From School Library Journal
Grade 7–10—With segregation still ruling the rural South in 1946, the friendship between Ansel Anderson, who is white, and Willie Benton, who is black, faces many obstacles. After the town eccentric offers the boys an opportunity to leave their homes and pursue their dreams, the 14-year-olds consider their options. However, when Ansel's father helps a mob lynch Willie's father for the murder of a white girl, the teens must pursue their destinies separately. After many years, Ansel stops by his hometown and encounters Zeph Davis, the actual killer. Lester's unconventional opening momentarily confuses readers, but they are soon drawn into the narrative. "Trees remember…. But some trees do not speak…because they are ashamed." Poignant and powerful phrasing overshadows spare character development and helps satisfy readers' desire to explore the deeper motivations for some behaviors. The understated violence, coupled with reflections on lynching, heightens the horror. Back matter includes an author's note that explains the genesis of the story, an appendix with lynching statistics broken down by state, and a bibliography of lynching-related titles. Detailing the death of a friendship and the drive to succeed, Lester's compelling tale is an excellent purchase for most libraries.—Chris Shoemaker, New York Public Library
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Respected writer and civil rights activist Julius Lester imagines the lynching of a black man falsely accused of the attempted rape and subsequent murder of a white teenager in a small Southern town in 1946. The act of lynching is, of course, inarguably, unambiguously evil, and Lester brings great visceral and dramatic power to his depiction of the event. However, he may not have given himself enough space in this short novel for a completely satisfactory examination of the more complex moral crisis that confronts a white shopkeeper and his 14-year-old son—the book’s protagonist—who know the truth but fail to speak out to prevent the injustice. Similarly, too many other characters are presented as being either inarguably good or unambiguously—almost melodramatically—bad for complete plausibility. Despite these arguable shortcomings, this remains a courageous and thought-provoking novel. Appended material provides important additional information about lynching, and the evolution of the book and Lester’s decision to write from the point of view of the white teenager are examined in an author’s note. Grades 9-12. --Michael Cart