Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The Starplace and Asking Questions

Over winter break I decided to pull a few volumes from my shelves and reread them to make sure I still supported the values represented inside the books. Because I was okay with some stuff as a kid I should not have been okay with. As I enter my adult years, I don’t want to be that way.

That’s why I picked up The Starplace by Vicki Grove again.

via
The gist is this: Frannie, a thirteen-year-old “woman” growing up in 1960’s Oklahoma finds herself in a tough place when Celeste, an African American girl, moves to town. Celeste is the only African America in the school and since many other students bully her, Frannie isn’t sure she wants to begin a friendship guaranteed to be challenging. As the girls bond, Frannie begins to question how race is perceived in her society and how she ought to respond to it as she grows up.

I didn’t want to start this book. It’s been many a year since I read it last—probably elementary school, possibly fourth or fifth grade. I liked it, but I was also a child hugely insensitive regarding white supremacy and hate crimes and stuff. This book totally could have been some horrible story that downplayed the suffering of African Americans and contributed to my past life of insensitivity and ignorance.

Turns out it wasn’t. I was pleasantly surprised—not because it handled the topic of race well (which should, let’s face it, be something of a given) but because it resonated so deeply with my own journey to adulthood.

But first, let’s talk about the social values and why they made this book important:

It’s a snapshot of our roots. Racism is of course an issue today, but our perceived face of prejudice has changed over the last fifty years. In Frannie’s time, they didn’t learn about the desegregation of schools because none of them were POC—so obviously, they wouldn’t need to know. A character explicitly says that it is a person’s Christian duty to not get offended when someone uses a racial slur against them, even if it isn’t nice. There’s an image of what it was like, and it was startling to see how bad things were back then… and how some bad things are reminiscent of today.

It’s dark, but not intense. Celeste and her father explore the presence of the KKK in Frannie’s hometown, and when they get trapped in a mine (long story) Celeste relates some of the hate crimes of the past decades. They’re told from a third person narrative, so it’s not like children are getting the George R.R. Martin version of the Jim Crow era, but lynchings are lynchings. It doesn’t shy away from the terror or the horror, even for young people.

Also, sexism. One of the book’s subplots is that Frannie’s mom is getting licensed so that she can become a real estate agent, only to be demeaned and put down when she attempts to enter the business. The focus is on race, but the book also acknowledges that this time period saw a lot of injustice.

Asking Questions. Frannie’s story in great part is about asking questions. She never questioned the way life was before, until she saw that her friend was suffering because of “the way it is.” Questioning norms in this era was a really important beginning, and if I could change one thing about this book, I’d include discussion questions in the back to help young readers begin to question their own society, too.

(If I could change two things there might be an author’s note or something informing children that this is historical fiction and just because it’s accurate doesn’t mean it is currently okay to call people “negroes” anymore.)

I guess that leads us to my own story.

I really identified with Frannie. I also grew up unaware of my privilege and not in the habit of asking questions about race or gender. I just accepted what I was told—and much of what I was told was ignorant or hurtful. Part of my teenage experience has been learning to ask those questions and to recognize that others know better and I need to listen. It’s hard.

I mean, not as hard as it would be for the victims of racism. I don’t get bullied, I’m not disadvantaged, I won’t get cut from my favorite activities, and I’m not ignored because of my skin color. That really sucks for them.

But even if it is a lesser suck, disillusionment sucks, too. And even if a story is about a teenage girl who hasn’t been taught to see her privilege and suffers a painful and confusing transition because of that, I think it is worth learning from.

I mean, we obviously have a long way to go.

Do you have any books that resonated with you lately?


4 comments :

  1. It's pretty awful when books you loved don't hold up; I've had a couple experiences of going back to read books I adored in middle school and discovering they were actually really, really sexist. But The Starplace sounds like a really good book.

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    1. Oooooh. Yeahhhhh. That would kind of suck. Since sexism sucks, ha. It was a good book though. I'm glad I reread it!

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  2. Huh. I'm thinking of some crap novels I read when I was a child- like Enid Blyton (they were so formulaic and perfect), and Rainbow Magic. I'm also thinking of some good ones, like the Ingo series, which is basically about belonging in more than one world, something I totally empathised with, and Narnia, and The Blue Umbrella, and Artemis Fowl and the Mysterious Benedict society. I really like this concept, Heather!

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    1. I don't know either of those, but I suppose I'm glad I haven't read them? XD I know of Narnia and Artemis Fowl, and heartily agree—and though I haven't read Mysterious Benedict Society, my sister enjoyed it, so I'm glad to hear others like it, too. Thanks, Shar!

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