This was a Cybils' MG finalist, and I completely adored it--although I have to admit that the cover did not immediately draw me in. However, once I was involved in the story, I did not want to put it down!
What It's About: (Via Goodreads) Two girls separated by race form an unbreakable bond during the tumultuous integration of Little Rock schools in 1958
Twelve-year-old Marlee doesn't have many friends until she meets Liz, the new girl at school. Liz is bold and brave, and always knows the right thing to say, especially to Sally, the resident mean girl. Liz even helps Marlee overcome her greatest fear - speaking, which Marlee never does outside her family.
But then Liz is gone, replaced by the rumor that she was a Negro girl passing as white. But Marlee decides that doesn't matter. Liz is her best friend. And to stay friends, Marlee and Liz are willing to take on integration and the dangers their friendship could bring to both their families.
Opening Lines: "I talk a lot. Just not out loud where anyone can hear."
What I Liked: You lovers of historical fiction: this one is for you. I admit I am not well-versed in the history of the Civil Rights movement, beyond knowing Martin Luther King Jr. So this was eye-opening for me, that fact that Governor Faubus of Arkansas in 1957 was willing to close down the high schools rather than integrate them.
I really liked Marlee, and her arc was superb. She went from being incredibly shy to being incredibly brave. Her friendship with the more outgoing Liz was beautifully rendered. Kristin Levine also made Marlee's family very well-rounded, with understandable tensions arising between the parents and the children as they all face the fact of segregation and violence in their own way.
There is also quite a bit of action, including a scene where a character is locked in the trunk of a moving car being driven by the story's villain, and a bombing which narrowly misses being fatal.
The writing itself was beautiful and engrossing, and I found myself emotionally moved numerous times. This would be a great novel to read to a 5-8 grade class, or as part of a unit dealing with the civil rights movement.
About the Author: (From the back cover of The Lions of Little Rock) Kristin Levine, author of the critically acclaimed The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had, received her BA in German from Swarthmore College and an MFA in film from American University. She spent a year in Vienna, Austria, working as an au pair and has taught screenwriting at American University. Currently, she lives in Alexandria, Virginia, with her husband and two daughters.