Revolution by Deborah Wiles has been sitting patiently on my shelf for the past year (like so many other books!). I finally made time to read it last month as part of my own Big Book Summer Challenge, and I was blown away by this amazing mix of fiction and history. Forget the fact that it was written for middle-grade readers – everyone, no matter what their age, should read this powerful book.
Revolution is about The Freedom Summer – the summer of 1964 when college students and other volunteers from all over the country traveled to Mississippi to help end discrimination and segregation in a part of the country that was outright ignoring federal laws to that effect. Wiles tells this remarkable tale by combining an engaging fictional story featuring both white and black young people with real-life photos, newspaper excerpts, quotes, and other documentary material.
Twelve-year old Sunny is ready to enjoy another summer in Greenwood, Mississippi, like all the rest – filled with days at the pool with her step-brother, Gillette, riding her bike, going to see scary movies in the town theater, and memorizing new Beatles’ lyrics with her best friends, Polly and Mary Margaret. But nothing seems right this summer. The adults in her life are all upset, though she doesn’t quite understand why, and the newspaper says that Mississippi is being invaded. Everyone seems angry or scared and is choosing sides. What is happening to her beloved town?
Meanwhile, in Greenwood’s Colored Town, Raymond is another young person who is confused by what’s happening this summer. There’s a white college girl at his dinner table, and everyone is talking about the Freedom Summer. Raymond just wants to play baseball and swim in the town pool that is off-limits to him. Like Sunny, the adults in his life are choosing sides – deciding to register to vote or being too scared to get involved – and Raymond must decide what he thinks.
Much to Sunny’s surprise, she and Raymond – who had previously never crossed paths – seem to have a strange connection, and she keeps seeing him in places she doesn’t expect. As the events of the summer unroll and the danger and violence build, their quiet lives are upended, and they both need to decide what they believe and how far they will go to protect those beliefs.
I have to admit that I knew nothing about the Freedom Summer before reading this remarkable book. I was born in 1965, so I missed all this – and certainly learned none of this in history class growing up! The fictional story is engaging and compelling, with characters who feel real and whom I came to care about. Interspersed with fictional chapters are real photos, quotes, posters, and news stories that are sometimes hard to believe really happened. They add to and support the story, bringing it to life and reminding the reader that the danger and threat of that summer were very, very real.
These two interwoven pieces make for an incredibly moving, powerful book. I was riveted from the first page to the last, as the tension and suspense built to a terrible crescendo. I couldn’t put this book down. I can’t wait to read the first book in Wiles’ The Sixties Trilogy, Countdown, and whatever the third book will be. She is a talented writer, and these are incredibly unique and important books. Highly recommended.
544 pages (that go by in a flash!), Scholastic Press