Author: Kristen Green
Source: from publisher for review
Links: Bookshop (affiliate link) |Goodreads
Summary: This was an enjoyable book, but more autobiography than I expected and lighter than I would have liked.
In response to the Brown v. Board of Education ruling that segregated schools were unconstitutional, Virginia’s Prince Edward County closed public schools rather that integrate their school system. They then started a private school exclusively for white children. This left many African American and poor white families with two options: send their children away or pull them out of school. Although author Kristen Green attended the local private school, she knew little about her hometown’s past and her own family’s role in the public school closings.
Despite the reference to author Kristen Green’s family in the synopsis, I was surprised to find that a substantial part of this book was autobiographical. Even though this wasn’t exactly what I expected, I enjoyed it. The author neatly connected her story to that of the town. Her musings on the way her town’s past would affect her family were a nice addition to her discussion of where the town is now and where she hopes it will go in the future. I think her self-reflection also lent the book a friendly, conversational tone. I felt like Kristen was telling me the history of her town as part of telling me her story.
I was a little uncertain about reading this story from the perspective of one of the white residents of the town. While some children from poor, white families also lost their educational opportunities because of the town decision, this was largely a tragedy that affected the African American residents of the community. I thought the author addressed this tactfully, making it clear that her legacy of guilt over her grandparents’ actions paled in comparison to the legacy of lost educational opportunities African American families had to live with. I was also glad that the majority of the book was devoted to telling the stories of African American residents of Prince Edward County, often in their own words.
This book relates a tragic story, but still felt like a fairly light read. The author told the story of national events almost exclusively as they related to Prince Edward County. She focused on the impact segregation had on individuals and her community. I enjoyed this personal narrative, but I think the author could have done more to relate her story to modern issues of race and poverty. In particular, I would have liked to see her address the fact that African Americans in some parts of the US were denied educational opportunities until such modern times. Even without her guidance, this information made me revisit my knowledge of factors leading to the state of society today. I don’t think her choice to write a more personal narrative will be a negative for every reader. However, lately I’ve been trying to read more mindfully and have also been looking for heavier, more socially-conscious books I can really sink my teeth into. That meant that for me, this was a good book, but lacked the substance to be a great one.