This is my first review of an Advanced Reading Copy! I received it from a friend.
Shad is a 14-year-old white boy in a burned out Richmond, Virginia two years after the end of the Civil War. He lives with his mother and his older brother, Jeremiah. His father was killed in the war. His grandfather owns a tailoring business. Shad and his mother help his grandfather. Jeremiah, 19, is a bully. Even though he bullies Shad, Shad wants his approval.
Jeremiah and Shad both join a new organization where everyone hides their identity by wearing white sheets. It is the Brotherhood. It is the Ku Klux Klan. Shad originally believes it to be an organization that looks after war widows and orphans. He soon discovers it also instigates violent acts against blacks and northern whites. Jeremiah questions Shad’s loyalty to the white south when he realizes Shad is uncomfortable with the violence.
Shad doesn’t know how to read, but he wants desperately to learn. He meets a black girl, Rachel, who teaches a school for several black children. Rachel begins teaching Shad to read. In exchange, he teaches the black children to sew. He keeps this aspect of his life secret.
All this takes place against the backdrop of martial law in Richmond. The Yankee occupation causes a smoldering resentment among the white citizens of Richmond. Jeremiah also says he can’t find a job because all the jobs he wants to do are now done for less money by blacks.
Shad is a character in an intense conflict. He wants Jeremiah to think well of him. He craves the brotherhood aspect of the Klan. He is very uncomfortable with the violent aspect of the Klan. He believes blacks should stay in their place, but he loves teaching the black kids tailoring techniques and he loves learning to read at Rachel’s school.
Westrick doesn’t make this conflict easy for Shad, and thus it isn’t easy for the reader. According to my sensibilities, the Klan is bad and people who think blacks are lesser humans are wrong. Shad isn’t so sure. Westrick respects Shad’s uncertainty. She respects the anger and resentment of Southern whites immediately following the Civil War.
I found the first 60 pages of the book difficult to follow because the narrative jumps around in time. After that the narrative is easy to follow and the pace is excellent.
I’d love to discuss this book with a group of middle-grade kids.