An engaging, evocative young adult novel about a preadolescent girl's involvement in the civil rights movement in Birmingham. Eleven year-old Bernice Givens has two major aspirations: to become a Freedom Fighter and to work as a journalist. Growing up within the rigid strictures of a segregated society (in an achingly poignant scene, the first word she learns to read is "colored" so that she will not accidentally offend), Bernice longs to be a part of the struggle for equality.
She avidly follows news of the civil rights movement and maintains a scrapbook of major events, believing that actual action is still years away for her. So when news breaks of the planned children's march, Bernice is thrilled by the opportunity despite her mother's apprehension and ultimate prohibition. Bernice goes anyway, never suspecting that her participation will have consequences that will change and haunt her, though she ultimately emerges stronger from the experience.
Debut author Gaile offers pacing that is slow enough to allow nuances to develop but swift enough to maintain reader interest. She has an ear for genuine-sounding dialogue and interactions, and is masterful at exploring emotional complexities at the appropriate developmental level; her descriptions of Bernice's parents and their ambivalence about their daughter's activism are particularly authentic and resonant.
Bernice herself is about as appealing a heroine as one could hope for, a believable blend of childish naïveté and sophisticated ideology. Most of the supporting characters are also convincingly portrayed, though a few are disappointingly one-dimensional, even considering their minor roles. The narrative is straightforward and focused solely on the main plot; this can feel a bit heavy-handed at times but is overall fitting for the length of the book.
There are few surprises for those readers with a basic familiarity of the civil rights movement, but this work is a suitable introduction for those without that familiarity. And, with the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington just past, this book could not be more timely and relevant. A moving, triumphant novel encapsulating a young girl's personal struggle for equality within the larger movement.-- Kirkus Reviews