Guardian

by Julius Lester

Julius Lester tackles the brutal subject of mob lynching in a slender novel that... read more

Julius Lester tackles the brutal subject of mob lynching in a slender novel that reads like a one-act play. Set in the Deep South in 1946, the story is told from the perspective of a white teenage boy. Fourteen-year-old Ansel is beginning to notice things—his feelings for the pastor’s daughter Mary Susan, for example, and how his friendship with Willie, a Black teen who works at his father’s store, is frowned upon. Ansel’s understanding of himself and his community is radically transformed after Mary Susan is raped and murdered by the cruel, arrogant son of the wealthiest family in town. Ansel stumbled onto the crime in its final moments, but before he can make a statement the finger is pointed at Willie’s father, a gentle disabled man. Knowing that his friend’s father is innocent, Ansel frantically looks for justice, only to be blockaded by his father: “ 'I don’t like this anymore than you do. Don’t you think I don’t know it’s wrong? … You’re going to come with me to get the rope, and we’re going to stay around and watch whatever happens, whether we want to or not.’ ” Willie’s father is hung from a tree in the town’s center by an angry mob. In the aftermath, Ansel makes his escape from a father and town he can no longer bear with the help of his mother, a browbeaten woman determined to free her son from a future in that place. In the story’s epilogue, it is clear Ansel never truly escapes from the horror he witnessed as a young man. An author’s note, appendix, and bibliography on the topic of lynching conclude this powerful novel. (Age 13 and older)

© Cooperative Children's Book Center, Univ. of Wisconsin - Madison, 2009

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