A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this tragic novel is based on actual events and offers much for discussion, which might spur readers on to further research. In addition to its depiction of racism in early 20th-century New England, there are relationships of many kinds to explore, moral growth and change in several characters, majority vs. minority rights, and unintended consequences of one's actions. Its lyrical and metaphorical writing are terrific examples for writing classes.
What's the story?
Turner, newly arrived in a small coastal town in Maine where his father is to be the new minister, is immediately an outcast, despised by the children, watched incessantly by the suspicious adults, and ground down by his rigid father. His life is wretched and lonely until he meets Lizzie Bright, granddaughter of the minister on the nearby island of Malaga, an impoverished community of slave descendants. Lizzie is tough, smart, and wise, and with her and her community Turner feels at home in a way he never will in his own home.
But the town wants to attract tourists, and the first step is the elimination of the Malaga community. Turner's father, beset and manipulated by the Deacons of his church, supports their efforts, leaving only Turner to stand up for what is right. But doing the right thing is far more complicated than it seems and, as Lizzie often tells him, he "never can look at things straight."
Is it any good?
This complex and powerful novel deserves its Newbery Honor. Its richness of language and metaphorical meaning, as well as its three-dimensional and evolving characters, are well summed up in a line from the end of Charles Darwin's Origin of Species, which the author quotes near the end of the book: "From so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved."
The beautiful and wonderful forms that evolve here are the characters and their relationships and viewpoints, all complex, and all undergoing change. There's Turner, of course, struggling to live up to his father's teachings even when his father doesn't; Mrs. Cobb, a crusty old racist who learns to love a black girl and an ill-mannered boy; Willis, who seems to be a bully but has an ironclad sense of what's right; his father, Deacon Hurd, whose pride goeth before a fall; and many others, a Dickensian wealth of real characters. And evolution is not just individual -- the relationships and understandings between the characters change, and change again. This lovely, heartbreaking, and very real story doesn't always go where you think it will, but in the end it goes to a movingly spiritual place.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the challenges of standing up for something you believe in when popular opinion is against you.
Would you have behaved any differently than Turner did if you had been
in the same situation?
What prompted Turner's father to change his mind
about his son's actions?
This tale was based on a true story, but which
elements were factual -- and which were fictionalized for dramatic
For kids who love books to talk about
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