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The Lions of Little Rock

Review

The Lions of Little Rock

Twelve-year-old Marlee is painfully shy. She’s comfortable chatting with her dad and older brother, and she adores her older sister, though she doesn’t seem to find much to say to her mom anymore. However, that’s the extent of her communication skills. Around others, she clams up and doesn’t say a word. The thought of speaking to anyone fills her with terror. But that’s all about to change thanks to a new girl at school named Liz. Liz invites Marlee to team up for a school project, and despite Marlee’s shyness, the two quickly become the best of friends. This new friendship gives Marlee the courage to attempt the scariest of tasks, including giving a speech in front of the entire class. Liz has a secret, though, that may destroy their friendship.

Liz is really an African American pretending to be white. She’s attempting this charade in order to attend the better school for white kids. Unfortunately, in 1958 Arkansas, this is a deadly offense. Someone discovers her dangerous attempt at a good education, and the truth spreads fast. Liz quickly disappears, and Marlee is wounded to her very soul. She decides she doesn’t care what skin color Liz has; she just wants her best friend back, so she goes in search of her.

Liz and Marlee try to hide their forbidden friendship, but it’s hard. Their parents know how dangerous it is, so they disapprove, and the local bully is out to get Liz for trying to pass as white. But all of this hate and injustice has opened Marlee’s eyes to a desperate problem, and she realizes things need to change. She joins a committee attempting to get the high schools reopened, which were closed when the government enacted integration of the kids. However, in order to make the much-needed changes, people need courage to speak out, and Marlee is learning just how to do that.

THE LIONS OF LITTLE ROCK is Kristin Levine’s second masterpiece, proving that she indeed is an amazing storyteller. She tackles some serious subjects in her new book, including racism and integration, and does so with grace and honesty. She also utilizes some powerful themes, including the power of friendship, facing one’s fears, taking a stand against a wrongdoing, and the fact that courage can be contagious. Furthermore, she weaves in some wonderful symbolism in her intriguing prose. Marlee creeps into the reader’s heart with her initial debilitating shyness, and then later with her growing courage and her compelling drive to make the world a better place. Liz is full of spunk and spirit, leaving readers longing to be her friend as well.

A bit of a warning: the author does include an offensive word a few times. It greatly upsets Marlee, and the malicious character who uses it does get punished in the end, so the word isn’t glorified in any way.

This historical fiction shines some light on a troubled past that Americans should never forget. Kristin Levine is a glowing gift to literature.

Reviewed by Chris Shanley-Dillman on January 5, 2012

The Lions of Little Rock
by Kristin Levine