“The Civil War has ended, but the conflict isn’t over.”
Outstanding treatment of a sensitive and controversial topic: the rise of the Ku Klux Klan in Reconstruction South, specifically Richmond, VA. Appropriately, the protagonist is a white teen boy caught in conflicting currents of loyalties, commitments and aspirations. The reader is swept along with his ambivalence (and occasional stupidity) as he treads this murky maze.
“Those who survive in Richmond reinvent themselves as circumstances dictate.”
Best map (U. S. Army Corps of Engineers Map of Richmond, 1867) in any book ever, including famous fantasy trilogies. Magnifying-glass-worthy detail. (Yes, maps are a big deal to me.)
“Of course, he’d have asked, but while the girls were standing in front of him, he’d been too flustered to think.”
Excellent use of inner voice and vocabulary to establish both the age and view point of the protagonist, Shad. That he has dyslexia is revealed without using the modern term.
“If the world had ended at that very moment with Shad singing “Glory, hallelujah” in a shed full of coloreds, he’d have gone to his maker with a smile on his face.”
There were southern whites–rich and poor– who opposed slavery. Likewise Reconstruction hardened many whites’ prejudice against blacks. Westrick explores both. Even better, she plumbs the inner struggle of a young man who was torn between beliefs.
“Sure as his measuring strip was long, that lady was laughing on the inside, but she was doing a fine job of not showing it.”
Quibbles: For a book apparently aimed at young adult readers its convoluted timelines will confuse many readers. Numerous errors and anachronisms knock the reader out of the story, such as metal railroad ties, metal buckets owned by the poor, wire mesh, cotton growing in nineteenth century Virginia, the term “political prisoners.” Westrick avoids certain emotionally-charged words, but blithely uses others.
“His running with the Klan–that was the other Shad. The Shad who was learning to stand up to his brother, make his mother proud, protect widows, grow up, be a man. That Shad wasn’t this one–the Tailoring Teacher and struggling student. No, they’re not the same at all, and he’d do everything he could to keep them apart.”
Shad’s conviction and conversion is too easy, but it would require a work of Dickensian complexity to pursue it more realistically. What Westrick delivers suffices.
“How could he lie? But how could he not?”
In her Author’s Note, Westrick explores why such sentiments linger. She quotes, “The North kept kicking us even though we were already down. The United States treated Japan and Germany after World War II better than the North treated the South after the War Between the States.”
Extra credit because this is her first novel.
“But what Jeremiah said and what he did–well, Shad knew those two didn’t always line up.”