by Tiffany D. Jackson
Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins), 2022. 406 pages.
Review written December 15, 2022, from a library book
2022 Cybils Finalist, Young Adult Speculative Fiction
2022 Sonderbooks Stand-out, #4 Teen Paranormal Fiction
I’m usually not a fan of horror novels, but I read this one for the Cybils, and had to admit it’s wonderfully executed.
The author warns you right from the start that there’s going to be carnage. Chapter 1 begins with an excerpt from a podcast called “Maddy Did It,” and that begins with sworn testimony from “The Springville Massacre Commission.” That testimony from a mother ends this way:
Only two kids survived Prom Night at that country club. Cole was one of them. They say when you go through something like that, your instincts kick in. So his mind must’ve told him to come on home. He walked over two miles through the mud with one shoe, covered in the blood of other children.
When I asked him what happened . . . he just kept mumbling, “Maddy did it.”
Then we go back in time to May 2014. Maddy Washington is horrified that in gym class she has to run in a sudden rainstorm that has come up, despite her checking the forecast three times, as her Papa demands. Sure enough, when her hair gets wet, her hair expands into an Afro, and the entire school learns that her mother was Black.
It’s a small southern town. They don’t think they’re racist, but they’ve always had two separate proms, one for white kids and one for Black kids. And when Maddy suddenly sprouts an Afro, kids laugh and throw pencils into her hair, marveling that she doesn’t even notice.
Maddy’s always been an outsider. She keeps to herself and doesn’t say much in class. She lives alone with her Papa who makes her pray for hours in a closet with pictures of beautiful white women on the walls that her sin will not come out. She wishes she could be like normal kids.
But when she’s humiliated in class, something strange happens. The chairs float, there’s some kind of earthquake, cellphones quit working, and all the kids get terrible headaches.
Before the cellphones quit working, someone filmed the taunting and posted it on the internet. Now everyone’s talking about the racist small town in Alabama.
Wendy is a senior who feels guilty about it all. She’s not the ringleader of the group bullying Maddy, but her best friend is, and Wendy went along with it. Wendy’s boyfriend is Kenny, the star of the football team. He’s Black, but doesn’t hang out with the other Black kids. Wendy doesn’t like how he’s sticking up for Maddy, and she doesn’t like how she comes out looking like a racist, too.
So Wendy gets the bright idea of combining the white prom and the Black prom. She wasn’t going to go anyway, but she’s organizing the whole thing. And what could be more noble than asking her boyfriend, the town all-star, to take Maddy to the prom?
Of course, we know from the podcast excerpts that open the chapters that this decision will lead to disaster. And meanwhile, Maddy is learning about the power of telekinesis. Could this power have come from her missing Mama?
This book is a hard one to put down. The author shines a light on racism that pretends it’s not racism and gets you firmly on Maddy’s side, despite knowing that something terrible is about to happen. That mild-mannered, socially backward recluse was the wrong person to bully!
A truly masterful story of a downtrodden girl coming into her power.
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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.
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