Down Sand Mountain
It’s the 1960s and Dewey Turner is twelve years old, growing up in a small town called Sand Mountain in Florida. Not popular among the kids in school, Dewey decides to don blackface—to imitate a boy who’d danced and sang in a local minstrel show—but this backfires when shoe polish he used won’t wash off completely. Not the best impression Dewey could make on the first day back to classes from summer holidays. He’s teased as though he were really black, and the teasing continues long after the shoe polish has worn away.
Dewey’s on the cusp of adolescence, trying to hold on to childhood as long as he can. He becomes friends with Darla Turkel, who’s more mature for her age but not quite willing to see reality. Together they try to solve the mystery of an unfinished building in town known as the Skeleton Hotel. What happens as a result of this collaboration is difficult for Dewey to understand.
Down Sand Mountain is clearly inspired by one of my favorite books, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. A lot of the same elements are there, but author Steve Watkins has changed and rearranged them in very interesting ways. The characters are quirky and memorable. Unlike Mockingbird, though, Down Sand Mountain is a boy’s story—a more contemporary tale for a contemporary audience. Since I can’t read To Kill a Mockingbird again for the first time, it was such a treat to discover this book. It’s one I’m certain I’ll read again.