cari and Beto's real dad, in a fit of newly found religious zeal to "make things right with God" takes them from their grandparents in San Antonio to live in the oil boom town of New London, East Texas, in 1937. This means more opportunity for the twins who are in Grade 3, smart, and white-skinned. But at 18 years old, Naomi is very self-aware of her dark skin, her poverty, and her ethnicity. At home, she struggles to overcome her hidden fears that the ugly monster Henry she remembers from her childhood will soon return, especially since she is older and looks like her mother once had. As  she endures ostracism at school and the burden of taking care of her family, Naomi finds herself attracted to Wash, an African-American from the New Egypt community who has befriended the twins and becomes smitten with her. The tension of their forbidden relationship is set against the historical backdrop of the horrific New London School explosion of March 18, 1937.

The story arc of Pérez's characters is well-suited for the setting. The story is tense, violent, and explodes, leaving few survivors to relate the tragic events that actually occurred. Racial tension and the race for money, oil, and souls in Depression Era East Texas was a powder keg waiting for a match, and Pérez found the fuse in this realistic narrative.

I would advise for mature students only, ages 16+, as there is intense and graphic violence of both sexual and physical nature.

No comments:

Post a Comment