First Lines: They were up early. The sun had not yet burned the dew of the well-kept lawns of Live Oaks, and Lizzy’s bare feet and ankles were wet as she headed to the fields.
This is a book my students are going to read next month and I wanted to stay ahead of them, especially since I had never heard of this book. But I knew Walter Dean Myers (not personally) and I figured it would be a good read.
Because Goodreads says it better than I can: This is the story of one family. A family whose history saw its first ancestor captured, shackled, and brought to this country from Africa. A family who can still see remnants of the shackles that held some of its members captive — even today. It is a story of pride, determination, struggle, and love. And of the piece of the land that holds them together throughout it all.
I thought it was an interesting story, especially if you can appreciate the narration style. All told, it covers something like 250 years of Lewis family history, from their first ancestor brought to America via slave trade to “present day” (if present day was still 1996).
I thought the narration was cool once I got used to it. We get to see snippets of life from nearly every generation of Lewis’s from 1864 on. It skips around occasionally to line up with more memorable time periods. Even so, the missing generations still usually get face time as parents or aunts/uncles. I liked how the story focused on a little history in eras like the Civil War, Restoration, the Great Depression, and the 1960s. Most of these are time periods that interest me anyway, so it appealed to me.
I found myself liking most of the narrators as well, like Lizzy and Tommy. Tommy had some guts, let me tell you. But I liked other narrators too, like Malcolm and Luvinia. Her story probably stuck with me the most of them all.
I liked the theme of exploring what “family” means. The Lewis family is incredibly proud of their heritage and what they’ve overcome. It’s a sense of pride in who they are. It was cool how they had their family tree to traced out and how they knew the stories. Too many of us (myself included) lose that when then are so many fascinating people in our past. If anything, this book made me want to research my own family tree more.
The only downside that I’ve seen in other reviews (but didn’t occur to me during my reading) was that there isn’t really any “action” in the story. There’s still conflict for all of the characters, which might be why I didn’t notice it. But for more reluctant readers or readers looking for adventure and suspense, this book may not be for you. The conflicts are mostly related to what it means to be an African-American in America during highly violent times in history.