I just finished reading Deborah Wiles’ captivating historical fiction novel, Revolution, and it is haunting me.
Set in 1964, during “freedom summer,” Revolution tells the story of the events that unfolded in Greenwood, Mississippi through the dual perspective of Sunny, a white girl who is unaware the privileged life she leads and Raymond, a black boy who rankles at the unfairness of Jim Crow laws which don’t allow him to go to the town’s whites-only swimming pool and theater. As young volunteers “invade” the town to help register black voters, people of this genteel southern town show their true colors, and Sunny’s eyes are opened to the violent bigotry that divides her family and members of her community.
Through the perspective of the two protagonists, Wiles shows us how both the white community and the black community reacted to the events of the time. On both sides there are mixed feelings – some people fight for change while others fear it. We see the evil cruelty of the Ku Klux Klan and the group of powerful whites who will stop at nothing to prevent racial equality from coming to their town. We also get a first-hand view of the courageous people who risked their lives to bring the vote to the blacks of the South. Somehow, seeing these events through the eyes of children, who don’t always fully understand what’s happening or how cruel people can be, makes these events all the more chilling.
I hadn’t read her first book, Countdown (though I’m eager to read it now) and this “documentary novel” was a completely fresh, new genre for me. Throughout her novel, Wiles has included a wealth of primary source materials such as bible quotes, song lyrics, photos, news articles, and a KKK brochure. The balance of non-fiction with fiction serves to make each stronger. The story gives life to the non-fiction, while the shocking images and quotes give context and depth to the story. She references songs of the time, which are familiar to me, but probably won’t be to the younger readers. However, they can find all of the music on Wiles’ Pinterest board, where she has compiled Youtube videos of all the songs she included in her book. Between the historical documents, the pictures, the quotes and the music, historical fiction has never come so alive for me.
The only thing I disagree with is that the book is suggested for 8 – 12 year old children. Although the story is written in a style that is simple enough for young children to understand, I find the age suggestion far too limiting. The material is engrossing and the topic is incredibly strong. I will definitely be sharing this with our secondary students – I know many 15 – 18 year olds (not to mention adults) who will be caught up in this book and ready for deep discussions of the time period, of what freedom means, of the cruelty of mankind, and of the ongoing need to fight for freedom in our incredibly troubled world.