The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I don’t cry at books. It’s happened only a couple of times. I’m much more likely to cry at television or movies, mostly because of the added manipulation of the music and cinematography. For a book to elicit such a reaction, it has to be darn powerful.
From the goodreads summary:
“Twelve-year-old Marlee doesn’t have many friends until she meets Liz, the new girl at school. Liz is bold and brave, and always knows the right thing to say, especially to Sally, the resident mean girl. Liz even helps Marlee overcome her greatest fear – speaking, which Marlee never does outside her family.
But then Liz is gone, replaced by the rumor that she was a Negro girl passing as white. But Marlee decides that doesn’t matter. Liz is her best friend. And to stay friends, Marlee and Liz are willing to take on integration and the dangers their friendship could bring to both their families.”
This is a book, above all, about ethical courage, a topic that is near and dear to my heart. It is a book about speaking up for what you believe in and what is right. It is a book about taking risks, being true to one’s self, and finding one’s place in the world.
I loved that the author, Kristin Levine, was brave enough to use accurate language in this historical novel. I’ve called out other authors for dropping the ball on this issue, and I appreciate that Kristin used the accurate terms and epithets, not because I like those terms, but because using them is important to the story, and the cumulative effect of those terms and this narrative is what, ultimately, had me crying at various points in the story.
This story isn’t only important when studying history, but in this time of “binders full of women”, it also serves as a springboard to talk about who is qualified or entitled to do what, and why. Marlee is a whiz at math, and wants to grow up to build rockets (which reminded me of the most excellent play Flyer by Kate Aspengren, read it), but will she get the chance since she is a girl?
As an accessible description of an important historical period, a beautifully rendered tale of friendship, and an issues novel that provokes discussion, this book succeeds on all counts, and is highly recommended.
Boundtrack suggestions: Fables of Faubus by Mingus, That’ll be the Day by Buddy Holly.
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