The Summer We Got Saved
Pat Cunningham Devoto
Warner, 2005 (2005)
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Reviewed by Hilary Williamson
wo homecomings disrupt the rhythms of life in Bainbridge, Alabama, in the 1960s. The first to return is well-meaning, but often misguided, activist Aunt Eugenia from Berkeley, California. Her staunchly conservative Southern family anticipate a prickly reunion. Eugenia's elder niece Tina hero worships her aunt and parrots her point of view, but Tina's younger sister Tabitha (Tab) absorbs her grandfather's stories of family involvement in the Civil War and of cousin John Lester, one of the five Klu Klux Klan founders. The girls' father, Charles Rutland, is a struggling farmer with liberal views.
he second to return is a young woman, Maudie May, once Tab's childhood friend. They lost touch when Maudie was taken to Tuskegee, a clinic for polio treatment for blacks. Now wearing a leg brace and needing a crutch, she was trained at Tennessee's Highlander Folk School, '
where coloreds and whites live together without no fuss.
' There, she was recruited by Reverend Earl of the
Word of Truth Missionary Baptist Church
to run a voter-registration school. Though most of the congregation don't want her there, worrying that her presence will rock the boat and cause retribution, Maudie gradually gets close to old Miss Laura and her son Jessie, and begins to teach a trickle of students. They decide to make a statement via a float in the upcoming town parade.
unt Eugenia takes the girls on a trip, but doesn't tell their parents that it's to the Highlander Folk School, where black and white activists are trained to fight for integration. There, the girls bunk with sophisticated Dominique Calder, daughter of a divorced, black Civil Rights leader and a white Frenchwoman. She speaks French and has a superior attitude. Dominique and Tab alternate between misunderstandings and fighting with each other, and friendship, while Tina is attracted to the camp lifeguards. Dominique inveigles Tab to stow away on a bus heading for a lunch counter sit-in in Nashville, an experience that shows her a different reality than she has known all of her life so far.
ack at home, Charles Rutland joins his old friend, Reuben Rosenstein, in supporting a pro-integration candidate for governor, one who just might beat Wallace. This leads to an agonizing awakening for him as well. It's a wonderful, painful story, about people (in all shades) trying too hard. The resistance portrayed here - for different reasons from both sides of the racial divide - shows us that societal change is never simple. I recommend
The Summer We Got Saved
to teens as well as adults, as a thoughtful, funny, tragic, coming of age story about recognizing the evils of racism.
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