A Friendship for Today
Patricia C. McKissack
(Scholastic Inc., Aug. 16, 2008)
McKissack dishes up a palatable blend of fact and fiction in her semiautobiographical story of Rosemary Patterson's pivotal sixth-grade year (1954-55). The landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision closed the doors of Rosemary's colored school in Kirkland, Missouri, and dispersed students into two white elementary schools. Determined to prove she does not need remediation, Rosemary excels academically and refuses to be racially intimidated or stereotyped. An unlikely friendship with mean Grace Hamilton, labeled "white trash" by snobby classmates, opens Rosemary's eyes to shared experiences of prejudice, parental strife, peer pressure, and loneliness. Both girls develop a mutual respect for the hardships they face. Rosemary gets emotional support and comfort from storekeeper Mr. Bob, an ex-Tuskegee Airman; her independent, enterprising seamstress mother; her fair-minded and compassionate teacher; and Rags, a rescued, injured cat that finally emits a "meow." As her parents grapple with marital problems and her polio-stricken best friend, J.J., struggles to walk again, Rosemary learns the value of tolerance and perseverance. A wealth of historical references, from civil rights to polio vaccine to early TV, is embedded in the narrative. Readers will enjoy the protagonist's spunky, resilient response to adversity and her candid, often amusing observations of human nature.