McPherson High School seniors Campbell (who is white) and Lena (who is black) arrive separately on Friday night at the McPherson stadium for the big playoff with rival Jonesville High. Campbell’s dad drops her off near the concession stand, where she has promised to help Ms. Marino, her English teacher and the dance team sponsor, after no one else in class would respond to her pleas for help. Campbell is new to the Atlanta school, and though she recognizes Lena in the crowd as a classmate, neither of them acknowledges the other.
Campbell’s mother, with whom she has lived for most of her life since her parents divorced, has relocated to Caracas, Venezuela in order to keep her job. Because money is tight and living overseas is expensive, taking Campbell with her is not practical, especially since her ex-husband hasn’t paid child support in years. Campbell is sent back to Atlanta to live with her dad. Dad’s not doing so great financially either. He owns and runs an unprofitable hardware store in a run-down part of town and sometimes alternates paying bills when funds are short. On weekends he heads out of town to his cabin in the woods and leaves Campbell on her own.
Lena lives with Pops, her grandfather, and is surrounded by family, friends and a musician boyfriend named Black. She is popular at school and works at cultivating her image as a fashion stylist, though most of her clothes are purchased at a neighborhood thrift shop. She has plans for a red-carpet future with Black as a power couple, and the future looks bright if only she can convince herself that Black is as enamored with her as she, him.
Working the rickety, trashed-out concession stand that is nothing like the one at her old school, Campbell finds herself overwhelmed when the other (white) student worker spends his time on his phone arranging drug deals while a pushing crowd of customers yells orders and shoves money at her for refreshments after the game ends. Tensions outside the stand boil over as fights break out and a police officer is shot. From that point on, it’s chaos everywhere, with people either trying to flee or using the opportunity to make a political statement.
Lena takes shelter in the stand, and together she and Campbell manage to escape. Lena tries to get her boyfriend to come rescue them, but plans and routes constantly change as the rioting spreads. Both Lena and Campbell spend the evening helping each other out to the point that neither one will abandon the other, and in doing so they teach each other some eye-opening lessons about racism.
This is a fast-paced, well-written and balanced examination of racism that all YA should read. There is a lot of violence and some objectionable language (including religious profanity) but no sexual scenes or references to speak of.
Categories: Books We Recommend, Bullying, Civil Rights, Crime, Diversity, Fashion, Navigating through High School, Offensive Language in YA Literature, Peer Relationships, Political Activism, Racism, Rock Musicians, Violence