From School Library Journal
Grade 8 Up—Building on her extensive research conducted after reading a newspaper article about the lynching of Sicilian grocers in Tallulah, LA, in 1899, Napoli presents a moving, sobering story about an aspect of American immigration that is probably unknown to most readers. After his mother's death, 14-year-old Calogero leaves his bustling Sicilian home for the sleepy southern town to help his uncles and younger cousin run their grocery store. White customers expect to be served before blacks and make their displeasure angrily apparent when the Sicilians fail to do so. Barred from the white school and unaware that he can attend the black school, Calogero learns English from a tutor who also tries to help him comprehend Southern American behavior. The cousins meet some African American boys who take them on a terrifying alligator hunt that firmly cements their friendship. Calogero is attracted to Patricia, a African American girl, but fails to fully understand the danger behind her fear of being seen in public with him. Although he has heard his uncles' stories of the recent lynching of Sicilians in New Orleans, he is unprepared for the horrifying tragedy that befalls his family when a local white doctor kills Uncle Francesco's goats and then convinces an angry mob that the Sicilians plan to retaliate violently. Historical events are smoothly integrated with vivid everyday details, strong characterizations, and genuine-sounding dialogue. Ultimately, the author expands her themes beyond the story's specifics, encouraging readers to reconsider the motivations behind this calamity and other manifestations of racism.—Ginny Gustin, Sonoma County Library System, Santa Rosa, CA
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...The facts from [a] little-told chapter in American history frame Napoli’s wrenching novel about a 14-year-old Sicilian, Calogero, who joins male relatives in Tallulah after his mother’s death. Legally segregated from both whites and blacks, the Italians maintain an insular life, focused on their thriving produce business, until Calo’s secret crush on African American Patricia begins to dissolve social barriers between the two communities, even as social tensions with whites escalate into shocking violence. Through Calo’s active questioning, Napoli integrates a great deal of background history that is further explored in an extensive author’s note. Readers learn, right along with naive Calo, the draconian specifics of Jim Crow laws and the complex factors of fear and economics that fueled the South’s entrenched bigotry. A few passages do have a purposeful feel, particularly those between Calo and his tutor, but Napoli’s skillful pacing and fascinating detail combine in a gripping story that sheds cold, new light on Southern history and on the nature of racial prejudice. Grades 7-10. --Gillian Engberg
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