Drawing upon her own childhood experiences, the author, Mary Ann Rodman, writes in her author's note: "Like Alice (the protagonist), I was the daughter of an FBI agent. In the summer of 1964, my family moved from Chicago to Jackson, Mississippi. My father was one of 150 special agents ordered to Mississippi by President Lyndon Johnson." These agents were assigned after three young civil rights workers who were helping African Americans register to vote, disappeared.
As the title suggests, Yankee Girl is 6th-grade Alice Ann Moxley's story. Her "new normal" opens with the moving truck unloading her bike in front of her new home. Fresh from Chicago, she encounters the Southern drawl, pimento cheese, and whites who call colored people nigras. Her parents are sympathetic to civil rights and Alice is torn between her concern for Valerie, the lone African American girl who integrates her school, and wanting to make friends with the kids in her class who ostracize and mock Valerie.
Alice's internal struggles make up a good part of the novel as the reader sees Alice's awakening to what Valerie experiences. After Alice doesn't stop her classmates from sending Valerie mean Valentines, Valerie stays home from school. When she calls Alice ostensibly to get their math homework, Valerie shares some of her anxiety about her father's upcoming civil rights event with Dr. Martin Luther King. After Valerie shares some of her painful childhood experiences, Alice dreams that Emmett Till challenges her to stand up for her friend.
After Valerie's father dies, she moves out of town and Alice regrets never telling her that she was sorry for not befriending her. But in the final image, Alice moves on to junior high where she meets Valerie's cousin. Despite the whispers of "Nigger lover, nigger lover" all around her, Alice brings the new girl to her cafeteria table, where two of her friends are waiting.
Mary Ann Rodman did such a wonderful job of integrating historical fact with fiction, that I tried googling Valerie's father, Reverend Claymore Taylor. When I couldn't find anything about him, I checked with Mary Ann. She wrote:
"Reverend Taylor is a combination of Medgar Evers and a man named Wharless Jackson, who was my dad's last unsolved case (and never will be solved since all the informants and witnesses are dead or deep into hiding so they will never be found.) Medgar Evers was killed in front of his three children in the driveway of his home (he was the Ms. state president of the NAACP). Jackson was a civil rights activist who worked at the Goodyear Tire plant in Natchez, Ms. Mr. Jackson was promoted to a supervisor's position, the first for a black man in that plant. That night when he got in his truck to go home, he discovered that 'someone' (most likely the KKK) had wired his ignition with dynamite. There was nothing left of him."
At the end of the author's note Mary Ann writes: "My mother once said, 'You know, someday you'll be glad you lived in this time and this place. You are seeing history in the making. You can tell your children and grandchildren about it.'
She was right."
|Mary Ann Rodman at 10-years-old|
Ms. Rodman is giving away an autographed copy of Yankee Girl. Leave a comment and I'll enter your name in the drawing. I'll pick a winner on Friday, November 1. Please leave your email address if I don't have it.
Congratulations to Lisa Fowler who won last week's giveaway, Hill Hawk Hattie.