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Frannie's world is separated by the highway. Her side is where the black families live, and her school is made up entirely of black children. That is, until a new kid arrives. With his long hair, pale skin and rather prophetic way of speaking, the boy soon gets the nickname "Jesus Boy," or simply "Jesus." Some children reject Jesus outright, telling him, "You need to get your white butt back across the highway." Others, such as Frannie's devout friend Samantha, view Jesus as a literal miracle worker, growing devastated when his ordinariness confounds their faith.

Frannie herself feels a sort of kinship with Jesus, partly because she remembers also being a stranger at school and partly because the boy, surprisingly, knows American Sign Language. Frannie's handsome, beloved older brother, Sean, is deaf, and Frannie has grown up always knowing sign language. As her brother grows older, though, Frannie begins to understand the extent of his difference, particularly when girls who are attracted to Sean's looks reject him once they learn of his disability.

Frannie's entire family is especially close. Her grandmother keeps the peace by (literally) wielding her Bible, offering stern faith and important lessons: "You just remember there's a time when each one of us is the different one and when it's our turn, we're always wishing and hoping it was somebody else." Frannie's father drives a truck but remains close to his wife and children during his weekends at home. Frannie's mother carries the sadness of having lost three children during pregnancy and infancy, but she lives in hope that her current pregnancy will result in a baby sibling for Frannie.

In the end, hope is one of the main themes in this slim novel packed with big ideas. Frannie's class reads an Emily Dickinson poem that contains the lines, "Hope is the thing with feathers / that perches in the soul." Frannie uses her vivid imagination to figure out what the words mean, ultimately discovering an optimistic approach to the future, an accepting outlook on difference and a unique perspective on faith.

Set against the music, politics and conflicts of the early 1970s, Jacqueline Woodson's exceptional new novel grounds universal ideas in a particular time and place.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on March 1, 2007

by Jacqueline Woodson

  • Publication Date: March 1, 2007
  • Hardcover: 118 pages
  • Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
  • ISBN-10: 0399239898
  • ISBN-13: 9780399239892