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Witness Hardcover – September 1, 2001
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It is 1924, and a small Vermont town finds itself under siege--by the Ku Klux Klan. Using free verse, Newbery Medal-winning author Karen Hesse (Out of the Dust) allows 11 unique and memorable voices to relate the story of the Klan's steady infiltration into the conscience of a small, Prohibition-era community. The Klan's "all-American" philosophy is at first embraced by several of the town's influential men, including Constable Parcelle Johnson and retailer Harvey Pettibone. But Harvey's sensible wife, Viola, and independent restaurant owner Iris Weaver suspect from the beginning that the Klan's arrival heralds trouble. As the only African Americans in town, 12-year old Leonora Sutter and her father try to escape Klan scrutiny, while 6-year-old, city-born Esther Hirsch remains blissfully unaware of the Klan's prejudice against Jews as she enjoys the Vermont countryside. And Sara Chickering, the lady farmer who has opened her home to Esther and her father, is torn between her own hidden biases and her growing love for Esther.
All, however, are galvanized towards action when a shadowy figure shoots at Esther and her father right through Sara's front door. Who would commit such an evil act? And is it too late to remove the poison that has insidiously leaked into their once tight-knit community? Part mystery, part social commentary, Hesse's historically accurate chronicle is a riveting catalyst for discussion that thoughtfully explores race and identity from every possible point of view. The free verse format and distinct characterizations also make Witness a perfect choice for library or classroom reader's theater productions. (Ages 12 and older) --Jennifer Hubert
From Publishers Weekly
The author of Out of the Dust again turns language into music in her second quietly moving novel written entirely in verse. Here, 11 narrative voices chronicle actual events occurring in a sleepy Vermont town after the arrival of the Ku Klux Klan in 1924. Those victimized by the Klan include the families of Leanora Sutter, a 12-year-old African-American girl, and Esther Hirsh, the six-year-old daughter of a Jewish shoe salesman. Rounding out the portrait of the town are community leaders (an enlightened physician, a newspaper editor who moves from neutral to anti-Klan) as well as less prominent folk shopkeepers, a Protestant minister who are swayed into joining the white supremacist group. Their chorus of hatred rings loudly at first, but is tempered by their dawning realization of the severity of the Klan's punishment to their targets as well as the more rational, compassionate strains of the Klan's opponents. Hesse offers glimpses of the world at large through references to Prohibition, the Leopold and Loeb case and a letter Leanora pens to Helen Keller. The author distinguishes the characters (whose pictures appear in the front of the book) not only by their varying opinions but also by their tone of speech. The simpler, candid language of the two youngest cast members, Leanora and Esther, effectively crystallizes their gradual loss of innocence. Easily read in one sitting, this lyrical novel powerfully records waves of change and offers insightful glimpses into the hearts of victims, their friends and their enemies. Ages 9-12.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.