Book Review: This Promise Of Change by Jo Ann Allen Royce and Debbie Levy

Book: This Promise Of Change: One Girl’s Story In The Fight For School Equality

Published January 2019 by Bloomsbury Children’s Books|320 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the e-book from the library

Series: None

Genre: Children’s Non-fiction/Memoir

In 1956, one year before federal troops escorted the Little Rock 9 into Central High School, fourteen year old Jo Ann Allen was one of twelve African-American students who broke the color barrier and integrated Clinton High School in Tennessee. At first things went smoothly for the Clinton 12, but then outside agitators interfered, pitting the townspeople against one another. Uneasiness turned into anger, and even the Clinton Twelve themselves wondered if the easier thing to do would be to go back to their old school. Jo Ann–clear-eyed, practical, tolerant, and popular among both black and white students—found herself called on as the spokesperson of the group. But what about just being a regular teen? This is the heartbreaking and relatable story of her four months thrust into the national spotlight and as a trailblazer in history. Based on original research and interviews and featuring backmatter with archival materials and notes from the authors on the co-writing process.

This book was amazing!  I had never heard of what happened at Clinton High, but I’m glad that I read this book.

I loved reading Allen’s experiences at Clinton High, and I still can’t believe that it was only 65 years ago that students like Jo Ann Allen and her classmates were integrating schools.  The hate that they all experienced was chilling, and sadly, we still see that hatred today.  She was just going to school, and what she had to experience because people didn’t want her there made me both angry and sad.

I think I was angriest at the people who said they didn’t like that they had to integrate but were only doing it because it was the law.  While it wasn’t obviously or outright hateful, I was angry that they were only integrating because they had to.  There were some kind people that Jo Ann encountered, but it was still disheartening to see that their neighbors would borrow sugar from them but also turn their backs on Jo Ann and her family.

It was disheartening to read that her family moved to California because her parents thought they’d have better chances out west than in Tennessee or the rest of the South.

She just wanted to finish what she started and she didn’t get that chance- she wanted to stick it out with her friends, to belong, and she never had that chance in Clinton.

Poetry was an interesting choice to tell this story, but it was a really good one.  I’m not a fan of that, normally but it really worked.  I didn’t love it, for some reason, but I think I’m just not used to reading books told this way.  I can’t explain why, but it was a good choice.  It drew your attention to certain things, and made what happened much more powerful than if it had been told any other way.

I also loved the headlines and interviews and quotes throughout the book.  It really brought everything together, and it gave some background on what was going on the time in a different way.  You learn more about the other members of the Clinton 11, what Clinton was like at the time, and a timeline of desegregation.  That extra information was great to have and read through because it adds to the picture of what it was like at the time.

5 stars.  It’s a fast read, but absolutely worth it!

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