by Mildred Taylor
School Library Journal Gr 7-10-In this prequel to Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (Dial, 1976), readers meet the relatives of the Logan family who lived during Civil War and Reconstruction times. Paul Edward is the son of a slave and her white master. He is treated well by his white half brothers and by his father, who teaches him to read and write. However, he and his sister learn that they are part of the white family in only certain respects. Early in his life, Paul is tormented for his mixed racial heritage by a black boy, Mitchell Thomas, who later becomes his best friend. The story follows these two young men as circumstances force them to run away from home and make their way in the world. Through hard work, the kindly help of a white employer, and sheer determination, Paul logs a tract of land that will supposedly be his. After much backbreaking labor, he is cheated out of it by the white owner. The plot takes several surprising twists as Paul and Mitchell fall in love with the same young woman, and tragedy lies in wait for them. The ugliness of racial hatred and bigotry is clearly demonstrated throughout the book. The characters are crisply drawn and believable, although at times Paul's total honesty, forthrightness, and devotion to hard work seem almost too good to be true. While this book gives insight and background to the family saga, it stands on its own merits. It is wonderful historical fiction about a shameful part of America's past. Its length and use of the vernacular will discourage casual readers, but those who stick with it will be richly rewarded. For fans of the other Logan books, it is not to be missed.-Bruce Anne Shook, Mendenhall Middle School, Greensboro, NC Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Book list Gr. 7-12. Like Taylor's Newbery Medal book, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (1976), this powerful historical novel, a prequel to Roll of Thunder, refuses to "whitewash" history. As the author notes in her afterword, the language was painful and life was painful for many African Americans, including her family. Drawing directly on her family history, especially what she knows about her great-grandfather, she goes back to the time of Reconstruction to tell a searing story of cruelty, racism, and betrayal. She also tells a thrilling coming-of-age story about friendship, hope, and family strength. Paul-Edward narrates it in his own voice, which combines a passionate immediacy with the distance of an adult looking back. There are things he can never forget. The story begins when he is nine years old in Georgia. Born of a part-Indian, part-African slave mother and a white plantation owner, he is raised by both parents. Paul is treated "almost" as if he were white. He eats at his white father's table--except when there are guests. He learns to read, and his best friend is his white brother, Robert, who is the same age. His greatest enemy is Mitchell, the son of black sharecroppers on the plantation, who beats Paul unmercifully ("You think you way better 'n everybody else"). Then Paul teaches Mitchell to read, and Mitchell teaches Paul to fight. Through Paul's personal turmoil, Taylor dramatizes society's rigid racist divisions. Paul's identity as a "white nigger," caught between black and white, almost destroys him. A bitter turning point comes when Robert betrays him to save face with white friends. Taylor makes it plain that Paul never gets over it. Never. Paul learns another harsh lesson when he loses his temper and beats up a white bully: his father thrashes him to teach him an essential lesson for his survival: "You don't ever hit a white man. . . . Use your head, Paul-Edward, not your fists." Losing his temper could get him lynched, and he doesn't forget, even when whites exploit him, insult him, cheat him, and injure him. His dream is to own his own land. It becomes his obsession. The second part of the book is about his work, backbreaking work for months and years to get that land. As a teenager, he finally runs away, and Mitchell runs with him. They meet up later, brothers now, family, "[Mitchell is] more a brother to me than any of my blood." The bond between Paul and Mitchell is at the heart of the book, all the more moving because it begins with raging hostility. Paul falls in love with a strong, independent woman, whom he eventually marries. But his focus is on the land, working the land, his own land. It's rare to find detail about work and business in books for children. Paul's work is vividly described: he trains and races horses, and he makes money as a skilled carpenter. Then he signs a contract with a white landowner and works seven days a week, clearing the land, chopping the trees, hacking the branches, burning the brush, planting cotton--only to have the landowner tear up the contract ("You think I care about a paper signed with a nigger?"). That moment is like a lightning flash, illuminating the racist truth through Paul's bitter heartbreak. Yet, even then, Paul remains ruthlessly determined. He continues his backbreaking labor and quest for the land, obsessively calculating how much he needs and how he'll earn it. The banks refuse Paul credit. He sells his most precious possessions. Finally, with the help of Mitchell, he earns the money and, through a complicated financial transaction that involves a sympathetic white man and a surprise family inheritance, he buys the land of his dreams. The novel will make a great discussion book in American history classes dealing with black history; pioneer life; and the Reconstruction period, about which little has been written for this age group. Filled with details of how people work the land and build a home, what they eat and how they cook it, the book will appeal to teens who loved the Little House books(a series that also spoke to racism), and it could easily be paired with any number of stories about immigrants' struggles to follow their dreams in America. Taylor's characters are drawn without sentimentality. Not all whites are demonized; some whites help Paul. But many are vicious racists, like the farmers who don't want blacks owning land nearby. The "n" word hits like a blow each time it's used. But, as the author writes, that's what her grandfather endured. Let's hope that the historical truth, the words, and the violence don't cause adult censors to keep this landmark book from young adults who will want to read it and talk about it. Paul-Edward's granddaughter will be Cassie Logan, and readers who remember her from Roll of Thunder will grab this and be astonished by its powerful story. --Hazel Rochman
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.
Publishers Weekly Taylor's gift for combining history and storytelling are as evident here as in her other stories about the Logan family. This prequel to Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry focuses on Cassies's grandfather, Paul-Edward Logan, and explains how the seeds were planted for feuds between the Logans and other families, as well as certain loyalties.Here, the author deftly explores double standards in the South during the years following the Civil War. She lays the groundwork for these issues to be examined through two key relationships in the childhood of Paul-Edward, a boy of mixed race: the strong bond he shares with Robert, his white half-brother, and a tenuous friendship with Mitchell, whose parents were born into slavery and whose father works for Paul-Edward's father. Through them, the hero becomes painfully aware of the indelible line dividing black and white society. Though it is acceptable that his father, plantation-owner Edward, keeps an African-American mistress and helps rear her children, Paul-Edward and his sister, Cassie, are not allowed the same privileges as their half-brothers. An incident of family betrayal and a broken promise prompts Paul-Edward to run away from home and pursue his dream to farm his own piece of land. After arriving in Mississippi and setting his sights on the acreage he wants to buy, he soon discovers that becoming a landowner of color is more complicated and dangerous than expected. Like any good historian, Taylor extracts truth from past events without sugarcoating issues. Although her depiction of the 19th-century South is anything but pretty, her tone is more uplifting than bitter. Rather than dismissing hypocrisies, she digs beneath the surface of Paul-Edward's friends and foes, showing how their values have been shaped by social norms. Here, villains are as much victims as heroes, but only those as courageous as the protagonist challenge the traditions that promote inequality. Even during the book's most wrenching scenes, the determination, wisdom and resiliency-which become the legacy of the Logan family-will be strongly felt. Taylor fans should hasten to read this latest contribution to the Logan family history, and newcomers will eagerly lap this up and plunge into the author's other titles. Ages 12-up. (Step.)
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