Listening for Leroy

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9780689822186: Listening for Leroy

Alice's father is the only doctor for miles around in rural Alabama of the mid-1950s where she, her parents, and her older brother, Ben, live. Her father, born in India where his parents were missionaries, is fearless. He tries constantly to make Alice fearless too, but without success. Ben has his own horse that he loves, but Alice, who is enrolled in a home-schooling program, has no one to play with and she is lonely. Leroy, the African-American who helps around the place, is the only person who seems to have time to talk with Alice. He teases her and they tell each other stories -- hers from the books she reads, his traditional tales.

At last the decision is made to move to a town in Tennessee where both Alice and Ben can attend good public schools. Alice is joyful, but trying to fit in and make friends is not what she had expected. From the first day, she seems different than everyone else, and -- most importantly -- she and her parents believe in racial equality among blacks and whites. When the subject comes up in school, the teacher asks the children who would stay, if blacks are admitted. Remembering Leroy, Alice raises her hand. After that she is shunned by all her classmates.

How Alice, whose only refuge is in books, comes to terms with her new life isat the heart of this deeply moving story of a shy girl adjusting to life in the South before desegregation.

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From Publishers Weekly:

Hearne (Eliza's Dog) resurrects landscapes, characters and events from her childhood to create this gentle, reflective coming-of-age novel. Divided into two sections, the first part of the story takes place in Alabama from 1954 to 1955. Isolated in the country and home-schooled by her liberal parents (her father is a physician from India and her mother a "Yankee" concert harpist), Alice has no friends her own age. Her only companions outside her family are her cherished volume of fairy tales and Leroy, the black man employed by her family to help run the farm as well as her father's medical clinic. Through Alice's experiences with Leroy, readers view the struggles of a deeply divided South; Leroy's storytelling?which often underscores the lessons gleaned from his own fight for freedom?sticks with Alice long after a pivotal scene in which he is run out of town and her own family consequently moves to Tennessee. There (in the novel's second section, from 1955 to 1956), Alice must attend public school where she desperately wants to fit in with the other fifth graders, but she knows that she will always be different (when she sees everyone else dressed in identical shoes, she realizes "she could stay on this playground a thousand years and still look strange"). Her unconventional opinions (e.g., her opposition to segregation), which are scorned by her peers, shed light on her compassionate nature. A montage of impressions crystallizes the essence of each major character, and the author's fluid prose subtly conveys Alice's revelations about herself, her family and a prejudiced society. Ages 9-12.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From School Library Journal:

Grade 5-8-Ten-year-old Alice's father is both physically and morally fearless in the segregated South of the 1950s. Mistakenly believing his position as the rural area's only physician cloaks his family and friends in protection and special influence, he objects when his young, black employee Leroy, is beaten by bullies. When the community condones this mistreatment of the young man, Alice's father sells his Alabama property and resettles the family in Tennessee. Here there is a school that meets her parents' standards and for the first time Alice begins attending classes with other children. Being intellectually advanced and having neither stylish clothing nor a mother who joins the "right" organizations, her social fate is sealed when she says during a classroom discussion that she would be willing to attend school with blacks. Stressed also by her father's insistence that she conquer fear as he does by handling snakes, getting back on horses after being thrown off, and climbing perilous rock cliffs, Alice develops headaches. Through it all and her eventual coming to terms with her new life, the wise words and tales told by Leroy whisper in her mind's ear. Hearne's Eli's Ghost (McElderry, 1987) handles the somewhat similar themes of interracial friendship and rigid social structures in a much more lively and humorous way. Well described, but slowly developed like the way of life it evokes, this book is for patient readers looking for a serious story.
Cindy Darling Codell, Clark Middle School, Winchester, KY
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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