The Lions of Little Rock--Kristin Levine
January 2012 by Puffin
As twelve-year-old Marlee starts middle school in 1958 Little Rock, it feels like her whole world is falling apart. Until she meets Liz, the new girl at school. Liz is everything Marlee wishes she could be: she's brave, brash and always knows the right thing to say. But when Liz leaves school without even a good-bye, the rumor is that Liz was caught passing for white. Marlee decides that doesn't matter. She just wants her friend back. And to stay friends, Marlee and Liz are even willing to take on segregation and the dangers their friendship could bring to both their families.
I liked the book. We don't like to face the reality that narrow-minded racist attitudes are held by perfectly normal people. Klan members were well standing members of society. The South was not populated by monsters, but by normal people who did horrible things. The Lions of Little Rock makes us face that reality. And it goes even further than that by having Marlee's mom be a bit racist. She's not shouting racial epithets or anything like that, but she's not comfortable with her daughters going to an integrated school. So often, all the "good" characters in these historical novels are enlightened and see clearly through racism and bigotry. This book is more real than that. Life is complicated and people are made up of spectrums of grays.
I also appreciated that the conflict was resolved realistically. Levine didn't just wave a magic wand and make everything better. Things end better than they started, but it's still messy, as it really would have been in history. There are a couple uses of the N word throughout the book, which I was not expecting in a middle-grade novel, but I feel they are contextually justified.
All and all a good read, not terribly momentous.