Open Wounds

Book Review: Between Us Baxters

Between Us Baxters, by Bethany Hegedus is a diamond waiting for readers to find. It is a tale of familial and cultural relationships brought to a breaking point in 1959 Georgia.

Product Details  From Goodreads: The story of twelve-year-old Polly, a poor white Southern girl whose close friendship with Timbre Ann, a middle-class black teen, puts both families in danger. As white supremacists set fire to black businesses, Polly struggles to cope with the implications for her family and to understand the true meaning of friendship. Polly’s sense of justice threatens to upset the status quo in her small town.
The settings are the white side of town and the Tracks, the black side of town. The conflict builds in intensity from the first page to the last. This is the kind of book that I couldn’t wait to get on the subway to read (that’s my longest stretch of reading time – as a straphanger) and actually stayed on the platform for when I got off at my work stop so that I could finish it.
The narrator, Polly is a like-able and struggling girl who as a protagonist was easy to root for and feel for. I especially liked that the mother and father were complex characters in their own right, neither one falling into stereotype, acting in surprising ways that became apparent as appropriate for them in hindsight. So many times the parents in YA fiction are simply cut and predictable but Ms. Hegedus has created wonderful characters that struggle in the gray area of right action, safe action, best action for yourself, and best action for people you love.
The feeling for the period of the book is perfectly evoked through dialog, simple details (black and white TV, three in the seat of a truck without seat belts), and Jim Crow Laws (who can sit in the back of the bus and who can sit in the front). A scene of Polly riding on a bus with her mother and having to watch a black woman with a crying baby leave the bus, knowing they’ll have to walk the rest of the way because they don’t have enough money to pay double fare, is heartbreaking. The issues of race and class are well delineated and provide the constraints from which all the players act out their dramas. The ending is wrenching and not neat, but that is as it should be.
The marketing for this book says it’s for 5th – 9th grade and I can see this would be a terrific read for that age group – challenging them with its ideas and putting them (the reader) in the position of asking him/herself what they would do in Polly’s situation? But don’t let the marketers stop you if you’re an older kid or adult from picking this diamond up and examining it page by page yourself. You’ll find it well worth the time.
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