Wednesday, May 12, 2021

EQUAL by Joyce Moyer Hostetter: A Review, An Autographed Giveaway, and a Bonus Giveaway!

Congratulations to Danielle Hammelef who won THE SUMMER OF THE TREE ARMY from last week's blog.


Some people read a book which they really like and rush through it to get to the end. Not me. When I find a book that I love, I stretch it out. I don't want the story to end.

That was doubly true for Joyce Moyer Hostetter's last book in the Bakers Mountain Stories series-- EQUAL (Calkins Creek: 2021). How is it possible that there won't be another story about the Honeycutt family? I'm sorry to say to all her fans--there won't be. 😞 I even knew how the book would turn out AND I still cried at the beautifully crafted ending. But, I'm getting ahead of myself...



When I went to the river that day in 1959,
I didn't expect to meet a colored boy
who loved birds like I love my cow.
I didn't know what all I'd learn from him
or that a mean old drunk would come along
and force me to see myself as I never had before.

I didn't realize I was face to face with a muddy wide river.

I didn't think when I went into eighth grade
that a teacher would name my strengths
and inspire me to be even stronger.
I didn't know that I'd learn 
to speak up while measuring my words,
to hold back when I wanted revenge,
or to imagine an enemy as my friend.

EQUAL is the story of two boys--one white and one Black--becoming friends despite their differences, hard feelings, and an act of senseless prejudice. But that only scratches the surface. 

EQUAL is also about what it was like to live in a small, rural town in North Carolina in 1960 on the eve of civil rights. Segregation was the norm. As 8th-grader Jackie Honeycutt finds out, the atmosphere of prejudice not only dictates what school and church Jackie attends, but it leaves his new Black acquaintance, Thomas Freeman, and his family in constant fear of potential harm to themselves or their property.  

Mrs. Cunningham, Jackie's teacher, begins the school year by writing Abraham Lincoln's quote on the chalkboard: "Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them into my friends?" This question haunts Jackie throughout the book and (as you can tell from the cover) is EQUAL's theme. Jackie wrestles with jealousy towards other kids at the 4-H competition; he struggles with anger towards a classmate who constantly mocks him; and he feels irritated towards the woman who leads the local Home Demonstration club and snubs his mother. But most of all, he has to come to resolve that dilemma with Thomas. It is not until he truly empathizes with Thomas and Thomas's family does he realize how he can answer Lincoln's rhetorical question. 

In the last third of the book Jackie is staring at Bakers Mountain from his front porch and thinks, "One thing I was figuring out was--as long as white people didn't know Negroes personally, we could never understand their viewpoint. Thomas had educated me on things I never even thought about before." (p.206) That is Jackie's moment of truth which leads to actions that surprise him, are character-revealing, and lead to the wonderful conclusion.

I have blogged before about the importance of making secondary characters a vital part of the story; there are many other characters in EQUAL who are strong and well-crafted. Readers will be happy to see Ann Fay get reunited with Imogene, her friend from the polio ward in BLUE and now she and Junior are happily married (finally)! But the other person in EQUAL who I want to mention is Jackie's mother. Her character arc is shown as she goes from being afraid of what her neighbors will think when a Black family spends the night during a snow storm to saying to Jackie, "Your father and I have been wrong. I was wrong for letting Blanche scare me away from doing the right thing. I believed her when she said poeple would think we're communists. And she was always saying integration could bring violence. I was scared, Jackie."

That conversation ends with her encouraging Jackie to invite Thomas over so she can really meet him. Jackie doesn't know it--but his learning to make friends with his enemies--changed not only him--but his parents too.


When I went into the new year, 1960,
I didn't expect to be snowed in with a colored family
who deserved freedom as much as I did.
I didn't know what all I'd learn from them
or that a personal enemy would make me care enough
to join their fight.

I still didn't know how to cross that muddy wide river.

When I went to graduation that night
I knew I wasn't happy with my speech.
I didn't know that Maribelle would show up and 
I'd see Thomas in my mind's eye.
I didn't imagine that because of them,
and the two Jackies,
and all the brave people
who sat at lunch counters and marched in the streets,
I'd change my words midsentence
and wade right into that muddy wide river.

But I'm glad I did. 


Equal takes place sixty years ago and is equally as relevant today. Read it with your kids, grandkids, and students.  Explore the Author's Note at the end. Talk about it. I want to hear the discussions that happen as a result of this book--and I'm sure Joyce does too.


I've had the privilege of being Joyce's beta reader and read several drafts. You will read the completed story of how Jackie recognizes his racism and deals with it. But I saw how Joyce built the book. She knew Jackie was someone who talked first and regretted his words later. She knew he was a 4-H kid who loved his cow, Lucy, and would learn big lessons when he showed her at the county fair. She knew that fears of bombs from Russia, Communism, and integration would be part of the setting. She had the characters of course--she's been creating stories about the Honeycutts ever since Ann Fay's father left for WWII in BLUE. 

But Joyce didn't know Jackie's backstory and why Thomas didn't trust him. I was on the sidelines and watched her figure out that BIG piece of the puzzle and then weave it into the book. 

I tell you all this because some of you reading this are writers, like myself, who realize the enormity of pulling together all of the many threads that go into a novel--and I want to encourage you that even a master writer like Joyce works HARD to accomplish this. Others of you are readers. I want you to know that a story as magnificent as Joyce's doesn't just happen. There are hours and hours of drafting, writing, reorganizing, deleting, revising, and tweaking that go on behind the scenes.

If you are new to my blog and haven't heard of the Bakers Mountain Stories, please check out my other posts: AIM, BLUE, COMFORT, and DRIVE. (In this blog and this one, Joyce explains the order in which the first three books were written.)


Thanks to Calkins Creek's generosity, Joyce is giving away one copy of a personally autographed book to one fortunate winner. Please leave me a comment by 6 PM on May 14 to enter. MAKE SURE you include your name and email address if you are new to my blog. 

DRIVE - with a beautiful new cover-- just came out in paperback and I have a copy of of that to give away also. When you leave a comment, please let me know which book you are interested in winning. Only continental United States addresses please. Sorry, you can't win both!


Joyce's virtual launch with SCBWI-Carolinas is on May 27 at 7 PM.  She will be giving away another copy of EQUAL at that time--so if you don't win now, you'll have another chance to win later. You don't need to be a member of SCBWI to sign up and attend. Come and find out why Joyce wrote EQUAL and what she hopes readers will take away from it. 


Lisa Fowler said...

Thanks for the review, Carol. I love Joyce’s books and would be honored to add either of these to my collection.

Unknown said...

Thanks for your blog, Carol. I would love to win either of these books for my library--I am retiring this month, and would be so glad to leave either of them with our new librarian to share.

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks Gwen and Lisa. I have your names down for either.

Danielle H. said...

I think Equal sounds so powerful and would be one I would love to read and review. Thank you for the post and chance to win a copy. All of this author's books sound like they are character-driven and tackle difficult subjects.

Carol Baldwin said...

You would love Equal!

Sandra Warren said...

You've sold me on EQUAL, Carol. What a great review of Joyce's book and books.

I grew up in an integrated school in the north and learned early on that we were all just kids; some short, some tall, some smart, some not so smart, some nice and kind and some mean and ornery, some rich and some poor. All just kids. And I was there in the 60's when there was an influx of angry segregated folks moving north who upset the dynamics of a school that in many ways was an idealistic version of what should be.

Please enter me in the give-a-way. I can't wait to read Joyce's book.


Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Sandra, for your personal history. Very interesting. You're in!

Sarah Bracey White said...

What a wonderful, heart-felt review, Carol! You are a true friend to authors and a find beta-reader!

Rosi said...

I have read some of the books in this series, but not all. I know about Joyce's work ethic and attention to detail. I hope I can get to this book soon. Were I to win, I would appreciate getting Equal. It sounds like a really important book. Thanks for the post and the chance.

Carol Baldwin said...

Thank you, Sarah. I hope you read EQUAL--you would love it!

Debbie Allmand said...

What a wonderful and personal review. It makes us appreciate the time, effort, sweat and yes even tears than it takes to write a novel. Joyce's books always make you still and thank while reading

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Debbie. I hope you read her book!

Joan Y. Edwards said...

So happy for Joyce! She writes amazing books! Thanks for sharing her latest book with us.

Please add my name to the giveaway!
Never Give Up

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Joan. You're in!

Cindy Lynn Sawyer said...

Carol, what a beautiful review and insight into this book. I have not read any of Joyce's books, but now they are on my list. Please include me in the drawing as well.

Joan Y. Edwards said...

You are welcome.

Carol Baldwin said...

You're in, Cindy! Thanks for stopping by.

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Rosi. You're in! You would appreciate this book also.

Jennifer Bohnhoff said...

Fascinating review. Thanks for putting it out there again in December so that late comers like me get a chance to read it. This is a book I need to read.

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Jennifer. All of Joyce's books are tremendous!

Beth said...

I love your review and your personal note about the writer's journey. So true! I wish I had started writing when I was younger, but all my reading as a school librarian has helped me realize the best books. I can't take anymore giveaways now.

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Beth! I hope you get to read this at some point.

Patricia T. said...

Thank you for introducing me to Joyce Hostetter, as I am not familiar with her books! I absolutely loved your review of "Equal." There is so much depth and a lot to ponder in this story. I would have been 8 years old in 1959 and was aware of the the inequality issues in the south. I had relatives in North Carolina that we'd visit and I hated seeing signs on doors for entry, being made to cross the street with my cousin if someone Black crossed our path and so on. Living in the north, I didn't understand the racism at that level, but learned quickly. So, I'm sure that I'd enjoy this book.

Natalie Aguirre said...

This sounds like a fantastic series. So cool that you were a beta reader for the author.

Carol Baldwin said...

It is a great series, Natalie. You'll hear more about it too!

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Patricia. I think you will resonate with EQUAL as well as my WIP (Check out Half-Truths) on the tab above.

Max @ Completely Full Bookshelf said...

Thank you for sharing this post a second time, Carol! I wasn't previously familiar with Joyce Hostetter's books at all, but this one and all the rest sound like such powerful reads, and I appreciate your thoughtful review of this one. Thanks so much for the wonderful post!

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks for stopping by--So glad you enjoyed the review.

Greg Pattridge said...

Thanks for featuring this title on MMGM. It's a story I would enjoy having spent many summers as a child visiting relatives in the south—small towns where racism was in full view. I've added this to my future reading list.

Carol Baldwin said...

Great, Greg. I know you'd love this book!

Rosi said...

It was nice to read this review again and be reminded I need to read it! I've read other books in this series, but I never got around to this one. Thanks for the post.


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