I read Countdown by Deborah Wiles when it came out and loved it. I loved the documentary style format (with some reservations) and the story. I highly anticipated the release of the companion novel, Revolution. It was well worth waiting for and is a powerful and moving story.
It's 1964, and Sunny's town is being invaded. Or at least that's what the adults of Greenwood, Mississippi are saying. All Sunny knows is that people from up north are coming to help people register to vote. They're calling it Freedom Summer.
Meanwhile, Sunny can't help but feel like her house is being invaded, too. She has a new stepmother, a new brother, and a new sister crowding her life, giving her little room to breathe. And things get even trickier when Sunny and her brother are caught sneaking into the local swimming pool -- where they bump into a mystery boy whose life is going to become tangled up in theirs.
Revolution chronicles the events that took place in Mississippi 40 years ago when the "invaders" came, groups of students from all over the country for Freedom Summer. Their goal was to help register black voters and teach in Freedom schools. Many of them were arrested and, three ended up missing their burned car found making national news. In this crucial and tense time in Greenwood, lives a girl named Sunny who longs for adventure and is having difficulties adjusting to the new realities of her family life. Her mother left when she was a baby and her father recently married a divorced woman with two children of her own. Sunny is tired of being told what to do and how to do it. Her life is in enough turmoil as it is when the "invaders' come to town and start stirring things up even more. Sunny is petulant and spoiled through much of the novel. (I seriously thought her parents deserved sainthood for their patience with her.) It isn't hard to understand and feel for her hurt and pain over her mother, figuring out where she fits in her new family, and watching how her new family navigates the treacherous times occurring in her town. What is nice to see is how much she grows and how realistic that growth is. Sunny never before questioned the way of life in Mississippi before this summer, but the coming of these outsiders and a chance encounter with a black boy named Ray begin to change the way she thinks.
Ray is an amazing baseball player with a desire to have what the white kids have, a chance to spend his summer playing, swimming, and seeing movies in a safe nice environment. He sees the way his parents and neighbors work and still can't make ends meet. He saw how his sister died of appendix rupture because the white doctor refused to treat her. Ray is angry and fed up. When his family takes in Jo Ellen (Franny's sister from Countdown and one of the Freedom Summer workers) and he begins to spend more time with SNCC workers, he decides to become more involved in the movement. He does things that are brave and pays some significant consequences.
Together Sunny and Ray's stories (along with a couple chapters from Sunny's step-brother Gillete's point of view) paint a vivd and wrenching picture of what that summer in Mississippi was like for all the parties involved. The supporting cast that surrounds both of them are really well done too, particularly Sunny's parents and grandmothers. Through this lens you get a real feel for all sides and thoughts of the situation during the time. From the white adults too afraid to break the status quo but knew the status quo was wrong to the ones who were brave enough to the ones who thought the status quo was just fine to the ones willing to commit violence to make sure it stayed the way it was, every angle is fully explored.
As in Countdown Wiles uses a documentary style format placing in significant and strategic places pictures, quotes, song lyrics, and primary source documents from the time. It is clear that much thought went in to what would be included, how, and where it would be placed and most of it enriches and makes the story better. And here is the one quibble I have with this and it is similar to the same one I had with Countdown though for different reasons. The essays (reports?). I honestly don't think they add anything significant to what is being done here and just end up making what is already a very long novel even longer. I think most kids would skip them entirely and that they might even throw many readers out of the story completely, which would be tragic because the rest of it is so amazingly well done. The way Wiles writes her characters, setting, and plot combined with the power of the pictures, quotes, and documents tells the story wonderfully.
Some favorite quotes:
Believe me there are only so many times you can sing "I've got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart" before you have no more joy at all, anywhere. None. Zero. It's already as hot as blue blazes in the sixth-grade Sunday School room, and all I can feel is the hot-hot-hot-hot down to my toes. I cannot believe I'm sitting here. I didn't have any joy to begin with.
He did the right thing. When you come clean, when you tell the truth, you lift a great weight off your shoulders. It's not that you don't ever do anything you shouldn't do ever again, of course not. You're human , an sometimes the vagaries of life are just too delicious to ignore. Sometimes you are impetuous. Sometimes you are impulsive. And sometimes that's okay. Sometimes it's not. It's just that, when you know you're caught and you've done something you shouldn't have done, you own up to it.