“A rumor was afloat in sixth grade, and everyone was dying to know if it was true.”
Colorblind is a story about integration in Montgomery, Alabama in 1968. The rumor is about the first African-American teacher coming to Wyatt Elementary School as part of mandatory desegregation. In the deep South, this mandate obviously is met with resistance and racism.
We get the story primarily from Lisa, one of the sixth grade girls.
“Lisa Parker was no ordinary rising sixth grader. She was sensitive. Very sensitive.”
Lisa is no stranger to bullies. So when she hears the rumor about the new teacher, and the subsequent negative connotations that continue to be added to the rumor, Lisa becomes upset.
Even more upsetting is that Lisa loves her class. So when the bullying is aimed at both Lisa and Mrs. Loomis, Lisa has to face her own anxiety and fears.
Okay, so this wasn’t a fit for me. The writing style seemed like it was aimed at young readers. It is listed as Young Adult, but felt very much on the young end of that spectrum. Which would be fine, except some of the racial comments and interactions seemed aimed at an older reader. I understand that these types of epithets would have been normal during that time; however, it isn’t necessary to spell out, especially when aimed at a young audience.
Quite a few of them bordered on inappropriate and stood out to me as being there for shock value, as they seemed to come out of nowhere.
“Lisa touched her mock necktie and winced. She had an image of her Negro teacher wearing a real necktie and hanging from a tree in the schoolyard. The back-to-school party had just become a necktie party.”
This is a mild example of this. There was no discussion at the party other than the rumor about the new teacher being African-American. So to suddenly jump from a rumor of the “colorful teacher from the quarter who talked funny, smelled bad, and had kinky hair” and was “lazy”, there were no other conversations around the teacher. It is only when Lisa’s dad tells her the rumor meant the teacher was African-American that these thoughts pop into her head. Along with images of the KKK.
And this is part of my problem with the book. Lisa’s dad is an attorney who advocates for equal rights. Even though her mother is secretly a racist (more on that later), we are never given any reason why a sixth grade girl would have these very specific images come to mind when hearing that their new teacher is African-American. Again, I understand that this is the deep South, but the story is missing any depth to help us understand Lisa’s fears. We also don’t get much beyond things upsetting Lisa. It’s very much a tell and not show. We are told things, but never really shown them. It makes the characters and the plot feel very two dimensional and superficial.
We also hear briefly from Mrs. Loomis. We hear about racism and bullying happening from the teachers and student’s, but honestly we see such few chapters from her perspective that it’s hard to really understand the level of racism that she could be facing. We are told it’s bad enough to cause a nervous breakdown, but we don’t really see it.
Even her “support” is more interested in pushing the integration cause than showing concern for Mrs. Loomis, or her emotional distress. We see kids dancing around in ghost costumes with glow-in-the-dark crosses and chanting KKK slogans, but there isn’t any sort of attempt at consequences, even when Lisa’s dad witnesses it. I think the story could have been richer, if we had seen more from her eyes.
Finally, the teachers and adults are simply ridiculous in this novel. We have teachers promoting nothing but racist agendas to a school full of children, which is probably true of the time. I have a hard time believing that every lesson, including lessons about space exploration and English were all so focused on race relations during that time. Even if that was the case, every single teacher asked the class to keep any racist conversations or lessons “secret” from their parents. This is absurd.
If the mentality of the time was that African-American’s were inferior, this would simply come across in their attitudes and beliefs. They wouldn’t go out of their way to promote an agenda, and they sure wouldn’t ask kids to keep it as secret. They wouldn’t think they were doing anything wrong. So this felt weird, and came up nearly every single interaction that Lisa has with a teacher or her mom. Everything was a weird secret
It doesn’t help that the adults speak and interact with the children as if they are the same age. They ignore Lisa’s distress every single time, they seem to care about being “liked” and “popular” more than anything, they rarely demonstrate any authority or adult-like behavior.
I didn’t connect with any of the characters. Lisa was supposed to face her fears and anxieties, which she does but it feels very jolted and inconsistent. She is brave out of the blue and then in tears at the next interaction. It simply feels unrealistic and underdeveloped.
There isn’t any emotional connection to the events or the characters. On an intellectual level we understand the horror, but it just doesn’t come through in the dialogue or narration. Unfortunately, this book is a miss for me.
Thank you BookSparks and She Writes Press for sending a copy to read and review for a pop up blog tour.