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Zora Neale Hurston grew up in Eatonville, FL, “the first incorporated all-black township in the United States.” In this fictional account of an incident in her childhood, Eatonville at first seems to be idyllic. Sure, the residents aren’t very well off, but they’re safe and free to be whoever they’d like. After a headless corpse is found by the railroad tracks, Zora and her friend Carrie’s perspectives are changed forever.
This was a very fast read. Zora herself is a delight. She reminds me a bit of Anne Shirley in that she names everything around her and has her own mythology to explain the world. She’s the leader of this little group of friends and she keeps friends Carrie and Teddy on their toes.
Zora and Carrie get a little too caught up in the events surrounding the murder at the train tracks. They’ve been on the edges of a lot of the events leading up to the death and curious Zora is trying her best to put all the pieces together. Seeing the world through their innocence, and seeing them just starting to lose that innocence, feels very real. They don’t have the experience to really understand what they’re seeing at first, but they gain that experience the hard way.
The novel becomes a good introduction to race relations in the US. I can’t imagine that it would be an easy read for youngsters, but these kinds of books never are. Nevertheless, it is important that we know our history. The authors don’t shy away from alluding to lynchings (note that I did write “alluding to”–nothing is spelled out) or using “the N word,” so if your child isn’t ready for that, it might be best to save this book for later.
All of that makes the book sound very heavy and depressing. It’s mostly not. Zora and Carrie have to deal with some grown-up issues, but they also have fun playing and getting licorice and just being children.
This is a very well-done book that I enjoyed. I recommend it for anyone, but it would be an especially good conversation-starter for parents with children old enough to handle the subject.
Read an excerpt.
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