Little Rock, Arkansas, 1958. Marlee is a shy and introverted twelve- year-old. She loves maths and prime numbers, but she finds it really hard to talk to anyone except for her family.
She has got a special relationship with her elder sister, Judy, who pushes her to talk to people, but especially to look for real friends, someone she will have something in common with, and to stop letting herself being bossed around by Sally, her supposed current best friend.
One day, a new girl arrives at her school. Her name is Liz and it seems to be the friend that Judy was hoping that Marlee would find.
They start a school project together, where Marlee will have to give a speech, right in front of the class, about natives of Arkansas, and Liz manages, not without a huge effort, to convince her to do it, demonstrating that she really cares about her shy friend.
"It's important to face your fears," said Liz. " It makes you a better person."
Things continue improving in Marlee's life till the day Liz, suddenly, disappears from school, apparently without any reason.
In the meantime Little Rock's high school is being kept closed by the local governor to protest against the new Integration Laws and to avoid white students from mixing with Negroes.
It's President Eisenhower's time and many southern States are struggling to preserve their way of life. It's all about states' rights and segregationists against integrationists.
So, due to this tense situation, Judy is forced to move to her granny's house to be able to go to school, leaving Marlee without her friend nº1.
At least she still has Liz by her side, but the same day of the presentation, Liz doesn't show up.
And it's awfully hard for Marlee to discover why. What happened was that Liz, taking advantage of her light skin and straight hair was signed up by her mum for the school for white people to get a better schooling and life opportunities.
In some way, she had been discovered to be a Negro and therefore, to avoid any persecution for her and her family, she had to disappear.
At that time Little Rock had a Negro neighborhood with its Negro church, cinema etc.
The KKK was generally accepted and black people were harassed despite the new integrationist laws.
Despite this environment, Marlee, after a first moment of feeling betrayed, decides that her friendship with Liz must go on, even secretly.
This decision will bring very nice moments but also a lot of problems and dangerous situations.
I'm not telling you anything else about the plot because it's really worth reading the book to find out for yourself what happens.
I enjoyed this book so much!
First of all because historical fiction is one of my favorite genres. It takes you to another historical moment, in a different place, with unknown people and their lifestyle.
You can live another life and at the same time learn from it as it were your own experience.
The characters are really complex and the first person narrative style is deeply involving. It wakes up the ten year-old inside you.
It's easy to identify yourself with Marlee, blushing with her when she almost falls on her secret love's knees at the football match, or suffering with her when she has to put up with Red's bullying and racism, without been able to do anything to protect Liz.
And you also worry about her secret friendship being reported.
This book will dramatically increase the sense of justice naturally carried in every child.
Your children, as Marlee, will also learn a good life lesson, explained by the Maths' teacher.
The world is not straightforward, and even if adults tell kids that if they do something good they will get that good result they're expecting, most of the time it's more likely a long complicated equation: people have to break it down into smaller parts to factor it.
Winning the referendum about integration was the first step, and not the end of the struggle as Marlee had hoped, of a long walk on the path of solving the world's problems.
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