Gloriana Jane Hemphill wants everyone to know that her birthday and her summer have officially been ruined. The town council has closed the community pool until further notice to “repair cracks” in the opening of Monitor reviewer Augusta Scattergood's debut novel, Glory Be. Only, as Glory, who has swum every inch of the pool, knows, the only problem is in people's heads.
It's “freedom summer" in 1964, and the Hanging Moss town council would rather everyone swelter in the heat of a Mississippi July than let black and white people swim together. Glory, who always celebrates her July 4 birthday with the parade and a party at the pool, is taking integration very personally.
Over the course of the novel, Glory, who makes friends over Nancy Drew with Laura Lampert, whose mother is a civil rights worker, finds herself looking at her hometown with new eyes.
Some reviewers have compared "Glory Be" to "The Help," since Glory and Jesslyn largely have been raised by their African-American maid, Emma, who is sheltering some of the freedom workers in her own home. “Ever since our mama died, before I could hardly remember, Emma'd been worrying over Jesslyn and me. Eat your green beans. Stay inside with the shades pulled down when it's hot. Watch crossing that street.” But Scattergood herself cites an earlier influence, Harper Lee's classic "To Kill a Mockingbird." (Unfortunately, their dad, Brother Joe Hemphill, is too minor a presence to fill the gigantic shoes of Atticus Finch.)
Among those who don't like change are her best friend, Frankie, who can't understand why Glory would befriend a Yankee who drinks from the “wrong” water fountain, and his bigoted father and older brother. When Frankie talks about not going to school if it's integrated, Glory declares that “the dumbest thing I ever heard of. Not going to school just because of who's sitting next to you? What about mean Donnie Drake who steals your homework? Or Kenny … he smells like a billy goat and picks his nose. But you sit next to him.”
Besides trying to shake some collective sense into the town, Glory is dealing with some unpleasant changes of her own, since her teenage sister, Jesslyn, has discovered boys and no longer has time to play Junk Poker or talk together in the room they share.
Scattergood grew up in Mississippi, and you can practically feel the steam rising off the pages of “Glory Be.”
Glory learns when to speak up and when she should keep other's secrets over the course of the summer. She and Jesslyn are well-rounded characters, but some of the others, such as Laura, get short shrift, and I wish Emma had been more front-and-center.
“Glory Be” offers a window into a tumultuous time in American history for elementary school readers, with an outspoken, good-hearted girl as tour guide.