Review: The Lions of Little Rock

Let’s all take a quick moment to pause and reflect on the wonder that is middle grade novels. I mean daaaaang. I love YA and all; it has my heart. But MG has a sort of magic that no other genre has.

That said, let’s get to the book. The Lions of Little Rock takes place in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1958 - a year after the infamous Little Rock Nine. The state government has closed high schools in order to prevent integration from happening. And although that’s all very important to the book, the real story starts with Marlee, an incredibly shy junior high student who talks so rarely that many people think she’s mute. It takes a new friend - the incredibly confident and outspoken Liz - to help her peek out of her shell and realize that she has things to say.

But Liz is (secretly) black, and when others find out, she’s forced to leave school and Marlee loses her one friend. Until, of course, with all the pluck and chutzpah that middle grade heroines are famous for, quiet little Marlee finds a way to remain friends with Liz. Of course, this leads to the inevitable and predictable consequences. Truth is, this book is hard to explain without making it seem like a predictably dramatic. But it’s actually sweet and awesome and if the story is predictable it’s because this is historical fiction about racial tensions in 1958 Arkansas. We all know the bullet points. What makes this book more than just a story of education and integration (and trust me, there’s plenty in the book about the closed high schools and elections to reopen them) is the characters. Marlee and Liz fit so nicely as best friends and the fact that they can’t be is made even more bittersweet by the fact that Liz is one of only a handful of people that Marlee will even speak to. This is a story about race, education, and friendship - but it’s also a story about coming out of your shell, finding your voice, and facing your fears. 

In all honesty I have a really hard time finding historical fiction that I enjoy, but this book was really, really good. I recommend it wholeheartedly as a great example of both middle grade and historical fiction.

Your light is seen, your heart is known, your soul is cherished by more people than you might imagine. If you knew how many others have been touched in wonderful ways by you, you would be astonished. If you knew how many people feel so much for you, you would be shocked. You are far more wonderful than you think you are. Rest with that. Rest easy with that. Breathe again. You are doing fine. More than fine. Better than fine. You’re doin’ great. So relax. And love yourself today.
Neale Donald Walsch (via stephanietiffany)