Having just finished The Help for the 2nd time, I was already in a place to appreciate this book, and for the most part, I did appreciate it.
The Help takes place in the early 60's in Jackson, Mississippi, during the early stages of the Civil Rights movement. It's a very personal story about 3 women struggling with who they are, both in general and in the environment in which they live. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry takes place in the 30's just outside of Jackson, MS, and deals with a lot of the same issues...
Roll of Thunder focuses on the Logan family and their land. Paul Edward Logan bought their land in two parts during hard times after the Civil War, and ever since, the man who used to own it has been trying to get it back in an effort to remake the South how it used to be. Things are not pleasant in 1930s Mississippi. There's a definite imbalance of power with white people having almost all of it, and black people having almost none. This story is about the Logans trying to make a change to that imbalance, even though it is a small one. It's also about finding ones identity, and taking pride in it regardless of what others think or say about you.
Mostly, I really enjoyed this book. It was a quick read for me, and it was brutal and thought provoking. But in a way, it fell short of my expectations. It never really moved me in the way I had hoped to be moved, and even the brutality and the shame and the hurt felt by the characters didn't really affect me in the way that I had hoped it would. I love nothing more than to be heartbroken by these kinds of books, to be left kind of empty and hurting... but I didn't feel that with this one.
Perhaps that is due to the fact that this was told in first person by Cassie Logan, who is 9. On the one hand, this worked in the book's favor because it allowed for a sort of innocence and naivete. Cassie doesn't understand the dichotomy of equality in the South. She thinks that the mistreatment and rudeness are due to forgetfulness and a "grownups vs kids" thing, or just a greediness, in the case of some. She blithely underestimates the fact of skin color in the equation. To her, the hate and the meanness aren't due to the fact that she is black and they are white, it's due to the fact that they just want what her family has (the land) and will do anything to get it back. Which is true, partially, but the fact that they are black gives them less legal ground to stand on, and makes the fight that much more dangerous.
But where I felt that the 1st person lacked was in the rest of the story. It worked well for the innocence and the idealism, but I didn't feel that the family or their neighbors or the story was all that well fleshed out. There were times when I read sections and didn't know how we got there. One minute Cassie is thinking that she needs to do something about the girl who was mean to her, and the next we're in the middle of a protracted plan of action, with no bridge getting us from there to here. This is Cassie's story, so I would expect to at least have a hint of her plans, but instead it felt like it lapsed into a different story for a bit there.
I also felt that some of the things that Cassie saw were unrealistic, and there was a kind of inconsistency regarding when the parents tried to shield her and the other kids and when they didn't or forgot that little ears might be listening. And to add to that, at times I felt that Cassie was kind of annoying in her demands and talkbackitude to be able to tell the story, and that kind of grated on my nerves. At 9, she was both intuitive enough to know when she'd get in trouble for something, but stubborn and oblivious enough to ignore the real potential danger of running off at the mouth... So Cassie heard, and thus told us, a lot more than I think she should have been able to realistically.
Finally, I thought that the ending was a bit of a letdown as well. There was no resolution about the land, or about the secondary plots. There's an ending, a realistic one, likely - but it's unsatisfying. Things come to a head, and then it just ends. This is part of a series, and that probably has a large part to play in the way the ending ended, but I just feel that there was a big something missing, and I'm not sure that I was invested enough in the story to continue on with the series.
I will give kudos to Taylor for telling as honest and brutal a story as she did, and for not softening the blows or the cruelty or the hatred for her readers. At least I didn't feel that she did. There was a palpable feeling of fear and anger throughout the story, as well as menace and a cruel calculation and manipulation on behalf of the men who have the power. A surety that they will win because the law is on their side. I thought that this aspect was very well done.
I am not sure if I will continue on with the series. But I am glad that I read this. It was good, and I feel like if I had read it in school or when I was younger, it would have had a huge impact on me. Reading it today, I can appreciate it for what it is, but I feel like it's missing the impact I wanted it to have.