Friday, September 21, 2007

Fire From the Rock

Fire from the Rock is a fictionalized account of the Little Rock Nine; nine courageous black students who braved integration into Central High School in 1957. Sharon Draper's book introduces readers to Sylvia Patterson, a middle school student looking forward to attending high school with her friends. When the order to segregate Central High School is enforced, a direct result of Brown vs the Board of Education, teachers are encouraged to submit names of exemplary students for consideration.

Sylvia must decide if she wants to attend Central High School. If chosen and accepted she will be prohibited from participating in any extra-curricular activities, social events, and will be an outcast in her new school and her neighborhood. But more than that, she will have to survive the racial taunts and threats of violence from those who do not want integration to move forward; black and white alike. Her new boyfriend wants her to stay at their school, her brother wishes he were going in her stead, and her friends do not understand why she feels the need to be different. In the end, Sylvia must make the choice that is right for her.

This is a very compelling work; accounts of violence and racial tension are brutally honest and characters are not painted as right or wrong. Shades of gray are presented as each person struggles with questions, feelings, and personal motivation brought to the surface by "the Nine." One of the more poignant vignettes is that of Sylvia and her white friend Rachel. Both girls struggle with racism and violence; Rachel is Jewish and Sylvia's boyfriend Reggie sets fire to their family business. As the deadline for Sylvia's decision approaches, she wonders secretly if Rachel would openly be her friend in the all white school. Sylvia's parents worry about their daughter's safety in the school and neighborhood. Her brother Gary and boyfriend Reggie provide a strong young male voice, impatient with the process of integration. History details what happened, but Draper opens a window for readers to know and understand the feelings of people involved.

A quote on the dust jacket from author Walter Dean Myers:

"There are real people in Fire from the Rock with real emotions, fears, and frustrations during a period of crisis. All of America saw the front story on television and in the newsreels of the day. Draper tells the backstory, what was happening in the hearts and homes of the courageous families, and incredibly brave children who put themselves on the front lines of the Civil Rights movement. This is a story that needed to be told, and Sharon Draper has told it remarkably well."

An author's note provides additional information concerning the nine students and the terror they faced as well as a selected list of web sites. Sharon Draper's Bio is available on her web site.

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