Crossing the Line
In this novel set during 1919 on the South Side of Chicago, times are hard when returning veterans vie for jobs and housing with one another and against blacks moving north in search of a better way of life. Billy’s father returned from the Great War, but not as a hero. He is hospitalized with a severe case of “shell shock.” Still, their tight-knit Irish neighborhood bands together. To ease the financial pressure, Billy agrees to leave his private Catholic school and attend public school. That’s when Billy’s life changes. But Billy doesn’t mind. He makes friends with Foster, a black boy who loves baseball as much as he does. Both boys understand their friendship is taboo. Billy carefully walks a line between his Irish-American friends who spout racism and his growing friendship with Foster and Foster’s brothers, Emmett and Odell. But at some point, Billy must choose to cross the line, to stand up for what he believes despite the consequences.
Based on historical events, Bibi Belford has crafted a timely novel for readers ages 10-14. Belford deftly walks her own line, telling a story of racism and hatred from the perspective of a white fifth-grade boy. Billy’s innocence and confusion are real. His fears and concerns about speaking against the hatred spewed by his friends, neighbors, and even sister are real. He is not a white savior; he is a young boy trying to understand something that is almost incomprehensible. In the end, he makes his choice, and there are consequences—tragic consequences—to be paid, not only by Billy and his family, but by Foster, Emmett, and Odell.