Zora and Me: The Summoner

Written by Victoria Bond
Review by David Drum

The possibility of a zombie rising from the grave drives the action in the finale to the Zora & Me trilogy, a fictionalized childhood of writer and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston, a major figure in the Harlem Renaissance. Zora’s story is told years later by her childhood friend, Carrie.

As in the first two volumes, the plot turns on a supernatural event. An old man dies in mysterious circumstances. After he is buried, his body disappears from its grave. While some believe grave robbers sold the body to a medical school, feisty and imaginative fourteen-year-old Zora believes the dead man could have been a zombie. The girls discover the dead man once worked for a man called “the Summoner,” a white Florida distiller who forced enslaved boys to rob graves before the Civil War. The man developed a camera he believed would bring men back to life, and the girls find the camera and pictures of a lynched man who looks familiar.

Early on, a white lynch mob pursues a fugitive into Eatonville, a Florida township run entirely by Black people. When the mob breaks into Carrie’s house, and eventually finds and lynches the fugitive, the family’s helplessness underscores the perilous state of being Black in the early 20th-century South. Eatonville’s industrious residents are mostly good people, although a few are not.

When Zora’s ambitious father, a preacher, runs for mayor and employs underhanded debate tactics, Zora bravely calls him out. After some family drama, Zora leaves Eatonville to begin her travels in the world.

Zora & Me has a few graphic scenes, but the story moves quickly. Characters are nicely drawn, and the book will likely fascinate middle-grade readers.