This is a very good book. And because it’s written with a young audience in mind, the writing is relatively easy to read. But if you’re looking for a story with a happy ending, this one’s not it. This is not a story where justice is done and people get what it would seem they deserve. It is a story of hope and loss and determination and family.
Title (Year Published) – Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (1976)
Author – Mildred D. Taylor
Page count – 276
Rating – Buy/Borrow/Bypass + Goodreads 5/5
(CW: the n-word, racist violence)
Cassie Logan and her family – mother, father, and three brothers – live on a farm in Mississippi in 1933. The Logan family is luckier than most in that they own the land on which they farm, and as the back of the book says: “It is the land that gives the Logans their courage and pride – no matter how much others may degrade them, the Logans possess something that no one can take away.” This story focuses on the children’s experiences – attending a segregated, underfunded school; fearing attacks by the Klan; and leaning on the love and joy of their family.
What is so especially devastating about this story is every moment you remember that these are children. While no one (of any age) should be treated the way their family and black neighbors are treated by their white neighbors, it is heartbreaking to watch these children experience injustice and learn that – despite their tender, earnest efforts – this world is not made for them. That no matter how hard they work or how “good” they behave, they will always be treated like second-class citizens simply because of the color of their skin.
And while this story may be set more than seventy years ago, it is eerily straightforward to see the parallels that still exist across the United States.
Here is an exchange between Cassie and her mother, after a white girl pushed Cassie off the sidewalk because she “got in her way” and the girl’s father (Mr. Simms) threatened Cassie for not apologizing. This is after Cassie asks her mother why Mr. Simms thinks his daughter is better than Cassie:
“Just ‘cause she’s his daughter?” I asked, beginning to think that Mr. Simms was a bit touched in the head.
“No, baby, because she’s white.”
Mama’s hold tightened on mine, but I exclaimed, “Ah, shoot! White ain’t nothin’!”
Mama’s grip did not lessen. “It is something, Cassie. White is something just like black is something. Everybody on this earth is something and nobody, no matter what color, is better than anybody else.”
“Then how come Mr. Simms don’t know that?”
“Because he’s one of those people who has to believe that white people are better than black people to make himself feel big.” (p. 127)