Saturday, February 09, 2008

Chris Crowe, Mississippi Trial, 1955

In my continuing search for good YA novels that I can read with my freshman students, Mississippi Trial, 1955 came highly recommended by a colleague. I finally got around to reading it and, truth be told, this is a fantastic book that has something for everyone.

A piece of historical fiction set in the late-1940s thru the mid-1950s, it essentially tells the story of Emmett Till, a fourteen-year-old Chicago boy who went to visit relatives in Mississippi and became the victim of a heinous racially charged murder that sparked the Civil Rights movement. The novel is told from the point-of-view of fictional character Hiram Hillburn, who returns to visit his elderly grandfather in the summer of 1955. The South is not exactly as he remembers it when he lived with Grandpa seven years earlier; Hiram is now aware of the racial tensions and Jim Crow mentality that are part of Delta culture. And when he becomes embroiled in Emmett's kidnapping, murder, and the subsequent trial, Hiram once and for all glimpses what his father has long called the "ugly side" of the South.

But what makes this book so engaging on different levels is the story, which also explores father/son relationships, child abuse, homophobia, etc. And, to be honest, the trial itself is grippingly recounted with the expert pacing of Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird (obviously one of the novel's influences). Overall, Crowe maintains excellent control of his characterization and storytelling, balancing suspense with poignancy, and he gives the reader a book that is both thought-provoking and simply a "good read."


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