Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry YA Novel review

Ahh. It’s so refreshing to come off a project like Moby Dick to a YA novel. It’s still a beast, but comparatively “fuzzier” than the white whale.

While I’ve heard all about this book; it won a Newberry, it’s been in every single “recommended reads” list I’ve come across for YA fiction, I’ve never actually had the gall to pick it up. As much as I hate to admit it, unless you have a real passion for children’s and young adult literature, it’s extremely easy to get “uppity” about “real literature” being the writings of white guys that died hundreds of years ago.

And because YA books generally have the same themes as adult books, but written in a condensed/simplified matter, I find it harder to analyze them. Sometimes things are so simple it’s hard to explain them. (mommy, why is the sky blue?) But something I thought was interesting was the play on sound in this book. Obviously, sound is a big theme in that the book is named with “thunder” and “cry” in the title. But more than that, this book is about communication. From the communication of the “peaceful silence” of the trees on Cassie’s farm, or the sound of the school bus whooshing by as Cassie and her siblings scramble up the muddy banks to avoid being sprayed. Obviously, this is a bigger metaphor for the violence and blatant racism in the book. More than sound, we see the forced silence that snuffs the frustrations and growing anger of all the people in Cassie’ community.

While learning that “if you have nothing nice to say than don’t say anything at all” is a good rule to live by, Cassie learns the hard way that there’s a difference between what’s right and what’s popular. In a time of shaky reconstruction, poverty, and racial tensions, to be “on the wrong side of the fence” so to speak, is a very difficult thing indeed. But what else can one do but be silent?

I think that’s what makes the night of the storm so significant. While we do have Cassie’s family take a stand and essentially save TJ’s life (for the moment), they do it under the cover of the storm. The thunder masks their emotions, motives, and words, making them an anonymous, elusive, and powerful force to be reckoned with. And while it was only effective at a very high cost (a quarter of their crops being lost) it is a hardy lesson that we can stand to learn. In particular, this time of social unrest has bred the Occupy Wall street protests, which I support the cause of wholeheartedly. It seems that the government has made a big misstep giving corporations the rights of individuals; and it’s only the little guys who are going to get hurt.

But while it’s safe to say that we know what the protestors are protesting about, sitting in little tents making cardboard signs is hardly the thunder people need to make a big change in this country.

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About Angela

Editor, bookbinder, and writer.

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