Last night I stayed up till the very wee small hours reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. Why? Because it’s great, yes, because it’s interesting, definitely, but mostly because I finished reading Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry just (and I mean moments) before going to bed. Last time I read the book I think I was about fifteen, and although I remembered vaguely what the subject matter was, I had completely forgotten that the ending was as emotional as it is. It is not, by any means, a happy one, and I’m one of those people who never grew out of the inability to read anything unsettling before bed because it gave me nightmares. This is my book for the Classics Spin over at The Classics Club and I'm really excited that I can finally tick off another book from my list. I'm moving faaaaaar too slowly with it!
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry is based on stories Mildred D. Taylor heard from her family growing up. I always thought it was the first in the series of books about the Logan family, but I just discovered that there’s a prequel to it, Song of the Trees. I might have to go out and find that now.
Narrated by 9 year old Cassie Logan, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry tells the story of the Logan family’s (mother and father, Big Ma (father's mother), Stacy, Cassie, Christopher-John and Little Man) life in Mississippi. The basic plot is pretty day to day - the kids go to school, they go to church, their Uncle comes to visit, Cassie goes to market with her grandmother - but through these everyday occurrences a picture of injustice is painted. The Logans own their own land and so have quite a high standing in the black community. They also have a strong sense of social justice, especially Cassie. Her sense of injustice at the way that some of the white people treat her family and friends pervades the novel. It isn’t easy reading, as the consequences of small defiances are often pretty severe and graphic, but I felt as a teenager, and still feel on rereading, that it’s up there with To Kill a Mockingbird for important reading about social justice and inequality.
Despite its’ subject matter, the novel is pretty easy to read. I finished it in a couple of days and I’m really happy to get another book ticked off my Classics Club list! Also I really want to carry on reading the other two books about the Logan family that I have, Let The Circle Be Unbroken, and The Road to Memphis. Clearly, this is helpful to my trying to keep my reading on track and not letting it spiral completely out of control. When I read books like this, though, it does make me think again about the importance of reading as a developmental aid for children. Obviously there’s massive amount of history I’ve (thankfully) not had the experience of living through (to be honest, most of the really horrible stuff has been before my time or generally outside my sphere of existence), so literature will be a huge help with raising Benji to understand a little of the experiences of others I hope.
I’ve been reading a lot of books lately where bad stuff happens to kids and they make me so angry. No child should have to spend every night in fear that people will come and try to kill her father or burn her house down. Although the majority of white characters in the book are fairly racist to greater and less degrees, the ones that really stood out for me were the ones who weren’t, especially Jeremy Simms. The children never encourage him, and he is continually ridiculed by his family and the people he goes to school with, but he still walks to school with the Logans every day. I liked that as a child he is so uninfluenced or unbothered by the attitudes of others that he's willing to just like who he likes regardless of ridicule.
I know I've been pretty vague with this review, but there's a lot in the book that I had forgotten about and that I wouldn't want to spoil for someone reading it for the first time. If you haven't read it, and you have any interest at all in social justice or civil rights, you really should read it.