By Nina Revoyr

The Short Take:

This tragic tale of extreme racism in a small Wisconsin town in 1974 really shook me up. The events are experienced by a half-Japanese little girl but considered anew by her adult self. It’s a powerful tale of loyalty gone wrong and the insanity of blind hatred.


This is not a gentle book. It’s hard edged and clear eyed about racism in an all-white, tight-knit community that can’t even accept little Michelle, a half-Asian child that’s the granddaughter of a prominent and respected citizen. When an African-American professional couple comes to town, pretty much all hell breaks lose.

Revoyr wisely references the 1974 Boston riots over school desegregation in her novel. Even then I had trouble accepting racism this strong at that point in time (in my native South, we were past that stage by then). So I asked Revoyr about it and she had the solid background to substantiate her plot.

Despite her ethnicity, Michelle is adored by her grandfather, Charlie. However, his tolerance reaches no further and he is the stalwart center of the town’s unbending racial attitudes. For him and his friends, there is no place in their community for African-Americans.

Small town loyalty is the second pillar supporting Revoyr’s plot. Alliances are so strong they hold even against evidence of child abuse: Lifelong friends are deemed simply incapable of such actions.

Ten-year-old Michelle cannot understand a lot of the attitudes and events rocking her world. For that reason, including the voice of the adult Michelle brings welcome perspective to the narrative. She can articulate the feelings a child has but simply cannot explain.

Though it is a set in the past, this book has great relevance today. This powerful novel reminds us that sometimes what we consider to be strengths are actually flaws. Certainty can easily be a liability. This is a worthy read. It reminds of us what was and helps us to see what is.

A Little Plot:

As the only non-white around, Michelle is either picked on or ignored by almost everyone in Deerhorn, where she has been abandoned to her grandparents. Her life is filled with fear, except when she is beside her adored grandfather or alone with her dog, Brett.

When a black couple is brought into town by the medical clinic, the town’s focus shifts and tensions rise to code red. She is a nurse, he a needed substitute teacher. The townsfolk are aghast .

As her grandfather is a leader, Michelle’s home becomes the hub for plots to drive them away. She doesn’t understand what is driving her grandfather and his friends and instead feels a bond with this hated couple.

Tragedy is inevitable.

If you want to know more about Nina Revoyr, this book, or her other novels, click here. And look for this book. It will hurt but it’s worth it.

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