People don’t believe me when I tell them that much of what I have learned about history was from fiction. But let’s be clear - I’m talking about well-researched, factually based, historical fiction. Of course, one must carefully filter the fact from the fiction and do additional research where the separation is difficult, but fiction generally engages this reader more than nonfiction, so I’ll take the lessons where they come.
I could (and should) thank many authors, but here’s a heartfelt thank you specifically for Deborah Wiles for the lessons she’s taught me. First it was the Cuban Missile Crisis in Countdown. Now it’s Mississippi in 1964 - Freedom Summer - in her second of three documentary novels, Revolution.
Revolution takes place in Greenwood, Mississippi. Depending on who you ask, the summer of 1964 was when the invaders came from the north or it was Freedom Summer when volunteers worked diligently to help African-American residents to register to vote.
Sunny is caught in the middle of the disagreement. Her grandmother holds strongly to segregation. Her father runs a grocery store that welcomes and employs numerous African-Americans. Her stepmother sees inequality and injustice. But historical fiction would be, well, nonfiction if it didn’t include some fiction. Sunny also struggles with relationships within her new family. Should she trust and respect her stepmother? What about Gillette, her new stepbrother? How does the extended family accept the new family additions, and what factors in the family’s past affect that acceptance?
Again, like in Countdown, scattered throughout the novel are bits of image-dominated nonfiction. Photographs, pamphlets, song lyrics, newspaper excerpts, and signs are found throughout, usually in 5-10 page chunks every few chapters. Some are meant to specifically support the story such as images of volunteers working with unregistered African-Americans, Freedom Schools, and protesters being arrested. Other nonfiction parts help readers understand more about the time in history like “Whites Only” segregation signs, the Beatles, and soldiers in Vietnam.
There’s much to learn about our country from these three months in Greenwood, Mississippi, but know that the most powerful lessons from Revolution come from Sunny. As she wrestles with the changes happening in her family and her world, so do readers. And both come out changed at the end of Freedom Summer.
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