September 20, 2013

A brother’s painful choice

By A.B. Westrick
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It’s been two years since the Civil War ended, but the “Damn Yankees” are “still beating up on Virginia,” at least according to 14-year-old Shadrach Weaver. While many children’s novels take place during the War Between the States, A.B. Westrick’s debut novel, Brotherhood, offers a revealing glimpse of life during the often overlooked Reconstruction era. Set in Richmond, the former capital of the Confederacy, it opens as Shad’s older, good-for-nothing brother, Jeremiah, is arrested for the murder of a carpetbagger who moved south to open the city’s first "Colored Normal School."

The story then traces the events that led to the murder. After following Jeremiah on one of his evening escapades, Shad inadvertently becomes a member of the Ku Klux Klan. At first he relishes the seemingly playful camaraderie of the brotherhood and being part of a group that includes the city’s shop owners and sheriff.

The illiterate teen, who dreams of apprenticing in his grandfather’s tailoring business, begins teaching simple tailoring skills at a school in exchange for reading lessons. But if the Klan finds out this risky arrangement takes place in a Negro school, he and the students could all wind up dead.

Brotherhood is no Gone with the Wind as Westrick focuses on small-time farmers and tradesmen and their struggles during this time period. And as Shad grapples with the “familiar tone” of his black teacher and his surprising affinity for his black classmates, the author also doesn’t shy away from the truth about race relations during Reconstruction, making this a story for mature readers and ideal for parent and group discussion. The teen ultimately realizes that he’s growing up in a city and a nation reinventing itself. Shad’s spot-on dialogue and enlightening sentiments will be studied and savored for years to come.

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By A.B. Westrick
ISBN 9780670014392

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