"It was the end of summer, a summer during a two-year nightmare. African American children around Atlanta were vanishing, and twenty-nine would be murdered by the end of 1981. Like all kids across the city, fifth-grade classmates Tasha Baxter, Rodney Green, and Octavia Harrison were discovering that back-to-school now meant special safety lessons, indoor recess, and being thrown into a world their parents couldn't comprehend, one in which the everyday challenges of growing up were coupled with constant fear - and the news of the murders of one's peers." Tasha can't understand why she daily falls in and out of favor with her classmates - she isn't weird like Rodney or "too dark" and outspoken like Octavia. Then, through a sudden crush on a boy from the wrong side of town, she finds that words have the power to both heal and wound. (The next thought was that Tasha herself had brought it upon him with her hateful words. "I hope the man snatches you." And she meant it when she said it.).
Based on the Atlanta child murders of 1979-1980, this wrenching debut novel is told from the perspective of three Atlanta fifth-graders living in the midst of the crisis. Tasha is a sweet, conflicted middle-class girl navigating the harsh social waters of her school. Rodney, "the weirdest boy in class," is an unpopular kid who feels both pushed and ignored by his perfectionist parents. Octavia is a whip-smart, confident social outcast who carefully notes that she lives "across the street" from the projects. Jones, who was a child herself in Atlanta in the late '70s and early '80s, weaves her tale with consummate ease, shifting from third to second to first person as she switches narrators. The details of the children's everyday life playground fights, school cafeteria breakfasts, candy store visits are convincingly presented and provide an emotional context for the murders. When classmates begin disappearing, we know that they, along with their peers, are not one-dimensional innocents. One night when Octavia sneaks a late-night look at the local news, she sees a now-missing classmate flash on the screen. "In the picture he looked like a regular boy from our class. He was by himself so you couldn't tell that he was shorter than most of them and just nicer and smarter than all of them put together. Kodak commercials say that a picture is worth a thousand words, but the one they showed of Rodney ain't worth more than three or four. Boy. Black. Dead." This strongly grounded tale hums with the rhythms of schoolyard life and proves Jones to be a powerful storyteller.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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Grand Central Publishing
July 31, 2003
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