"What a dumb idea, white people thinking they were better than black people."
Alice can't stand the way Valerie is treated, and yet she knows she will remain an outsider if she speaks up. It takes a horrible tragedy to finally give Alice the courage to stand up for what she believes.
Set in the deep South in the 1960s, Yankee Girl is a powerful, resonant and relevant story about racism and doing the right thing.
tw: racism and racial epithets used in line with the era and location
Received with thanks in exchange for an honest review from Usborne Publishing UK.
Yankee Girl follows the story of Alice Ann Moxley, a sixth grader who has just had to move to Mississippi from Chicago with her parents on account of her father, an FBI agent, being assigned to the area to deal with problems due to integration. The year is 1964, and much of what Alice goes through is inspired from what the author herself went through in her childhood. Right off from her first day in Mississippi, Alice sees the difference between there and the North. For one, she is called "Yankee Girl" here, and for another, most people here had little to absolutely no regard for black people.
"If you want to get along around here, don't ever stand up for Martin Luther King or anybody colored."
Alice quickly learns that showing any kind of support to the blacks would lead to one being labelled "Negro-lover", and was the surest way to being a total social outcast. Thus, when her school is integrated and she finds herself with a potential friend in Valerie Taylor, the daughter of an influential black minster, Alice is conflicted- should she do what's right or what's easy? Should she give up her hard-earned place within the in-crowd for this one girl, or should she turn a blind eye on what Valerie is subjected to day in and day out?
Yankee Girl is a very important book because even though it's set in 1964, it's still very much relevant to today's time and happenings. The author does a great job drawing from her experience to build Alice Ann's world, and it's all extremely realistic. The book manages to portray exactly how bad things were in the 1960s, during the time of Martin Luther King's fight for civil rights. Heartbreaking and difficult though the accurate portrayal of prejudice is, we see the importance of making the right choices and standing up for what we believe in. The story rings very true and powerful, most possibly due to it being inspired from what the author herself went through. As she says in the Author's Note,
"My mother once said, 'You know, someday you'll be glad you lived in this time and this place. You are seeing history in the making. You can tell your children and grandchildren about it.'
She was right."
From the Pimento-loving Southerners with the drawl in their speech to the hardworking, resilient and mistreated black people, the characters are all very well fletched out. We sees Alice Ann's character change from the hopeful, enthusiastic, optimistic new kid in school to being unsure about what's happening around her and managing to convince herself that she's doing the right thing, to a more thoughtful friend who doesn't shy away from doing what's really right, even if it means she may not be in the safe zone with the in-crowd. It takes something drastic to make Alice Ann finally see where she went wrong, and her internal struggles and awakening to realize what Valerie goes through- the bullying particularly- are beautifully etched out.
"So this is what it feels like to be in a current event. I'd rather read about it in the newspaper."
Alice Ann has the habit of cutting out headlines from newspapers and pasting them on a scrapbook of sorts. What she first only read about she sees herself soon living through, and she's not particularly pleased with this change. Each chapter starts with a headline from a newspaper, and while most often than not they had no relation to what actually happened in the chapter (I wish they did), they shed some light on what was happening around then.
One wouldn't find it difficult to get lost in this realistic, powerful read, and would ideally walk away with lots of food for thought. The book makes one think about racism, prejudice, privilege, entitlement and more, and while it may not be the easiest read, it sure is a very relevant book to this time and day, and you'd be doing yourself a favor by picking it up as soon as possible. Need more convincing? If you liked The Hate U Give, you'd abso-freaking-lutely love this one!