It's 1943 and young Ella lives in South Carolina with her grandparents, and her cousins, Myrna and Henry (who is also her best friend). Ella's mother, Lucille, lives in Boston, having left to pursue a career as a jazz singer. Ella's father is a mystery - no one knows who he is, or at any rate no one will tell her about him. Ella dreams of the day when her mother will send for her. That day finally comes, but when Ella arrives things aren't as rosy and exciting as she'd expected. Her mother works all the time - in the Naval Shipyards by day and the jazz clubs by night - so they rarely see each other, and they live in a tiny apartment with a roommate, Helen, who may also be Lucille's lover. Lucille also refuses to share anything new about Ella's father. However, it is through Ella's eyes that we see the stark differences between the North and the 1940's Jim Crow South (she is shocked to learn, for example, that she can drink out of any water fountain she sees).
The toughest blow comes a few months in, when Ella is abruptly sent back to her grandparents in South Carolina. She arrives back disillusioned and disappointed, only to find that things aren't the same there either. A friend, a 14-year-old Black boy named George Stinney Jr., has been falsely accused of murder. If that name sounds familiar it's because Stinney is the only historical figure portrayed. What happens to him in the novel is taken directly from the history books. It's a dark topic which is handled gently, but realistically.
The story is one of resilience and love amidst the chaos of racism, the confusion of being a mixed race child, and the complications of family ties.
P.S. And for my fellow Gen-Xers, the author's name may also sound familiar to you... that's cuz she's Hilary from Fresh Prince!
UP NEXT: The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea, by Axie Oh