by Judith Hayn
Levine, K. (2012). The lions of Little Rock. New York, NY: Putnam.
In 1958 Little Rock, Arkansas, the high schools have been closed rather than integrate following the crisis the year before when nine students attended Central High School. Twelve-year-old Marlee Nisbett finds it hard to connect with people, but she and her sister Judy are close. When Judy has to go to a neighboring town to finish school, Marlee protects herself by continuing to recite mathematical calculations in her head rather than talking. Then Elizabeth Fullerton arrives, and Marlee finds a friend when she surprisingly opens her mouth and invites Liz to eat at her lunch table. Their friendship is extraordinary as both gain from knowing each other, but one day Liz just disappears. She has been “passing” on her parents’ orders, and others have discovered her secret. Marlee and Liz arrange to meet each other secretly, but lives are at stake when their families and neighbors discover them; the two are caught up in the violence. Their friendship and loyalty is intertwined with the realities of a school district and a city trying to survive the turmoil of the aftermath of the Little Rock Nine. Standing up for your beliefs isn't easy, and for Marlee whose shyness is legendary, it requires genuine courage. Levine has created a character whose small voice speaks for the confusion of the times and brings a new understanding to the issues.
Dr. Judith A. Hayn is an Associate Professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.
This article is part of a series from the Special Interest Group Network on Adolescent Literature (SIGNAL).