The profound coming-of-age story of a young boy growing up in rural Virginia, and the historic summer that would change his life forever
During the summer of 1959, Virginia’s Prince Edward County is entirely consumed by passionate resistance against, and in other corners, support for, the desegregation of schools as mandated by Brown v. Board of Education. Benjamin Rome, the ten-year-old son of a chicken farmer in one of the county’s small townships, struggles to comprehend the furor that surrounds him, even as he understands the immorality of racial prejudice. Within his own family, opinions are sharply divided, and it is against this charged backdrop that Ben spends the summer working with his friend Burghardt, a black farmhand, under the predatory gaze of Ben’s grandfather.
While the elders of Prince Edward focus on closing the schools, life ambles on, and Ben grows closer to his pregnant sister, Lainie, and his troubled older brother, Al, while also coming to recognize the painful and inherent limitations of his friendship with Burghardt.
Evocative and written with lush historical detail, Prince Edward is a refreshing bildungsroman by bestselling author Dennis McFarland, and a striking portrait of the social upheaval in the American South on the eve of the civil rights movement.
A starred or boxed review indicates a book of outstanding quality. A review with a blue-tinted title indicates a book of unusual commercial interest that hasn't received a starred or boxed review.PRINCE EDWARDDennis McFarland. Holt, $25 (368p) McFarland is a novelist of quiet eloquence (Singing Boy; The Music Room) whose powers of careful observation and refusal to venture into melodrama are particularly evident in his latest, a picture of that fateful summer of 1959 when Prince Edward County in Virginia closed its public schools rather than open them by court order to black children. The story is told through the eyes of 10-year-old Benjamin Rome, son of a segregationist chicken farmer, whose best friend is Burghardt, a bright black youngster who shares his dreary farm chores. It is told through Benjamin's eyes, but not in his voice; McFarland does not attempt any of the kind of ventriloquism so popular these days, but writes as an intelligent adult seeing with the limited vision of a boy Ben's age as his mother and father squabble; his older sister, Lainie, goes off for a wonderfully described abortion; and older brother Al tries to stay on the sidelines in the racial battle shaping up. McFarland has introduced some of the real local characters of the time into his story, but just as convincing is Ben's grandfather Daddy Cary, presented in a remarkable portrait of elderly and self-indulgent Southern delinquency. The foreground of this fine and affecting novel is alive with the sights and sounds of a sweltering Virginia summer, but it is the author's real achievement to make it simultaneously clear that in the barely perceived background a world is turning upside down.