June Bentley "Jubie" Watts is 13 years old in 1954 when her mother decides to take all four of her children to visit her brother in Pensacola, Florida. As any affluent housewife of the time would do, she asks the maid to come along on the trip to help take care of them. Jubie does a lot of growing up on this trip and her eyes are opened to pervasive, ugly prejudice.
I liked Jubie, I really did. She had spunk and she questioned the attitudes that everyone else accepted and made their own. She still has the heart of a child and she questions why her kind, intelligent maid should be treated as inferior because of the color of her skin. But I didn't entirely trust her as a narrator and I'm not sure if I was supposed to. I guess everyone feels like their parents were harder on them than on their siblings, but it's taken to an extreme here. One part in particular was devastating to read. Jubie's dad is an alcoholic who apparently only takes his temper out on her.
It didn't seem entirely realistic to me that Jubie's story would be told almost completely through the filter of race. There is very good reason that she would have become hyper-aware of the issue through the lens of time but I didn't feel like she was looking back on these events from far in the future. They felt pretty immediate. I just felt that a 13-year-old girl would have had more distractions, I guess.
I did appreciate that the author tackled the actual violence of the times. Other books set around the Civil Rights era hint at it but then either nothing terribly bad happens or the brutality is in the background. The violence is the heart of this book and it left me so sad and disgusted. I just don't understand people who judge based on skin color and I definitely don't understand those who think it's
I really, really liked Mary, the maid. She had a huge, courageous heart. She bravely stands up for Jubie when Mr. Watts is on the rampage, she loves all the children in ways that their mother can't, and she is not afraid to reprimand her employers or their guests when they start making disparaging, prejudiced remarks. The world would be a better place if there were more Marys.
I was surprised to find myself respecting Mrs. Watts in the end. I don't know if I ever liked her but she comes a long way throughout the book. Her growth surprised me.
In one way, this was a quick, easy read, but in another, it was so difficult to get through. When you're feeling brave enough to confront some of the senseless ways that people hurt each other, pick this up.
Read an excerpt.
Find author Anna Jean Mayhew on her website.
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