Thursday, June 19, 2014
Seeing Red, by Kathryn Erskine
Set in 1972, this rich, layered novel portrays a world in which civil rights and women's rights have barely awakened, and the Vietnam War fills the nightly news. The characters, major and minor, present and face difficult situations like child abuse, racial discrimination, and developmental disabilities. The pastor is a hypocrite. Red's early-childhood friendship with a black boy crumbles because of the pressures they face. Red is temporarily ensnared in a youth version of the KKK. His teacher, who is far from a hippie yet is teaching his class to "think," gets fired for not doing things the way they've always been done. Red, his younger brother, and his mom seem separated and scattered because they grieve in different ways. Worst of all, Red uncovers evidence that his great-great-great grandfather Porter, whose exact name he bears, shot a black man -- ancestor of an elderly woman he deeply admires -- in the back and stole his land. Red has always been proud of the Porter name. Now, he is not so sure.
There's enough plot here to keep the pages turning, and definitely enough impact and literary quality to make this an award contender, I think. This is a novel about small, gradual changes, and small, right choices, adding up to significant progress. While it may not be for the younger or sensitive reader (besides the other difficult subjects, the real-life lynching of Emmett Till is described in some detail), I otherwise highly recommend this.