When 12-year-old Dit hears that there's a new postmaster coming to live in his small town of Moundville, Alabama, he is so excited - he's heard that the postmaster has a son who's just his age. So when he gets his first glimpse of Emma Walker, he is extremely disappointed - not only is she a girl, but she's a black girl, and she's all dressed up in a beautiful outfit, complete with shiny new shoes. She is not exactly his idea of the ideal playmate.
But little by little, Dit and Emma become friends. This despite the fact that the town's sheriff, a bully everyone calls Bigfoot, warns Dit away from spending time in Emma's company. Emma and Dit are good for each other in many ways. Dit helps a city girl get used to the big outdoors, teaches her how to swim and play baseball, shows her how to climb and dig - and is sincerely baffled when she disapproves of his shooting and killing birds and other critters with his slingshot.
Emma's influence on Dit is a bit more subtle. Sure, she helps him with his homework - she's a whiz at school, even though she has to travel far to a school for black kids instead of the nearby town school where Dit and the other white kids go. But she also makes his mind open up and move to uncomfortable new places, considering things that he'd never thought to question, things he'd just accepted as the way things were. He looks at his school friends and their behavior with new eyes, and he notices the way Bigfoot treats the town barber, who is black, and finds himself growing angry about that behavior.
I discovered this book through one of the mothers who is a regular attendee, along with her two adorable children, of the preschool storytime I host twice a month at my library. She mentioned that she'd written a children's book, and that the library owned a copy. Of course I immediately put it on hold, although I have to admit I'm always a little nervous about reading books by people I know. What if I didn't like it? I needn't have worried. After the first few pages I forgot all about the Kristin from storytime and fell into the world of 1917 Alabama. I loved Dit's voice and his honesty, and the fact that the story was told from his point of view, which made for an extremely powerful reading experience. And I positively adored Emma. She's smart and brave and stubborn, and would have been exactly the sort of best friend I'd have wished for when I was twelve. This is a powerful story about friendship and trust, and I highly recommend it.
The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had by Kristin Levine (G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2009)
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Becky's Books: "The characters. The dialogue. The story. Everything just right."
The Book Nut: "It's a remarkable book, from the voice -- Levine gets the Southern drawl without using dialect, and Dit's voice is so spot-on I could just picture him in my mind -- to the tackling of issues -- in this case race and racism in the South during the Jim Crow days -- without being heavy handed."
A Patchwork of Books: "This story is truly remarkable in its theme of friendship without boundaries. It is inspired by the author's family history, a wonderful aspect to the overall story, though my favorite part was the simple, yet incredibly complex relationship between Dit and Emma."