The Lions of Little Rock Hardcover – Jan 5 2012
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"Creating a book that reads as though written in one effortless breath requires a rare talent...Readers will root for a painfully shy girl to discover the depths of her own courage and find hope in the notion that even in tumultuous times, standing up for the people you love can’t be wrong. Satisfying, gratifying, touching, weighty — this authentic piece of work has got soul." --The New York Times Book Review — The New York Times Book Review
About the Author
Kristin Levine, the author of ALA Best Book for Young Adults The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had, lives in Alexandria, Virginia.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
This situation turned on its head when Marlee befriended a new girl at school named Liz. Liz could somehow understand Marlee and even encourage her to give an oral presentation before the entire class. Surprisingly though, Liz stopped coming to school one day when word got out that she was a light-skinned African American trying to pass as white in an all-white junior high school.
Just a year after the "Little Rock Nine" had courageously integrated the high school, the elementary and junior high schools remained segregated and racial tensions had led to actual closings of the public high schools. Marlee now had a very good reason to find her voice and speak out so she could try to get her friend back.
This skillfully-crafted novel for young adults does an excellent job communicating what it was like to come of age in such a racially charged setting. Along the way the book covers important concepts in economics, especially the economics of education and racial discrimination in the provision of public services. Adding to the uniqueness of the book is its focus on Little Rock in the year after forced integration of the high schools, a year that garnered less coverage in the history books but one that encapsulated further noteworthy events related to integration and social cohesion.
Levine has blended a great story of friendship and bridging the gap between childhood and tween-dom with an historical period in America that deserves more attention. She focuses on the barriers to education that all families faced in Little Rock, regardless of race. In the wake of the bravery of The Little Rock Nine, the town is divided between those who want segregation to remain and those who are pro-integration. Many families remain divided as well until the threat of violence realigns their good sense to see beyond skin color in order to realize the beginnings of equality (however small). While middle schools and elementary schools stayed open (and segregated), high school students were shut out of an education for the 1958-59 school year due to political bickering over the issue of integration. Many families sent children to live with relatives to continue schooling including, Marlee's sister, Judy.
Marlee's character is looking to build a better world not only for herself but for the people that she holds dear, those in her life who have taken the time to know her and stand by her. From them and the encouragement they give her, Marlee learns to stand on her own and to finally raise her voice (albeit productively). While some of the events seem far-fetched (ahem, a 12-year-old finding a sack of still-charged dynamite), Levine maintains with more of a writer's will than historical aplomb that "perhaps it could have happened." Anything could happen. Lucky for the reader, Levine stretches the confines of an historical reality to make way for appropriate fictional action. The friendship between Marlee and Liz feels comforting and real, the way a young friendship should be--someone to talk to, confide in and break the rules for (or with). Even though there was much social tumult in their young lives, one still gets the impression that Marlee and Liz have maintained most, if not all, of their innocence, curiosity and belief of the goodness that's still possible in this world. This is something that kids today need more of, but it seems as if it's taken away at an ever-increasingly earlier age or it's never really felt at all.
My real gripe with The Lions of Little Rock is the cover. The imagery doesn't give a potential reader much incentive to check-it-out, nor does the puke-yellow color add, well, much at all. The title itself is even a stretch for me. The lions, and even the zoo, do wind and weave into the storyline but that particular caveat seems more important to Levine than it ever will be to the reader (on the dedication page, Levine acknowledges her mother and thanks her "for telling [her] about the lions.") In the author's note, we also learn that Levine's mom grew up in Little Rock, presumably hearing lions. How close does one have to live to a zoo to hear the lions? I'm presuming pretty close, but Levine never makes it clear. So, would lions on the cover work? Maybe not. Should "Lions" in the title work? Maybe not, but it's catchy nonetheless. While I'm at it, I would love to see a map of Little Rock on the frontispiece (including fictional locations in the story) to bring the concept of "a town divided" to the forefront. To be sure, this is a want but I think it would resonate with young readers to incorporate an historical artifact to balance the fictional elements in the plot.
This is a great work of historical fiction. A perfect complement to black history month, or for readers who need a little incentive to stand up and stand proud in life.
Ages 10 & up.
The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine is a remarkable book about a fantastic girl who is braver than she knows. I loved watching Marlee stand up for what she believes in, and she definitely tried to make the world a better place. It's an excellent book for people of all ages, and I think kids in fourth grade and up will especially relate to Marlee and Liz. The book makes history come alive, and it made me want to clap and cheer for all of the people who have broken and continue to break races barriers and help people see that we are all humans. I found myself nervous about some of the situations Marlee found herself in, and I couldn’t stop thinking about the characters when I finished the book. I was totally engrossed in this one because the characters are easy to relate to, and I felt like I knew them. I really like Marlee and think she has many qualities that make me want to be friends with her. Without a doubt, this is a story that will make you want to go out and change the world, and it will definitely make people want to be kinder! If you have not read it, I highly recommend it. This story will remind you how far we've come and how each step forward is a step in the right direction.
The book is an informative sequel to Carlotta Wall's A Mighty Long Way, which I highly recommend. Integration in my high school didn't happen until after I graduated, which was 1960. I didn't recall the Little Rock school closures in 1959 and the grassroots campaign to re-open them. In that respect the book is engaging even as an adult read.
I did have a little trouble with the pat "teenage" story, but am not familiar with that genre. I'd like to know what young readers think of it and hope I can get my granddaughter to read it. Certainly Melee and Liz were strong characters, but the rest of the cast seemed a bit stereotyped. Least convincing to me were the baddies, JT and his brother Red. They got in trouble with the police for throwing eggs at a house on Halloween? That was expected and accepted behavior when I was a kid. But later when they engage in life-threatening racist actions, the police do nothing? That I could believe, but not the egg incident. Also there was a hint that the boys' father abused the mother, but we didn't get a follow-up on that.
I did enjoy seeing Marlee change and grow from the very early chapters, and was especially pleased when she turned down JT in spite of his transformation at the end. Most of all, I liked the message that even young people can make a difference, or maybe ESPECIALLY young people can make a difference when it comes to overcoming prejudice. I've never said this before about a book, but I'd like to see it made into a movie.
Dana Bagshaw, Santa Cruz, CA
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