Monday, April 23, 2012

Middle School Monday: Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine

 Kady has a fantastic choice for this week's Middle School Monday, not only is it an amazing book, but the author is visiting our middle school TAB groups THIS FRIDAY!

The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine
 Marlee is nearly 13 years old and that means it is high time for her to get over her fear of... well,  fear of almost everything, actually. A quiet girl, who greatly prefers math and numbers to words and people, Marlee lives her life categorizing people as what type of drink they'd be and following around the same Queen Bee bossy and popular girls that she's known forever. When the school year starts and Marlee meets outgoing new girl Liz (warm milk with a dash of cinnamon), she thinks things might have changed. With Liz's help, Marlee begins to overcome her fear of speaking to other people and learns what it's like to have a real friend who shares her interests for the first time. But when Liz suddenly withdraws from school and disappears without a word, Marlee is hurt and confused. The rumor that Liz is actually a African American girl who has been passing as white doesn't do anything to make Marlee feel any better. Caught between her integrationist father and don't-rock-the-boat mother, in an ugly year where all of Little Rock's public high schools stayed closed to prevent integration and racial tensions are at an all time high, all Marlee knows is that finding and keeping her first friend is worth risking the wrath of the entire city. What follows is a story of first crushes, family relationships, finding a voice and becoming brave in ways you never knew the word brave meant. A story about two girls who know that they need each other and are willing to risk just about anything to stay friends.

I think a lot of people know the story of the Little Rock Nine, the kids who integrated Central High School in 1957. That's in the common narrative of the Civil Rights Movement that we're taught in school. What not as many people know about, and I certainly didn't know about until reading this book, was what happened the next year. While the story in Lions of Little Rock is very much fictional, it's set in the real Little Rock. The one where high schools stayed shut for the entire 1958-1959 school year in an attempt to re-segregate the schools. The civil rights and pro-segregation groups featured in this story actually existed, as did the McCarthy-like blacklisting of public school teachers. While I was reading I was constantly wondering what was real and I couldn't have been happier to read straight through to the end of the Author's Note where Levine details exactly what actually happened and gave a list of suggested further reading. Yes, I am that dork.

Lions of Little Rock is my favorite book that I've read this year. It impressed me so much that I immediately went and put Levine's other book- The Best Bad Luck I've Ever Had- on hold. I didn't even read the synopsis; if it's by the same author I want to read it. If this book doesn't win some serious awards this year there is no justice out there. Go get it now and then you can feel extra smart when people start raving about it in 6 or so months.

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