Saturday, October 2, 2010

A Friendship for Today
by Particia McKissack

A Friendship for Today
Particia McKissack
Grades 4-6

Rosemary Patterson is about to make history—she is among the few African American students who will be attending Robertson Elementary School with the white children of Kirkland Missouri. The year is 1954 and the Supreme Court has just passed the “Separate is Not Equal” decision. The schools are forced to integrate. Rosemary does not understand what a big deal it is—to her, her school is just fine and if the white kids want to attend school with the “colored kids” than they can make room at her school. While this assuming to her parents and others, realistically everything is not fine. Thus, Rosemary is about to be introduced to a new world whether she is ready or not. As the school year progresses, Rosemary must overcome many challenges including: her best friend being diagnosed with polio, her parent’s failing marriage, jealousy and discrimination. Through it all an unlikely friendship forms between Rosemary and Grace—a self-proclaimed hater of colored people. Can Rosemary rise above everything that she faces or will it be too much for a young girl to handle?

This is a wonderfully written, poignant coming of age novel set during a turbulent time in American history. Rosemary is a well-rounded character whom you become attached to as you are reading. I ended up cheering for her, willing her to overcome the obstacles she faces. Readers will be able to relate to her because the underlying themes of friendship transcending boundaries (both visible and invisible), feeling like an outsider, tolerance and acceptance are core to the story.

One thing that has perplexed me since finishing the book is why it is not marked as historical fiction. As Laura and I were discussing, to be historical fiction the setting needs to be vital to the story. Doing further digging, I pulled Zena Sutherland’s Children and Books to investigate more. A vital question posed is “does the author intend to create a vivid picture of another historical period and is that picture vital to the telling of the story?” Upon reflection, I would say yes and no. If you focus on the themes, than the themes in the novel are universal to transcend any genre or time setting. However, the setting does play a vital role in understanding all the changes happening to Rosemary and America in general. It is woven and integrated into the story. Would this story be equally as powerful in another time period? I would say probably so. Does it add to the tension and the richness of the story? Yes. If you care to read the book, I would be interesting in discussing your thoughts on the questions posed above. Incidentally, Scholastic has it marked as historical fiction.

Starred review by SLJ

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