Being Clem by Lesa Cline-Ransome tells a coming-of-age story set in 1940s Chicago. A nine-year-old African American boy loses his soldier father, a hero. It’s sad, especially because his father has been gone so long that Clem hardly knew him.
As time goes by, Clem grapples with the idea that he, Clem, is named after his hero dad. So, does he want to be like his father? Yes. But how, when he hardly knew him?
Clem sees himself as less than heroic, dominated by his two older sisters and pushed around at school. Would his dad have been like that? Worst of all, he’s terrified of the water. But his dad was a master swimmer.
Clem wonders: Who is Clem, anyway? What does he want? And does he have the courage to face down his fears, especially about swimming?
This is a quiet book, a character-driven story with a lot of resonance, and a good look at African-American life in the mid twentieth century. It completes a trilogy, with the other two books focused on two other boys. Cline-Ransome is clearly a master storyteller. I’ll give it 4.5 stars.
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