By Awnali Mills
Do you ever follow a rabbit trail that leads you to unexpected places? I was researching an author and saw an interview she had with another author, who happens to be local. I wondered what the second author had written and if we had any in the library. Further research revealed a book that looked pretty interesting to me, so I checked it out. It was Brotherhood by A. B. Westrick.
In Reconstruction Richmond, fourteen year old Shad follows his brother Jeremiah out of the window one night, right into a Ku Klux Klan meeting. When pressed, Shad agrees to join, and finds that he quite likes it. There’s a lot of brotherhood, singing songs, laughing and joking. However, there are not-so-nice bits, like terrorizing black citizens. Shad could do without that. But once you’re in the Klan, you’re in. Period.
By accident, Shad meets Rachel, a young, educated black girl who is running a school. Shad is desperate for schooling. He longs to be able to read like his father did, and like his brother can, but the letters all flip around on him. Rachel and her teacher are able to help him make sense of the letters, but Shad is dealing with escalating conflicts in his life. He loves being at the school, but he cannot betray the Klan. When the two forces collide, Shad is caught in the middle. Will he betray the Klan and his brother, or let Rachel and the school children die?
Because I live in Richmond, I really enjoyed all the place names, and being able to visualize what was going on. Shad is believably conflicted, and an accurate representation of what it was like to be a young man during Reconstruction. Westrick deals unflinchingly with the racism and hatred that were festering in the South, something that might upset some readers. Shad knows that “coloreds” are ignorant and worthless—and he knows that they’re educated and kind. He struggles, bouncing between the two worlds of belief in ways that many teens will sympathize with. The book was definitely thought provoking, and would be great for classroom discussions—assuming that the thought police would allow it. Recommended for teens.