Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
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Powerful book about lynching, rape; older teens only.

Parents say

age 15+
Based on 1 review

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Includes author's historical note, appendix, chart of lynchings by state, and brief bibliography. Could also inspire some powerful discussions (see the publisher's discussion guide for ideas -- and spur kids to read other books about racism's devastating role in our culture, such as To Kill a Mockingbird.)

Positive Messages

Not only explores the devastating, violent effects of racism, but also the importance of speaking up against injustice (and the lifelong guilt that can come with silence).

Positive Role Models & Representations

Ansel doesn't speak up as a man is wrongly accused and then lynched by a mob. While Ansel is only 14 at the time, he spends the rest of his life feeling guilty for his part in the crime.


A man is beaten with an ax handle by a crowd, then lynched. A boy rapes and murders a girl; he also cuts the leg off a frog and watches it bleeding to death, then stabs it. A suicide by overdose. A teen boy forces a girl to masturbate him to climax fairlygraphically. That same boy routinely and violently rapes black girlsand women, not described. References to child molestation.


Teens have sex, a boy is drawn to look at the bare breasts of a murdered girl. Some graphic French kissing, and references to masturbation, menstruation, and vaginal wetness.


The N word is used frequently, "bitch," "s--t."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults drink whiskey.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this novel is for older teens only -- it has some very rough content, including lynching, rape, and murder. The intense subject matter -- lynching and its effect on everyone involved -- is powerfully disturbing. Teens ready for the material will be ready for some powerfuldiscussions (see the publisher's discussion guide for ideas) and will learn a lot about the history that inspired this book through the author's historical note, appendix, chart of lynchings bystate, and brief bibliography. There is also teen sex, some swearing, and drinking.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byjjsqueeze February 11, 2010
Good book, just way too sexual for too many people who would be interested in it.

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What's the story?

Ansel, growing up in a racist southern town in the 1940s, is friends with a black boy, has a crush on the preacher's daughter, and can't imagine doing anything with his life other than taking over his father's store. Then the preacher's daughter is raped and murdered by the son of a powerful white family, and his friend's father is accused. Ansel and his father both know the truth, but neither says anything when the man is lynched, a decision that blights the rest of their lives. Includes author's historical note, appendix, chart of lynchings by state, and brief bibliography.

Is it any good?

Author Julius Lester lays bare the reality of the dreadful act of lynching, and the culture that supported it. Of all of the terrible things now thankfully in our history instead of our present, though not so far back as we'd like to think, lynching is surely one of the worst -- the act itself, of course, but also the horrifically festive way it was often perpetrated. The story, and even more so in the stunning back matter, will shatter many of the comfortable myths that we use to separate ourselves from our own past. 

The subject matter here is strong stuff, and Lester sets it out in stark and angry terms. At times this works against him, causing him to create cartoon villains like Zeph, the white boy who rapes and murders the virginal preacher's daughter and pins the blame on an innocent black man. But at other times he shows remarkable subtlety, especially with Ansel's conflicted feelings about his crush, his father, his future, and, eventually, his own part in the lynching.


Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about racism in our culture. The author said in an interview, "As much as many would like to believe that racism in America is on thewane, the truth is that in the hearts of some, it is, but in the heartsof all too many others, racism is not only not declining, it isacquiring new life." Do you think this is true? And would a book like this have the power to change that in any way?

  • This book contains a lot of gritty violence, including rape and lynchings. Lynching is certainly part of America's history. Does that make it harder to read this book? Or more important to read? Both?

Book details

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