For young adults; Powerful lesson of family love; Let the Circle Be Unbroken, by Mildred Taylor. New York: The Dial Press. $10. 95.
"There was so much to learn, too much of it bad," says Cassie Logan, narrator of this dramatic sequel to the 1977 Newberry Medal winner, "Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry." Cassie is bright, willful, often hotheaded. Observant and perceptive, she rages at the racial injustice she witnesses as she turns 11 in rural Mississippi during the 1930s.
"Let the Cricel Be Unbroken" is a powerful novel, marketed for young adults but capable of touching readers of any age. It focuses attention on large-scale issues and events as well as smaller happenings and personal emotions, interweaving the intimate details of family life and growing up with dramatic and chilling lessons on racism.
It is a book that balances by contrast. The strength, love, dignity, and integrity of the close-knit black community stand out in sharp distinction against the greed, corruption, cruelty, and hatred they face.
The year is 1935. Depression has crippled the country. Government crop control programs limit cotton production, increasing the hardship of sharecroppers and small landowners. The Logan family, black farmers, struggle to keep their land, a source of pride and independence.
Cassie's parents, David and Mary Logan, and her grandmother have instilled in their children a deep sense of pride and responsibility. The circle of the family is unbroken. Its love and unity nourishes and strengthens all of its members -- Cassie, her parents and grandmother, Stacey and her other brothers, as well as her uncle, and their farm hand.
But outside the protective family circle, Stacey, at 14, and Cassie must confront a harsher world. "There ain't no easy or pretty way to say it, and the sooner you learn how these things are down here, the easier it's gonna be on you!" says Uncle Hammer.
The lessons are hard: a foolish but innocent black boy receives the death sentence from an all-white jury for a murder comitted by white men; a vivacious black girl is made pregnant by the arrogant son of a white plantation owner; a black man is killed trying to organize a farmers' union to fight for the rights of sharecroppers and day laborers; white teen-agers terrorize and humiliate a black man whose daughter tried to pass as white; an old black woman is put off her land for attempting to register to vote.
Stacey and Cassie and their friends must learn to protect themselves in a society where only white people are protected by law. "White people were part of another world, distant strangers who ruled our lives and were better left alone," Cassie observes. Yet this is a book that counterbalances violence with love. Overpowering the bitter and dramatic examples of oppression and racism, the rich, strong love of the Logan family carries the story.Like "Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry," this is a celebration of black family strength and continuity.
It is also a story of emerging adolescence. Stacey strains to be grown, eager to help support the farms. His impatience causes him to act foolishly, and he is rescued only through his family's perseverence. Cassie struggles with maturity, wishing things could remain unchanged. She begins to learn what it means to be a black woman in the South. Though many of Cassie and Stacey's experiences happen because they are black, their growing pains and self-discovery are universal.
This story is shaped by Mildred Taylor's clear, smooth, and graceful language , which evokes the wide rolling fields and stands of trees, the wooden cabins warmed by fires; children adn adults alike come to life, each unique and charged with individuality. The dialogue is sharp and quick, filled with emotion and often with humor. Cassie relates the story with understanding, compassion, and vitality.
"Let the Circle Be Unbroken" draws us into the circle of an inspiring black family, nourishes us with their strength and love, and shows us their sustaining traditions, heritage, and community. This is a novel that has so much of what we need today: hard truth courageously told, deep love that binds and strengthens, dignity in the face of oppression, and warmth and humor rooted in compassion. The Logan's story will strengthen and satisfy all who read it.