Witness

by Karen Hesse

The only Black residents of a small Vermont community in 1924 are 12-year-old Leanora... read more

The only Black residents of a small Vermont community in 1924 are 12-year-old Leanora Sutter and her father. Six-year-old Esther Hirsh and her father are the only Jewish people in the town. Both families become targets of the Ku Klux Klan in Karen Hesse’s compelling novel. This story, told through free verse poems in the voices of 11 characters, addresses the impact of hatred on its victims as well as the moral implications of those who commit violent actions and those who do nothing to stop them. In addition to the two girls, Hesse’s characters include a fire-and-brimstone preacher whose actions defy his teaching; the farmer who houses the Hirshes and who comes to love the little girl and admire her father, despite her discomfort with the fact that they are Jewish; a shopkeeper who becomes more and more involved with the Klan; the town constable, who is reluctant to get involved until events take an almost-tragic turn; and a teenager who is at first enamored of the Klan but later is unable to carry out their wishes. It can be a bit difficult to keep everyone straight. But a character list at the start of the novel, along with a photograph representing each fictional character, provides a helpful reference. The 11 characters, and the actions they take, affect one another deeply over the course of the story. It is in that ability to affect — and connect — that hope can be found in this novel set against the backdrop of racism and complacence. (Age 12 and older)

© Cooperative Children's Book Center, Univ. of Wisconsin - Madison, 2002

show less