June 19, 2011

Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy - by Gary Schmidt

This is one of those books that you aren't sure you want to read, because the cover is kind of old-fashioned and dull. Then you start reading, and you almost abandon it because the setting and characters don't really click with you, and you're not really into it, but you decide to stick it out.  Then before you know it you've finished the book in tears, and you can't get it out of your mind.    In other words, just read it.  You'll see what I mean.

The setting is a small town on the Maine coast in the early 1900's.  Our main character is Turner Buckminster Fuller III, the new pastor's son who left his fabulous life in Boston to start a new life as the least popular boy in a small town where nothing unusual is acceptable.  For Turner, a sincere but rebellious boy, life has suddenly become very hard.  Before long he has made an enemy of the coolest kid in town and the most grumpy old lady on his street, embarrassed his father in front of his new congregation, and become friends with a girl from the local settlement of ex-slaves, the one and only Lizzie Bright.  Could life get more difficult for him?  You have no idea.

Lizzie is more than Turner's equal, a smart and athletic black girl in a town where not only do the locals not approve of her people, but where they are actively trying to evict the entire island settlement to make room for a resort.  When Turner decides to stand up for Lizzie and her people, he must choose between his own town and family and his sense of right and wrong.  He makes the right choice, but the consequences are tremendous and terrible.

This is a fantastic book, memorable and haunting, lyrical and personal.  It starts slowly, but will draw you in until you don't know what hit you.  If you want to get a feel for small town life and mindsets in the early 20th-century, this is a good resource.  If you want to read a story about the power of friendship and the importance  and challenge of standing up for what is right, you can do no better.

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