Lester, Julius. 2008. Guardian. HarperCollins. 129 pages.
As much as I don't like believing in required reading, part of me thinks that everybody needs some Lester in their lives. If for no other reason than his To Be A Slave and Day Of Tears. Those two are in one word, amazing. (Personally, Cupid is my favorite Lester. Though perhaps less Significant.)
Here's how this one starts off: "Trees remember."
They talk among themselves about "the winter of sixty-two when the snow was so heavy it broke limbs on the Father oak tree in the church cemetery. We were worried he might not survive."This short novel is about lynching--from the perspective of a young Southern white boy. It is not an easy read. It's uncomfortable. It's sickening. About a young boy forced to witness things no one should ever have to--because these are things that simply shouldn't be happening at all. Set in 1946, in the South, it is the story of Ansel. His father is a local storekeeper. His mother--unhappy as she is--helps out round the store on Saturday and at home the rest of the time. In this summer between childhood and manhood, Ansel is enjoying taking it easy. He likes hanging out with a black boy round his own age, Willie, going fishing and the like. He even likes a special girl, the preacher's daughter, Mary Susan. But this summer is about to get ugly--and fast. I don't want to say any more than that.
"And what about the summer it hardly rained and we had to send our roots deep into the earth to find water?" they reminisce.
But some trees do not speak, not even to the birds that find delicious insects hidden beneath their bark, not even to the birds building nests on their branches thick with leaves. These are the old trees whose ponderous, arching branches create cool shade.
They do not speak because they are ashamed.
At least ones in the South are.
This one may not be for everyone simply because of the subject matter. I think it's important to get out of your comfort zone, to read things that make you uncomfortable, but I think it's something that you have to choose to do for yourself, when you're ready. I think though very ugly and haunting, it is a well-written, masterful story.
© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews