One of “The 17 Best Summer Reads of 2019” by Harper’s Bazaar!
Set in the summer of 1968, a provocative and devastating novel of individual lives caught in the grips of violent history—a timely and poignant story that reverberates with the power of Alice Walker’s Meridian and Ntozake Shange’s Betsey Browne.
At the end of a sweltering summer shaped by the tragic assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Bobby Kennedy, race riots, political protests, and the birth of Black power, three coeds from New York City—Zelda Livingston, Veronica Cook, and Daphne Brooks—pack into Veronica’s new Ford Fairlane convertible, bound for Atlanta and their last year at Spelman College. It is the beginning a journey that will change their lives irrevocably.
Unlikely friends from vastly different backgrounds, the trio has been inseparable since freshman year. Zelda, serious and unyielding, the heir of rebellious slaves and freedom riders, sees the world in black versus white. Veronica, the privileged daughter of a refined, wealthy family, strongly believes in integration and racial uplift. Daphne lives with a legacy of loss—when she was five years old, her black mother committed suicide and her white father abandoned her.
Because they will be going their separate ways after graduation, Zelda, Veronica, and Daphne intend to make lasting memories on this special trip. Though they are young and carefree, they aren’t foolish. Joined by Veronica’s family friend Daniel, they rely on the Motorist Green Book to find racially friendly locations for gas, rest, and food. Still, with the sun on their cheeks, the wind in their hair, and Motown on the radio, the girls revel in their freedom. Yet as the miles fly by, taking them closer to the Mason-Dixon line, tension begins to rise and the conversation turns serious when Daphne shares a horrifying secret about her life.
When they hit Washington, D.C., the joyous trip turns dark. In Virginia they barely escape a desperate situation when prison guards mistake Daniel for an escapee. Further south they barely make it through a sundown town. When the car breaks down in Georgia they are caught up in a racially hostile situation that leaves a white person dead and one of the girls holding the gun.
Set against the tumultuous summer of 1968, Norfleet's novel is a rich, devastating story of lives trapped in a violent period of history. Three black friends drive from New York City to Spelman College in Atlanta to begin their senior year. Zelda, the narrator and daughter of civil rights activists; Veronica, from a wealthy family; and Daphne, whose mother was abandoned by Daphne's white father, hit the road using the Motorist Green Book, a guide for black motorists to hotels, cafes, and restrooms that will serve them. The girls see promise ahead, having struggled with tragedies: for Zelda, witnessing her father's murder by police; for Veronica, escape from an arranged marriage; and for Daphne, her mother's suicide. In warm summer days and nights on the road, the characters discuss racial uplift versus black power, and nonviolence versus black militancy. However, as the trio drive deeper into the Old South, they discover that civil rights are slow in coming below the Mason-Dixon line. When their car breaks down in rural Georgia, the novel takes a dark turn. Forced to stay in the small segregated town to await a car part, the girls stumble into a racially charged situation at a local dance. Norfleet brilliantly depicts what it means to be a black female in a tempestuous period of American history, and provides a gripping narrative to boot.
I could not put this book down! It was captivating from start to finish.