My Year in the Middle is a novel written by Lila Quintero Weaver that takes place in Alabama during the time of segregation. This was a time of great conflict, when society tried to prevent white people and black people from mixing in places such as restaurants, buses, and schools. Lu’s town is a perfect example of a small town during this time. The schools are trying to integrate, and a lot of the people in the town are resistant and unhappy. The schools might be open to all, but there are still two sides of the classroom -- the white side and the black side. Then there are the “middle rowers,” who sit in the middle because their parents don’t see a problem with the new laws. Lu is one of the “middle rowers.” Lu looks up to Madelina Manning, who is an Olympic runner, and trains for a race at the end of the school year. She must fight through people telling her that she can’t win. She also faces people’s reactions to her not seeing the differences between black and white people. She makes friends and enemies, and her choices have an impact on her own life.
My Year in the Middle is a well-written book. The author uses the contrast between running the race and Lu’s feelings about equality as a symbol for desegregation. The two fastest girls on the team, Lu and Belinda, do not care about the color of each other’s skin. They care about training together, having, fun, and ultimately winning the race. Lu learns that friendship isn’t something that can be segregated, even when it is hard because of society’s prejudice. When Lu moves from her middle-row seat to Belinda’s side (the black side), she is scared, but then Belinda tells her that she is there for her with a meaningful gesture. “For a few seconds, I lock eyes with Belinda, still scared. Hardly able to breathe, I scoop up my book bag, still scared. I hurry over to the empty desk . . . When Belinda reaches over to squeeze my hand, I feel much better.”
The author does a good job of showing what the times were like back then and how some people held extreme feelings about people of color and their place in society. She uses a lot of imagery when describing the physical setting of the story. Weaver’s use of imagery helps the reader actually visualize the classroom rows and what they represent. Her use of descriptive language made me come to the conclusion that all of the students in the middle row are white and make up the line that divides the black and the white students. This was because she referred to “their side of the room” as a bad place to go. She also gives the reader a clear mental image of what is going on in Lu’s mind while she tries to balance her desire to fit in without choosing sides in the racial conflict of this time.
Although this book is well written, the plot is a little too predictable because of its familiar storyline. If you take the racial tension out of it, the story focuses on friendship and the underdog/outsider finding their place and their voice. The story could have been more exciting if it focused more on Lu standing up for what she believes in throughout the book, instead of at the end. The book does not have any surprises, which would have made it a bit more interesting.
The author presents Lu as someone who has to go against society’s norms and instead choose to do what she thinks is right. Lu changes from someone who wants to be accepted to someone who sticks to what she believes is right. The lesson that the author is trying to teach is to do what you think is right, despite what society is telling you to do. Lu does not agree with how society views black people and does not focus on the color of a person’s skin. Instead, she values the friendship and qualities of people. The author shows many examples of Lu’s independence. For example, Lu convinces her parents to help her train for the race, even though her mom looks down on it because she does not think girls should be athletes. Also, at a party, Lu races the boys down a hallway, not caring that she’s a girl racing a bunch of boys.
I rate this book 4.5 out of 5 stars for the lesson and points it gets across. Lu is a character who stands up for what she believes in and tries to convince others that being different doesn’t matter. I admire this quality in a character and in a person.
Alexandra Collins is the eighth grade at St. Mary's Academy in Denver, Colorado. Alexandra is a cross country runner and artist who likes creative writing and playing with her new puppy.
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