I loved, loved, loved Shannon Hitchock's Ruby Lee and Me. This middle grade historical novel is set in the 1969, I believe. It will be a year of BIG change for the heroine, Sarah Beth Willis. School integration is probably one of the least of her worries. First, her sister, Robin, is run over by a car. Sarah worries a lot. Will her sister die? will she wake up from the coma? Will she walk and run and play again? Will her sister blame her for the accident? Will her parents blame her for the accident? Can she ever forgive herself for reading a library book instead of keeping both eyes on her sister every single moment of the afternoon? Second, because of finances, her family will be moving in with her grandparents. Now Sarah loves, loves, loves to visit the family farm and to spend time with each of her grandparents. But to move away from her house, her room, her school, her neighborhood, her friends and to have to start all over again in a new place?! It's scary. The one person she does know--and is quite good friends with--is the one person the adults in her life tell her she CAN'T spend time with in town, at school: Ruby Lee.
Ruby Lee's grandma and Sarah's grandma grew up as friends, and, are still quite close--in their own way, in their own private, behind-the-scenes way. But whites and blacks can't be friends publicly and openly, can they?! School integration is happening in the fall. Ruby Lee and Sarah Beth will be in the same class. Sarah really wants to be at-school friends too. Ruby Lee is hesitant. Does Sarah know what she's getting herself into? Is it something she's comfortable with too? Tension is only getting worse between races: for the school will be getting African American teachers as well as students. And Sarah and Ruby Lee will be taught by an African American. A lot of parents are, at the very, very least concerned, and, at worst, ANGRY and upset by this. Sarah's family is fine with this, by the way.
Ruby Lee and Me is about race and school integration. But it isn't only about that. It is about friendship and family. How do you make a friend? How do you keep a friend? How do friends help one another? When is a friendship worth fighting for or standing up for? How do friends resolve disagreements and fights? I liked the focus on Ruby Lee and Sarah Beth. But I also appreciated the family focus. I loved getting to know Sarah, Robin, the grandparents, and parents. I also appreciated the community librarian! Readers do get a first impression of the teacher as well. Part of me wishes the book followed the girls past meet the teacher night and well into their school year.
Another aspect of the novel was faith--faith in GOD. I loved that aspect of it. Not enough books today are written with a good, strong, solid Christian faith tradition. The family's faith is presented realistically and naturally.
Anyone looking for a historical coming-of-age novel with strong characterization should read Ruby Lee and Me.
© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews