02 June 2010

‘Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry’ Book Review

We read ‘Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry’ in school this year. Needless to say after you've read the review, I wasn't too fond of it. Not least because I felt like we were being insulted by being presented with a book far below the reading standard of our class (the reading level is 9-12 years old!). However, our teacher maintained that some students still had difficulty with it. 
I also have a bias of being subjected to slave literature and racism literature consistently throughout primary school in America to teach me the valuable lesson that enslaving other humans seems not to be a smart idea, though many people got (are getting) away with it. I may not condone slavery, but I still feel this is propaganda, even if it is the accepted truth.
I would have been far more receptive to a novel about Irish people, possibly the immigrants in Boston, New York, and England who were discriminated against, as long as we're on racism and discrimination. We do go to school in Ireland, yes?
Just one more disclaimer...I have not read the other two books about the Logan family, so I don't pretend to base my opinions on the entire "series." This is coming from the perspective of reading a single novel.
Andddd here it is!

A book set in Depression Era America, where a family struggled to keep their land and keep together amid many hardships. Sound familiar? ‘The Grapes of Wrath?’ No this novel is ‘Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry’ by Mildred Taylor.
The story is set in Mississippi where the Logan family is discriminated against because they are black. Besides the fact that this topic has been virtually exhausted, and one more novel about racism in the south, or racism in the north, or slavery in America, can’t be too much better than all the forerunners like ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ and ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin,’ one has to wonder at Taylor’s motivation for writing the novel. She says herself that the novel is based on stories her father told her as a child. Perhaps the rest of us would have benefited more had they stayed unpublished.
The novel is told through the point of view of a nine-year-old child, Cassie Logan. Successful, well-written, and thought-provoking novels like ‘The Boy in the Stripped Pyjamas’ have pulled a point of view like this off extremely well. However, Taylor uses language like ‘…I stood up dusting my bottom…’ amid large words like ‘…emaciated-looking…’ that even a well-educated nine-year-old is unlikely to know.
The plot? Well let me put it this way; it is like climbing a hill where each time you think you are nearing the top, you see there is another small hill, and then another, and when you finally scale the summit, you find that it is all a huge disappointment. You can’t see for miles, and looking back the way you came, you feel only a sense of regret for the wasted time you spent climbing.
Somehow each time the children are singled out by a white person they find a way to get back without getting caught. When they are splashed continually by the Jefferson Davis school bus, they dig a ditch to stop it in its tracks. They are not caught of course, nor are they later when Cassie beats up a white girl for forcing her to step into the road.
Cassie’s brothers are somewhat stereotypical; there is her older bother Stacey, still a child but trying to be a man, younger Christopher-John, who is learning to make his own decisions, and impeccable Little Man, who must always be clean.
Taylor uses dialogue very effectively as slang and confusing phrases are kept to a minimum. However, I doubt it was too much of a challenge to her, being born in Mississippi. The only other good point are her descriptions such as ‘…the narrow sun-splotched road wound like a lazy red serpent…’ which are beautifully executed but don’t add much to characterization or the plot, the main drives of this novel.
Each major conflict is not resolved in a realistic manner for the 1933 time frame. Then along comes the end, which just leaves you wondering what all the build-up was about. Mildred Taylor can certainly build up the tension, but she releases it more like a slow leak than a big burst. The end is the only major event that is solved in a historically correct fashion, in my opinion. It is as if, by writing the novel about growing up, Taylor felt the only way to achieve a ‘big-bang’ ending was to let Cassie see the world through rose-coloured glasses right until the very last page.
The message of the book is; life is always fair until it isn’t. Everything works out at first, then one time it doesn’t, and you finally realise that all the other times something had to give, but you just couldn’t see it because you were a child. It’s okay now though, because you’re old enough to worry about taxes, and ponder the fleeting nature of dust and the permanent nature of racism.
The bad points about this book far outweigh the good, and I have to say that readers who have enjoyed other books written about the same time and with similar themes are likely to be grossly disappointed.
The only people I would recommend to read this book are those ‘tired men’ described by G. K. Chesterton, who said, ‘There is a great deal of difference between an eager man who wants to read a book and the tired man who wants a book to read.’ 

I don't pretend my views are fair or kind, but they are honest as far as honest about my opinions can go.
I would also like to say that I loved 'The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas', enjoyed 'Uncle Tom's Cabin', and didn't really like 'To Kill a Mockingbird,' though that might change with a re-read.
Now...after that lovely review, if you would like to buy the book (or leave a particularly nasty comment on Amazon, which I don't suggest), here you go. 
I give it:

Plot: **
Characters: ****
Voice: ***
Dialogue: ***
 Which means:

No comments: