In her first novel, author Kristin Levine weaves an appealing young adult novel out of stories from her grandfather, Harry Otis (“Dit”) Sims. Family life, race relations, work, and leisure time activities in the Jim Crow South make up the fabric of this story. Quirky characters, the flu pandemic of 1917, lots of baseball and a murder keep the reader turning pages.
As the story opens, Moundville, Alabama is waiting for its new postmaster, and young Dit Sims is anxious to meet the postmaster’s son. The town is shocked to find that the postmaster from Boston is black, and Dit is crushed when his hoped-for summer companion turns out be a girl. The reader knows instinctively that the daughter, Emma, will be the “best bad luck” Dit ever had, though both of them need some convincing of this in the beginning. The relationship that develops between Emma and Dit shows how friendship can overcome many obstacles and be a means to personal growth. For Dit, the hero and narrator of the story, this means learning to live according to what one believes and to accept responsibility like a man.
Through episodes as unrelated as participation in a class play and hanging out at the local barber shop, Dit begins to take notice of the world beyond the baseball diamond and fishing hole. He discovers that knowledge demands a response on the part of good people, and he struggles to figure out what this means for him. When Dit discovers that Moundville’s black barber is the half-brother of the town’s racist bully (there is implied adultery), he is burdened with knowledge that causes him to look at things in a new light. The revelation of this well-kept secret is the catalyst to the story’s climax: the trial and subsequent unjust conviction of the barber as the bully’s murderer. Dit considers himself responsible for the trouble; how he, Emma and a couple of well-chosen adults plan and execute a rescue makes for an exciting ending.
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