Friday, August 06, 2010

Spunky Narrator Tells It True in Heartwarming Jericho Walls

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

"When it was just me and Lucas, things seemed regular, almost like our different colors didn't matter. I rolled that thought over in my mind, then held it close for safekeeping. Thoughts like that get muddled when said out loud" (76).

Following the rules isn't Jo Clawson's forte. The 11-year-old knows how she's supposed to behave - prim and proper, as befitting her position as a preacher's daughter - but she just can't seem to mold herself into the demure Goody-to-Shoes everyone expects her to be. She'd rather look for adventures in the woods, dance to Elvis and sip vanilla Cokes at the diner than sit around and read her Bible. Moving to tiny Jericho, South Carolina, means a new start for restless Jo. She vows to fit in this time, promising her parents no more schoolyard brawls, no troublemaking and definitely no trouble-seeking. Easier said than done. Jo has a knack for getting herself into sticky situations, and this time, she may not be able to pry herself loose.

Jo's never seen a black person before, let alone hung out with one, so she's not quite sure what to make of Lucas Jefferson. He's a loudmouth, that's for certain. He's also gentle, fun, and her only real friend. So what if he lives in the colored quarters, a place she's definitely not supposed to be anywhere near? Who cares if she can't tell a soul about her newfound buddy? It's worth it, isn't it, to have a friend like Lucas?

In the 1950s South, Jo and Lucas' clandestine friendship is not just scandalous, it's dangerous - for both of them. Especially when Lucas makes the bold decision to stand up for his rights. Torn between supporting her friend and keeping her promise to stay out of trouble, Jo must question her loyalties, as well as her own sense of justice. She's practically pinky sworn not to fight, but aren't some things in life worth the battle?

While Jericho Walls by Kristi Collier tells a familiar story, it's the voice of its narrator that makes the book really stand out. You can't help but love Jo - she's vulnerable ("I decided then and there that being alone and friendless was something that sounded romantic in books, but in real life ... wasn't that great at all" [109]), but spunky enough to quote the "the wickedest verses I knew of in the whole New Testament" (156) to a roomful of church men. Gentle Lucas provides the perfect counterpoint to spirited Jo, although he's got too much of his own pluck to let a skinny little white girl get anything over on him. It's natural to root for this pair, to want their easy friendship to endure despite all the odds stacked against it. Although stories about the Civil Rights Movement are rarely warm and fuzzy, Jericho Walls manages to be both heartwarming and true. I adore it.

(Readalikes: a little like To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee)

Grade: B+

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG for mature themes (racism, interracial marriage, etc.)

To the FTC, with love: Another library fine find

1 comment:

  1. I was just thinking that this sounded like a well known (but not yet worn) formula. Yankee Girl comes to mind. I've never heard of this book though so thank you!

    I love spunky narrators and the quote about being friendless in real life vs. in books sounding very different is oh so true :)

    I LOVE To Kill a Mockingbird.

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