Dani’s grandmother suffers from Alzheimer’s and is slowly reaching the end of her life cared for by Dani and her parents. So when her grandmother sends Dani on a mission to find a letter and key, Dani isn’t sure that it’s real. She discovers both the letter and key, then has to follow the trail of clues her grandmother left in her writing to discover the truth of a feud that her grandmother had with Avadelle Richardson, a novelist who wrote about a riot that happened at Ole Miss. It’s a riot that both Dani’s grandmother and Avadelle actually were caught up in. As Dani gets closer to the end of the trail, she finds more and more secrets and history and modern life begin to collide.
Vaught has written a taut novel that takes readers on a journey through Civil Rights history in Mississippi. Told through the eyes of Dani, the book is accessible to modern children and shows that racism is far from over. With our recent election, it is also a timely book that speaks to the deep-seated racism still at work in our country today. Vaught uses excerpts from Avadelle’s fictitious novel to show the historical context that the riot took place in. It does show how far we have come, but also speaks to how far we have to go.
The complex friendships of middle grade children are captured here, with Dani and her best-friend Indri sharing the adventure while her “not-friend” Mac, grandson of Avadelle continues to also be a part of it though at times the two are not speaking, just like their grandmothers. This modern division is a clever way to show how friendships change, shift and fall apart, something that mirrors what is seen in the novel and in the grandparents’ relationship.
A rich look at Civil Rights, racism and the decisions too big to be unmade, this novel is a timely look at today and our shared past. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.