Monday, February 27, 2012

The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine

The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine takes on one tempestuous moment in history and explores it with a great deal of heart and a few touches of humor.

It's the fall of 1958, the year after the Little Rock Nine were the first black students to integrate into Little Rock's Central High School. In an attempt to stop the push to integrate, the school board has decided not to open the high schools. The still-segregated elementary and junior highs continue to function as usual, but nobody in Little Rock remains entirely untouched by the school closings.

Painfully shy seventh-grader Marlee Nisbett would rather solve math problems than say even five words to anyone outside of her family. That begins to change for her when Liz, a new girl at school, befriends Marlee and helps her take the first steps toward speaking up a little bit more. Their friendship is cemented as the two girls work together on a class project. Then, one day, Liz disappears, and Marlee is left on her own again. Will Marlee ever find her voice? Will she discover that some things are important enough to speak out about?

This well-written exploration of the events in 1958 Little Rock kept me up late reading -- always a mark of a good, gripping read. I found Marlee to be a very sympathetic narrator, and the secondary characters were generally nuanced and complex as well. I'd recommend this to those who enjoy works of historical fiction like The Watsons Go to Birmingham -- 1963 and Moon Over Manifest.

(Review copy borrowed through my library system.)

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