Alligator Bayou
by Napoli, Donna Jo
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Publishers Weekly Based on the 1899 lynching of five Italian immigrants, this thought-provoking book draws its power from vivid depictions of late-19th-century Louisiana and little-known historical facts. Settled in smalltown Tallulah, 14-year-old Calogero and a handful of other Sicilian immigrants find themselves isolated: by law they are not "white," but white people discourage them from mixing with Negroes (the sheriff, forbidding Calogero to attend the town school, advises him that he'd be better off uneducated than attending the Negroes' school). But social pressure doesn't keep Calogero from a budding romance with smart, pretty Patricia, even after he's almost beaten up for "fraternizing with them cotton pickers." Napoli (Hush) sketches out some economic and political roots of racism as the white citizens' resentment of the Sicilians builds. While the author leaves some seams showing in her attempt to incorporate background information, her protagonists are convincingly vulnerable, and the violent climax will ensure that readers remember her message. Ages 12-up. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Book list In 1899, five Sicilian immigrants were lynched in small Tallulah, Louisiana. The facts from this little-told chapter in American history frame Napoli's wrenching novel about a 14-year-old Sicilian, Calogero, who joins male relatives in Tallulah after his mother's death. Legally segregated from both whites and blacks, the Italians maintain an insular life, focused on their thriving produce business, until Calo's secret crush on African American Patricia begins to dissolve social barriers between the two communities, even as social tensions with whites escalate into shocking violence. Through Calo's active questioning, Napoli integrates a great deal of background history that is further explored in an extensive author's note. Readers learn, right along with naive Calo, the draconian specifics of Jim Crow laws and the complex factors of fear and economics that fueled the South's entrenched bigotry. A few passages do have a purposeful feel, particularly those between Calo and his tutor, but Napoli's skillful pacing and fascinating detail combine in a gripping story that sheds cold, new light on Southern history and on the nature of racial prejudice.--Engberg, Gillian Copyright 2009 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright American Library Association. Used with permission.