It’s a tad premature to think about Newbery 2019 when we haven’t had Newbery 2018 yet, but I’ll say it now: this book is a contender for a year from now.
I knew it was Newbery material from the first pages, where I heard Rosa’s distinctive narrator voice and Ma Pearl’s high-quality admonishments. I picked up this book before I read the first book in the series, Midnight Without a Moon, which is a bit of a shame, because, well, MIDNIGHT WITHOUT A MOON IS A NEWBERY CONTENDER FOR THIS YEAR AND WHY HAVEN’T I HEARD TALK ABOUT IT but I digress. A Sky Full of Stars can be read as a standalone book.
We travel back to Mississippi in the 1950s rural south, where Rosa lives in a sharecropper house with her grandma, aunts, brother and cousins. She declined the offer to go up north to St. Louis and is wondering whether that was the right decision. All around her there is unaccounted violence towards blacks by white people, whether it’s the white jury’s decision not to convict Emmet Till’s kidnappers and murderers to a person who was murdered while pumping gas or attacked for attempting to register blacks to vote.
There’s tension in Rosa’s universe about what should be done about the violence: some, like Ma Pearl, believe there is nothing good to be won by fighting for rights and only things to be lost. Others, like her cousin Shorty, believe that the whites need a taste of their own intimidation tactics. Still others, like the preacher’s son Hallelujah, want to go the path of boycotts, peaceful activism, and self-determination that they hear about from people like Dr. T.R.M. Howard.
This book is so thoughtful, so precise, and so contemporary. It will make readers astonished and uncomfortable, hopefully not to the point of saying, “Well, it’s FICTION, so I know that never actually happened.” There were countless times I post-it noted my text just for moments to return to when I had a moment. Character development is rock-solid and characters are multi-dimensional. Jackson understands the right balance between which plot threads need resolution and which ones can be left dangling.
My one critique is that this story lacks a solid plot center and I think that developing readers will find that a little frustrating. I could see how this could be a strong choice for historical fiction and teacher-led readings in middle school, but I will hold judgment on whether this will be a big hit with the young readers I work with.
This is a must-buy for me, because it’s a fantastic book and it will find the right reader. My fingers are crossed that the two book set achieves a War That Saved My Life status in my classroom.