This is a middle grade book you won’t want to miss. It’s not long after the close of World War II, and war heroes get homecoming celebrations. But in the North Carolina town of Birdsong—and in other parts of the South—the parades are only for the white soldiers.
Gabriel, a white kid age 12, never notices that fact until somebody pushes him and his new bicycle out of the way of a car. That somebody is Mr. Meriwether Hunter, a black man. Gabriel’s father gives Meriwether a job as a mechanic in his garage and gas station, and soon Gabriel is working there too, pumping gas. That’s when Meriwether lets slip the fact that he is a veteran, even shows a photograph of his army days. But it’s a secret. Gabriel can’t tell anyone, least of all the other mechanic, Lucas.
But the photo falls to the floor, and Lucas picks it up. In Lucas’s mind, black soldiers aren’t equal to white soldiers and shouldn’t act like it. Ugliness ensues, and Gabriel has a choice to make.
I learned some things from this book, which ends on an upbeat note, I’m glad to say. It’s a very good book. I also like it because it has some similar themes to my own award-winning novel for young people, The Long Shadow. Both have a white boy protagonist who learns something about race. Both show racist ugliness. Both aim for racial reconciliation.
Reading these books helps everyone learn to empathize better.