Meet Dawnie Rae, “Dear America”‘s first 20th century African American heroine, a vibrant and indestructible girl. Dawnie is bright and dreams of becoming a doctor, but she lives in the midst of Jim Crow Virginia in the 1950s, where blacks are segregated from whites, given a much poorer education than in white schools, and have very few opportunities for progress and equality in the South. When Dawnie tests at the top of her class at the African American kids’ school, Bethune, she is eligible to integrate into the white school, Prettyman Coburn, given the recent rulings of Brown v. Board of Education, which deems segregation unconstitutional. As the only black girl in a white school in a town steeped in racism and segregation, she and her family are met with much hatred, prejudice, and violence, not only from white segregationists, teachers and classmates, but even from fellow African American parishioners at her church, who now consider her “uppity” and “too good for the rest of us.”
Dawnie’s narration is among the most animated and humorous of the series. She is every shade of proud, dignified, sarcastic, emotional, fearless, sharp, and kind-hearted; her three-dimensional personality tangibly leaps from the pages. Another refreshing aspect about Dawnie is that she is the first “DA” narrator who is described as having “meat on the bones” or “gristle,” and being “sturdy” and “big-boned;” I am glad the series finally chose to incorporate a bigger girl into its circle of narrators. Along with Dawnie are her loving and supportive parents, who run a laundry business, and her autistic brother who has a fondness for peanuts, causing the family to affectionately call him “Goober.” Much later in the story, we also meet Dawnie’s first white friend, an unforgettably funny, vivacious, and splendid Jewish girl named Gertie. This book is an excellent addition to the series and was a joy to read.
Nellie Lee Love lives with her family at their undertaking business in the Corners of Tennessee. The Loves are a close-knit family, and Nellie is especially close with her sister, who is the same age as her most of the year, Erma Jean. One interesting character aspect in this book is that Erma Jean loves words and poetry, and Nellie prefers numbers, often fittingly filling her diary with number games. All seems to be going well until the girls’ Uncle Pace dies a brutal, mysterious death. Erma Jean stops speaking, and their father decides to relocate the girls, their mother, and his undertaking business to Chicago, where it was believed African Americans would be safer from the racist crimes and killings, and from groups like the KKK, down South. However, the family arrives to Chicago only to find that there is just as much racism– murders, rioting– and a new form of classism between blacks, up North.
Many of twelve-year-old Nellie’s entries were about her parents’ activism, politics, historical crimes and riots that occurred, and references to many famous African American activists, writers, and historical figures and their works. The historical note in the back was the longest and most extensive I’ve seen yet, complete with detailed bios of the many notable African American figures throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries mentioned in the dairy. I found Nellie and her family to be lovable characters.
The protagonist of this Coretta Scott King Award-winning novel is Patsy, a freed slave down South after the Civil War, who walks with a limp and stutters. She is believed by most to be simple and dull-minded, but what she lacks in the realms of speech and expression, she makes up for in her rare ability to read and write quite proficiently, which she learned while attending to her former master’s children during their schooling. Though Patsy and the other former slaves are technically free, nothing about their lives and their work has truly changed. Most simply do not know where to go, or are indebted in some way and forced to continue serving the same master. This frustrates the African American community and the author does well in expressing the seeming hopelessness and anticlimax after the Civil War.
Lots of vivid characters, an interesting insight into the politics among servants and the dysfunctional households whom they served. A fairly good read and a satisfying ending.
Clotee is a slave girl who has a deadly secret: she can read and write. She learned while fanning her master’s children while the Misses schooled them each day, and she practices in her diary which she must hide from the other slaves and their master’s family. In the meantime, she must put up with, and writes about, all of the politics among her fellow slaves and the master’s family. Eventually, the master’s children are given a new tutor who discovers Clotee’s secret. But because the man is an abolitionist, his goal is to help however he can. Eventually Clotee goes on to assist with the underground railroad, helping other slaves escape the harsh conditions of slavery and free themselves to reunite with their families and start life anew.