Monday, January 14, 2008

Marie the Teenage Prophet

The Book of Marie
by Terry Kay

Hi there, reading friends! Sorry I have been out of touch the past few days. We have been having problems with our home Internet connection. What a drag! Anyway, The Book of Marie is an engrossing read, an important story that is well told. It is partially set in a fictional Georgia town in 1954, just as Brown vs. the Board of Education was beginning to change the unjust system of racial segregation that had been so firmly entrenched in the South (as well as certain parts of the North, but we tend to forget that).

Marie Fitzpatrick moves to the town of Overton from Washington, D.C. at the beginning of her senior year of high school. She is appalled by the racism that she encounters in her new surroundings, and wastes no time in sharing her opinions with her peers. Some of the young people in Overton are not bad kids, but pretty clueless. Others are outright cruel, and Marie quickly finds herself isolated at school and pretty much everywhere else. Marie is one of those rare teens who senses that being just is more important than being liked. When she delivers her valedictory graduation speech, she foretells the ocean of change that is about to roll over the South. The speech makes her no friends, and shortly after graduation she leaves Overton for good. Marie is a wonderful character, but occasionally frustrating because her acerbic, sarcastic personality turns so many people away from her message - and it is a message that so clearly needed to be heard.

Most of Marie's story is told in flashbacks as Cole Bishop, the one boy who befriended her in her year in Overton, prepares to attend his 50th high school reunion and copes with a lot of complicated memories of and feelings about Marie. Although they never saw each other after graduation, Cole and Marie keep in touch for many years through lengthy, frank, and detailed letters.

This is not a perfect book. The writing can be clunky in places, and some of the dialogue (particularly between the adult Cole and his close friend Tanya) just sounds plain weird. The writer (who is from the South) does a better job of recreating the teenage world near the end of segregation than he does in filling out the character of the adult Cole. Something else that is annoying is that the book was obviously not well proofed by the publishing house. There are several spelling errors and a few grammatical ones, most of which are probably just typos, that should have been picked up by a proofreader or editor. That can be jarring.

In spite of its flaws, The Book of Marie is well worth the reader's time. The Civil Rights Movement is my favorite period of US history, and this novel gives us a glimpse into the minds of Southerners as they faced the end of life as they knew it. Without excusing the evils of Jim Crow, the book helps us see the humanity of all who lived through the drama of integration as it unfolded. If we are ever to forgive each other and reconcile as a nation, we have to be willing to understand what all of these liminal times were like for all who were involved. I also believe we have to recognize the fact that even people that we see as evil are God's children whether we like that truth or not. The Book of Marie tells a story of something that was inexcusably terrible, but also shows us how pockets of redemption emerged from tragedy.

This is kind of an obscure book. I had not heard of it or read any reviews of it or anything like that. E. found it and thought it was something I would like, so he got it for me for Christmas. He was right. I hope many people will read it.

What are some books that you have read that have helped you see into another time and/or place? Another Civil Rights novel that I loved was Four Spirits by Sena Jeter Naslund. A few years ago, Eldridge Cleaver's Soul On Ice was a thought-provoking read for me. I would love to hear of other books that have had a similar effect on people, so send me your ideas!

Reverent Reader


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