“Don’t you let how nobody treats you in this world make you think that you ain’t worthy,” 12-year-old Henry’s grandfather tells him. It’s one of the many valuable lessons waiting to be discovered in Karyn Parson’s absorbing middle grade debut, How High the Moon, about a trio of African-American cousins trying to find their place in Alcolu, South Carolina, amid the turmoil of 1944 America and the Jim Crow South. Henry, 11-year-old Ella and 14-year-old Myrna all live with their Poppy and Granny. The standout narrator here is biracial Ella, who yearns to know her father’s identity and worries about the colorism she experiences as a result of her light skin tone. Ella soon joins her mother in Boston, where she’s working in the Naval Yard as a shipfitter while trying to make it as a jazz singer. Ella is excited by the prospect of living with her mom, and she’s eager because “Up there, colored folks could go anywhere they wanted.”
Parsons sensitively tackles important issues by weaving in real historical figures and details throughout this story. For example, Myrna has a crush on George Stinney, the 14-year-old African-American boy who was executed in Alcolu after being wrongfully convicted in the murder of two young white girls.
You may recognize Parsons as the actress who portrayed Hilary Banks opposite Will Smith on the 1990s sitcom “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” but with How High the Moon, she proves her talent as an author, adroitly packing plenty of plot, characterization and feeling into this story. Begging worthy comparisons to One Crazy Summer and Brown Girl Dreaming, How High the Moon heralds an exciting new voice in historical fiction for young readers.