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My Year in the Middle

Review

My Year in the Middle

MY YEAR IN THE MIDDLE provides readers a glimpse into Lu Olivera’s sixth grade year; the year is 1970 and Lu lives in Red Grove, Alabama. Lu is small, quiet, and obedient; she likes to fly under the radar both at school and at home. However, circumstances, both in Lu’s life and in her surrounding world, provide opportunities and to some extent force Lu to be noticed.
 
Lu’s sixth grade year is the first year that the schools in Red Grove, Alabama have been desegregated. This action has resulted in a great deal of tension in the schools and throughout the community. Although desegregation has been mandated the unspoken rule and expectation is that blacks and whites don’t mix or interact with each other. Lu, and her family, are from Argentina and feel differently about the racial divide, which puts Lu in the middle. At school all of the white kids sit on one side of the classroom and all of the black kids sit on the other side, Lu and a few others sit in the middle, marking the dividing line.

"MY YEAR IN THE MIDDLE is the best kind of historical fiction...it has elements that will appeal to lots of different kinds of readers, including shy ones, athletes, activists, youngest siblings and children of immigrants."

While Lu is comfortable in this middle or neutral position the political climate of the day does not allow for her to stay there. She begins to discover things about her former and current friends and she realizes that perhaps there are better friends to have on the other side of the dividing lines. Events at school push Lu to these realizations, but so do political and other events in the community and state. During MY YEAR IN THE MIDDLE the contentious campaign for governor of Alabama is playing out between ex-governor George Wallace, a staunch segregationist, and the current governor, Albert Brewer, who is more liberal in his thinking on integration. The governor’s race was dividing the state, communities, and even families.
 
In my opinion, MY YEAR IN THE MIDDLE is the best kind of historical fiction as it provides a window into an historical time period through the eyes of someone who is living through it and it does so without the benefit of hindsight. What I mean by that is that the author, in this case Lila Quintero Weaver, doesn’t impose what we now know about the events of that time period on the time in the novel; for example, the outcome of a political contest is known by the author, but in the novel it is not written about in a predetermined way. Lu is a sixth grader in 1970 and views the world through this lens as opposed to the world being viewed through the adult eyes of Weaver. As a result, Lu doesn’t fully understand everything that is going on and makes missteps, such as attending a Wallace rally because of the activities, rather than thinking about the message of the candidate and the implications of her attendance.
 
I would recommend MY YEAR IN THE MIDDLE to a wide audience as I believe that it has elements that will appeal to lots of different kinds of readers, including shy ones, athletes, activists, youngest siblings, and children of immigrants. In addition, the big topics of MY YEAR IN THE MIDDLE, such as divisions in a community and amongst people, remain startling relevant and important.

Reviewed by Aimee Rogers on December 12, 2018

My Year in the Middle
by Lila Quintero Weaver