With so many superb coming-of-age novels set within the African-American struggle for freedom and equality, it might seem daunting for an author to attempt to join the ranks of Mildred Taylor and Christopher Paul Curtis.
Yet no bookshelf is too crowded to make room for Shana Burg’s finely crafted debut novel A Thousand Never Evers. Burg draws from an emotionally wrenching history to create an original story that teaches without ever getting preachy.
Twelve-year-old Addie Ann Picket lives in the small town of Kuckachoo, Miss., in 1963, and expects her biggest challenge this year will be facing Mrs. Jacks at the junior high school. Addie Ann’s got a whole dollar to spend (her elementary-school graduation gift) and she must decide what color dye will best brighten up her back-to-school dress.
So she ventures with her brother across the railroad tracks where “everything seems whiter and brighter, and I don’t mean just the people who live here.”
Along with her cat, Flapjack, who comes running when Addie Ann calls, readers will readily follow this thoughtful and courageous girl as she confronts events much worse than a demanding new teacher. A seemingly trivial act places her and her family at the center of a dangerous controversy that reflects the course of history and may well transform the fabric of their small town.
Ultimately, Addie Ann gains an understanding of her own personal history and finds courage when she needs it most.
Threaded with pearls of wisdom and seamlessly integrated metaphors, “A Thousand Never Evers” is written with the authority of experience. Burg begins with a Note to Readers sharing a formative experience of her own as a Jewish girl in seventh grade. Inspired by her father’s role as a lawyer in the civil rights movement and drawing from a wealth of historical research, Burg writes with the authenticity and immediacy that bring historical fiction to life.
With good storytelling at the core of the book, and historical facts and events woven into the fabric of the tale in a natural, unfeigned manner, “A Thousand Never Evers” seems destined to become a bright star in the constellation of lovingly written favorite novels passed around among generations of readers.
Enicia Fisher writes about children’s books.