Revolution by Deborah Wiles Book Review

Revolution by Deborah Wiles
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Release Date: May 27, 2014

It's 1964, and Sunny's town is being invaded. Or at least, that's what the adults of Greenwood, Mississippi are saying. Sunny is surprised to discover that the invaders aren't aliens though, but rather students who are coming to help register black voters. Dealing with her own problems back home with a stepmother, step siblings, a new grandmother, and a baby on the way, Sunny finds herself caught between her own selfishness and the complexities of the world outside her family.

As with her previous book in this 1960s series, Revolution is full of photographs, quotes, song lyrics, speeches, and biographies. This aspect of the book created a narrative all its own, spelling out the struggles going on in the black community in 1964. It is a visually stimulating reminder of what people went through to obtain voting rights and equal rights in the Jim Crow south.

The problem is that with such a rich historical backdrop, Sunny's personal story was simply mundane. Not quite a child, not quite a woman, Sunny is stuck between her childish obsessions, her desire for her mother's return, and a new understanding of race relations in her hometown. Now, although I understand that for a certain time we are all a bit naive in the way the world works and runs, it is like Sunny is absolutely clueless. As if she has never really noticed black people, that no one has ever talked about them in her home and if they have it has always been in a benevolent way. Even though violence is rippling in the air, she spends a good deal of her introspective time worrying over the absence of her mother who left when she was very very young.

The second narrator, an African American boy named Raymond would have done the story far more justice. I wanted to see more of the Freedom Schools, to really understand them. (something I ended up doing myself through a bit of internet research and youtube videos) Raymond was caught up in the moment, with Freedom Riders living in his own house. His parents didn't seem to agree on how to handle the whole registering to vote thing and Ray's very life is in danger. Instead though, Ray is only seen through the lens of a little white girl who lives across town. The few parts where he speaks are done in a voice that made him feel a bit ignorant and a lot impulsive. All Ray was, was a foil for Sunny to understand what is going on.

As stated earlier, the problem with writing about big historical events is that in fiction it is imperative that the event not overshadow the characters, otherwise you end up with a plot that lacks any kind of compelling narrative. Sunny's life simply wasn't interesting enough and it did make me wonder often, why this girl? Why her life? What makes her the most important person in this entire town to tell this story? Her step-brother, who is a bit older and a lot wiser, would have made a more interesting character to follow.  I found myself looking forward to those parts. Bored by Sunny's story, I also wished that the book itself had been a bit tighter, more compact. For all that though, Revolution was good in bringing life to the movement, especially through the documentary style pages.