Midnight Without a Moon

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
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Exciting, must-read story of black teen in 1955 Mississippi.

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

Educational value

Rose Lee's first-person narrative offers a detailed, nuanced account of what life was like for many African-Americans in the American South at the dawn of the civil rights era. The murder of Emmett Till and its aftermath set the stage for the story and are intertwined with its characters and events. Rose's friend Hallelujah, the preacher's son, discusses literature and ideas with her and brings her articles from Jet, one of the first U.S. magazines produced by and for African-Americans. There's also a lot of detail about Baptist religious practices of the era, including revival meetings and group baptisms.

Positive messages

Since the story's set as the civil rights movement's beginning, racial equality is a strong message -- and so is the importance of your own character. Strong messages about friendship, family, love of home, love of learning, having the courage to take a stand for what's right, not behaving in a way that causes trouble for your loved ones, and having the strength and self-respect to hold onto your dreams and goals even when you're abused and mistreated.

Positive role models & representations

Rose is cheer-worthy and very relatable as she deals with many challenges, from the limited options available to African-Americans in 1955 Mississippi to her grandmother's complete lack of respect for Rose's intelligence and determination to make something of herself. Her friend Hallelujah tells her about what's happening in the area as NAACP workers come to town, and the two young teens study current events and form their own ideas, despite lots of adult opposition. They get a lot of adult support, too, from Hallelujah's father the preacher to some of Rose's aunts and their friends. Much is said about  civil rights pioneer and eventual martyr Medgar Evers, then just beginning his civil rights work.

Violence

Fourteen-year-old Emmett Till is abducted and murdered for whistling at a white woman. Several African-Americans are murdered after they register to vote. Rose's grandmother beats her children and grandchildren with fists and belts; one of her aunts is married to an abusive man who regularly beats her -- and keeps going back to him with the kids.

Sex

There's no explicit description of sex, but quite a lot going on, and a lot of teen pregnancy. The moms of Rose, her brother, and her cousin were unwed teens when they gave birth, and ditched their children as soon as they found men to marry and made new families. A teen character sneaks out at night to meet a boy and is soon pregnant -- which her younger cousin warns her is exactly what's going to happen.

Language

Disparaging racial terms like "peckerwood" for white people and "nigra" for black. Much discussion of poop, pee, and the outhouse, as well as words like "turd." Occasional "damn," both as a swear word and in the religious sense.

Consumerism

Some products of time are mentioned for scene-setting, e.g. DeSoto (a car) and Dial soap.

Drinking, drugs & smoking

One character's husband regularly gets drunk and beats her.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Midnight Without a Moon is set in 1955 Mississippi, where 13-year-old Rose is living with her sharecropper grandparents and other family members on a cotton plantation. Through Rose's eyes and spirited narrative voice, we get an up-close-and-personal sense of what it meant (and how dangerous it could be) to be young, smart, and black in that era. The story involves several murders of black men who register to vote, and finally of 14-year-old Emmett Till, visiting from out of town and killed for whistling at a white woman. Other mature subject matter includes numerous pregnancies of unmarried teens, including one who's sneaking out at night for much of the story, and a old woman who routinely beats her children and grandchildren. But while readers should be mature enough to take this in context, Rose and the other characters, as well as the complex issues, personalities, and cultural nuances, make for a must-read story.

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What's the story?

MIDNIGHT WITHOUT A MOON -- that's what 13-year-old Rose Lee Carter's  grandmother says about her granddaughter's dark skin, while also spoiling her light-skinned cousin Queen rotten. It's 1955, and Rose, Queen, and Rose's younger brother, Fred Lee, all live with their sharecropper grandparents in Mississippi -- they're all the result of their mothers' teen pregnancies, and their moms ditched them as soon as the women found husbands. Rose's best friend, Hallelujah, the preacher's son, shares her intelligence and love of learning, brings her articles from Jet magazine and supports her hopes for a better life than working some white man's cotton field. When NAACP workers come to the area to register voters, black folks who register tend to wind up dead. Then, Emmett Till, a 14-year-old boy visiting from Chicago, is abducted and murdered for supposedly whistling at a white woman,  sending shock waves through the community. Rose's life and the course of history soon converge.

Is it any good?

Linda Williams Jackson's debut offers an irresistible, compelling heroine in 13-year-old Rose, growing up in a sharecropper family in Mississippi at the dawn of the civil rights era.  Amid terrifying violence and historic change, the complex, nuanced characters and eventful narrative -- as seen through the eyes of a spirited young girl -- make for a great read and return visits. Rose's narrative voice in Midnight Without a Moon is full of humor, determination, and self-respect despite powerful challenges, and she has the help and support of her best friend and some loving adults. (A sequel, A Sky Full of Stars, is due in January 2018.)

"Mama was tall, shapely, caramel-complexioned, and movie-star beautiful. Except for the height, I looked nothing like her. I was string-bean skinny and black as the ace of spades, as Ma Pearl liked to say. ... But according to Ma Pearl, her daughter was definitely no angel. Having had me at fifteen and Fred Lee at sixteen, Mama was what the old folks labeled 'ruint.'"

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how the civil rights era is portrayed in Midnight Without a Moon. How were  things different then? What other books have you read about the period?

  • How would you feel if your family made you drop out of school to work in the fields?

  • Why is it so important for African-Americans -- and everyone -- to exercise the right to vote?

Book details

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