“We were up against a force more powerful than white folks and more lethal than a gator king. The color of a person’s skin alone could make one woman worth protecting, while it made another man fit to die.”
Before I took my African-American Literature course this semester, I had never heard of Zora Neale Hurston. But, soon after I read one of her pieces, she appeared in another class-my Literary Criticism class. And then, one of the students who took my reading interest survey mentioned Their Eyes Were Watching God, another book by Hurston. Finally, here she is, in fiction form, in this beautiful book by Victoria Bond and T.R. Simon. It’s not a biography, but it’s been approved by the Zora Neale Hurston Trust, which means they gave the storyline and details the thumbs-up, and it’s the only book about Hurston that has ever gotten it before.
Zora Neale Hurston was heavily involved in the Harlem Renaissance, a writer who was very interested in the lives of African-Americans after the Reconstruction. She wrote fiction, anthropological papers, a travelogue from her times in Haiti and Jamaica, and collected folk-tales from African-Americans at the turn of the 20th century. This book, Zora and Me, isn’t written by her, but instead, it is a fictional story about her as a young child, growing up in Eatonville, Florida.
I know I picked a really serious quote from the story, and I don’t want you to be misled: there are very light and tender moments in the text, too. Well, it’s pretty hard to categorize this book. Let’s start with the mystery part: Zora is a fantastic storyteller, and her best friends Teddy and Carrie (as well as everyone else in town) get pulled into her stories. Zora is convinced that a reclusive local is actual the Gator King, haunting the swimming hole and transforming back and forth from vicious alligator to human. When an elderly woman falls while fishing at the hole, Zora sees it as proof of the monster’s existence. Shortly afterwards, a man turns up dead, and Zora is convinced.
It gets dark at this point in the story, and we start untangling the gator mystery and instead find nothing but pure racism and hate. I almost wished it was a horrible alligator monster, because the prejudice in the story hits the children hard, shattering their innocence.
That said, the story has these mellow and tender overtones, especially when describing the friendships and family of the main characters. I really liked that part, and it lends a dreamy feel to the novel. The book seems lit up with fireflies (I’m really having trouble describing the atmosphere–maybe one of you will read it, too, and help me out!)-a little magical, a little creepy, a lot of complexities centered around race, family, home, and growing up. The book seems tailored to reading out loud, and is sure to spark a discussion on racism and hatred.
Book website: http://www.zoraandme.com
Bond, Victoria, and T.R. Simon. Zora and Me. Candlewick: MA, 2010. 170 pp. Ages 12 and up.
If you liked this book, try One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia, or Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm.