Hiding in the Light
by Cy Emery

"From uptown to downtown, excitement rode shotgun with danger on Franklin Street; fights, stabbings, shootings, muggings were common. Drugs, alcohol, prostitution, gambling—parts of the landscape."

Twelve-year-old Joseph Graham is athletic and poor, just like dozens of other kids who attend segregated schools in Reservoir City, Florida. The legacy of slavery still bubbles under the surface of everyday life in Jefferson Quarters, the poorest neighborhood around. Plus, Joseph is different, so light-skinned that he’s called Casper, Space Ghost, House Nigger, and many other pejoratives by haters at his school and on the street. And he’s so smart that his proper speech and big vocabulary make him stand out even more. Even his crew makes fun of him sometimes. It’s bad enough growing up in the South but even harder to face discrimination on your own turf. His mom says people are just jealous of his good looks and talent, but Joe figures he’s just an oddball—an oddball in the jungle, where you’re either predator or prey, and there’s no sense in trying to understand yourself.

Author Emery captures well the angst and confusion of mixed-race youngsters facing adverse circumstances in this sometimes rambling but highly detailed coming-of-age tale. The first-person narrative is intimate but limiting as readers are restricted to Joseph’s viewpoint when it might be expedient to understand better what the other vividly crafted characters are experiencing. At times, the dialogue seems tame or stilted considering the setting and characters’ rough edges, but the tension between Joseph’s inherent goodness and the cynical nature of his environment are portrayed well and make for an emotional rollercoaster that grips readers as they ride side-by-side with him and his friends. The characters’ struggles are portrayed with authenticity and just the right authorial mix of compassionate neutrality and prescriptive judgment. Ultimately, Emery demonstrates that kids thrive and develop self-esteem when love is on their side.

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