Our family had the pleasure of living in North Little Rock for 3 years. I met my wonderful friend, V, there and experienced Southern life for a short period. One of my favorite first memories was trick-or-treating in flip flops with my children. Growing up in Minnesota I'd spent many a Halloween bundled in winter coats and boots.
In 2007 the Little Rock Nine celebrated their 50th anniversary but before that Commemorative Civil Rights stamps were released and several events occurred that we attended, including a movie premier with Minnijean Brown Trickey. My husband made it to the dedication of these striking statues (above photo) on the capital grounds commemorating their journey. Anytime we walked to see these statues I always felt an overwhelming sense of fear for what these mere teenagers faced everyday.
The Lions of Little Rock (2012) takes place the year after that difficult year of integration at Central High School, when emotions were just as high. Integration did not go as planned; neither side had won leaving both sides bitter. Many of the high schools closed instead of withstanding another attempt at forced integration.
Synopsis from Penguin:
Two girls separated by race form an unbreakable bond during the tumultuous integration of Little Rock schools in 1958 Twelve-year-old Marlee doesn't have many friends until she meets Liz, the new girl at school. Liz is bold and brave, and always knows the right thing to say, especially to Sally, the resident mean girl. Liz even helps Marlee overcome her greatest fear - speaking, which Marlee never does outside her family.
But then Liz is gone, replaced by the rumor that she was a Negro girl passing as white. But Marlee decides that doesn't matter. Liz is her best friend. And to stay friends, Marlee and Liz are willing to take on integration and the dangers their friendship could bring to both their families.
A Halloween quote:
"Howdy , cowpoke!"
I turned and saw a cowgirl with a leather skirt, chaps, a fringed jacket, hat and bandanna over her face. Beside her stood a little kid dressed as a horse, with a full mask over his head.
"Wow," I said. I recognized Liz's voice, even if I couldn't see her face. "You look great!"
"Granny can sew," she said. "Too bad every day isn't Halloween. We could go anywhere we wanted."
"You're not supposed to talk to your white friend," said Tommy.
"Shhh," said Liz. "Horses don't talk. Besides, I told you I'd give you half my candy." (116-117)
The friendship between Liz and Marlee springs up naturally at school and the two enjoy each other's company, fitting together like two parts of a puzzle. Through their eyes integration is an easy choice but the world is filled with haters and Liz and Marlee run into many of them. After being banned by both families to meet they conspire to see each other anyway at the zoo. It's tough in the face of adversity to stick to each other but they do the best they can under their complicated circumstances.
I appreciated feeling at home in the Little Rock setting, could picture the zoo, Philander Smith College, and the Central High School area. The Lions of Little Rock is Kristin Levine's second historical fiction novel about race. Her first book, The Best Bad Luck I've Ever Had is about the friendship between Harry and Emma in Alabama.