Kizzy Ann Stamps
It’s July 1st, 1963, and 12-year-old Kizzy Ann Stamps is a black girl preparing to enter a newly integrated school in Virginia. Through a series of letters to her new teacher, we learn that Kizzy has a lot on her mind: she doesn’t want to go to the white kids’ school (although if there are reference books, it might be worth it), and her face is badly scarred from a childhood accident. Kizzy writes in a matter-of-fact way about the daily racism she encounters, including a shocking scene where she is “switched” in public because she offended a white neighbor. Kizzy’s refuge is her dog, a stray border collie named Shag. Shag’s loyalty and intelligence help her navigate her new school and open up doors to new friendships with a white boy next door and a Scottish farmer who helps her train Shag for competitions.
Kizzy’s narration is skillfully done with an authentic voice. At times an angry child, at times precociously wise, Kizzy is a heroine with grit and likeability. Particularly interesting is Kizzy’s perception of the pervasive racism around her. At the start of the novel, Kizzy absorbs the casual cruelty directed at her, but through her new friendships she begins to see other possibilities. The epistolary style gives full rein to Kizzy’s charming voice, although it can create an emotional distance between the reader and the text. The reader might have benefited if Kizzy’s teacher had a greater role. Only one of her responses appears, and it has a saccharine feel that detracts from the authenticity of the novel.