Fire from the Rock

Written by Sharon M. Draper
Review by B. J. Sedlock

Most young people look forward to the growing-up milestone of starting high school. But African American Sylvia Patterson lives in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957. A good student, she has been nominated to be in the group of young people who will attend the white high school when integration begins in the fall. Her older brother Gary is on fire to join the struggle to bring equality to his community, but Sylvia would be so much more comfortable staying in the all-Black school, where her friends and new boyfriend Reggie will attend. Yet Gary’s fervor inspires her to want to be able to do something about the harassment she and her siblings have suffered. Through the long summer, Sylvia tries to sort out her mixed feelings, via diary entries and writing poetry. As fall term approaches and racial tension in the city keeps rising, a firebombing helps her make her choice, but not in the way the reader might expect.

The Pattersons are a warm, caring family I would like to visit again. Draper taught me some things I didn’t know about the Civil Rights era. This book would be an excellent introduction for young people to that volatile period. The plot presents different sides of many issues, and readers will learn about the day-to-day realities African Americans faced in the 1950s: not being permitted to try on clothing before purchasing or return it afterwards, condescending articles about Negroes in school books, and a total lack of people of color in the media. The situations presented would spark lively classroom discussions, such as what the reader would have done in Sylvia’s place. An author’s note about what happened after the story’s end is included, as well as a list of websites related to Little Rock’s school integration.