I didn’t think I was going to like it that much. The blurb on the cover made it sound too predictable… “At its heart is the story of Cass and Allie, two young women – one white, one black – sharing a friendship amid the divisive and violent racism of rural 1913 Texas. But when a murder turns the town of Copper Crown into an inferno of lynching and riots, Cass and Allie make a startling decision – to strike out on their own in search of a life where a person’s heart, not race, is what counts.” That struck me as trite.
But the writing is so beautiful it won me over quickly. The dialog and the descriptions of the landscape roll like a song. The characters are clear and tender. The truths here run deep and powerful. The author lays out a part of the heartbreaking, gut wrenching reality of America’s history. You will come away from this book a different person.
I wanted to give a quote to let you see the loveliness of her words, and I had a hard time picking only one paragraph. I settled on this one, from a letter written by the character Maggie. Maggie is a black woman who was raped by a gang of white men and then bore a child with light skin. Her husband lashes out in rage and murders a white woman and is lynched. Maggie continues to live and work in the community, raising her child in spite of constant taunts and abuse. She says about her child:
If I would’ve left him at the door of some white-folk church, he would’ve been took in for one of their own, I’s guessing. They would’ve raised him up rich white, most like, they sure would’ve set more meat to his plate than I’s done these passing year. And he wouldn’t never have knowed about his mama – how her love had got used up and throwed away and how, after on, she couldn’t never get clean again, least not in the eyes of them that remembered. But I couldn’t let him go, allie, selfish as I be. I needed him entire. I needed his elf-size feets and his angel hands. I needed them wide, blue-marble eyes with all his love inside them. And now that he be growed, I needing him still. This boy be keeping me alive by love. God help me, but he be.
As much as I was moved by the hatred and violence and horror of the ugly parts of the book, that is not what holds me the most. The depth and hope and strength of the love and determination and life and joy of the women in this story is what shines out and what I will continue to carry in my heart. I found this book on the share shelf in the faculty lounge at school, and I am going to put it back there now for someone else to pick up.