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Freedom Lessons

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This book was hard for me to get into at first. I don’t really know why. Probably just too much going on in my personal life to spend the time reading. But once I was able to sit down and read I found it hard to put down.   Beautifully written from several points of view. Thank you for allowing me to read this amazing book.
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This was a debut novel by Eileen Harrison Sanchez. She was an educator herself for 40 years; first as a teacher and then adminstrator.

Being a teacher myself I related to this book in more ways than one.  I loved it!  There were such important messages throughout the book.  It was so well written. 

This book shows several different point of views during a town's school desegregation in the south. 

I was provided an advanced copy of the book for an honest opinion.
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Freedom Lessons

I was immediately pulled into this author’s story. In my elementary days I grew up in an integrated school district and we were bussed across towns to accommodate the new laws. Then there would be more law changes and we’d go to yet another school in a different direction. Between family moves and integration, I went to 10 different schools in grades k – 6! I empathized with the students in the story, remembering the pain of constantly starting over. Compelling on a number of levels, one of the most satisfying story elements was the point of view shift. From Colleen, to Evelyn, to Frank, I appreciated the fair hand that was dealt. I did wonder why we didn’t hear from the husband or even the rogue cop – but that’s for another book.

There is a homemade feel to this story, for it feels more memoir than fiction. Once again, as I read I was very aware of my race. I remembered the tension in our neighborhood, the conflict between my parents who had to come to an agreement on the “race thing”, and quickly did as the three of us kids sat on the sidelines, wide-eyed. I appreciated the author’s not trying to fix society with fiction, and left loose ends aflutter because that is, after all, the actual reflection of real life.

I give a 5-star cheer for all those heroes who choose to teach all of our nation's children. For all those who, like some of the folks in my family, found the courage to change their minds and grow up and out of the justification-nurture, tradition-called-history with which they were carefully taught, I give a second 5-star echo. And, because I felt my race so uncomfortably while reading and remembering, it’s clear the battle is not yet done.

A sincere thanks to Eileen Harrison Sanchez for sharing her story and talents, to She Writes Press and NetGalley for providing me an e-ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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What an interesting and good book.  I was in grade school in the 60's and while I remember my dad talking about desegregation (and not in a good way, I might add) I didn't know much about it.  It didn't seem to affect me.  I was in a grade school with probably 70% white and the majority of the rest were blacks.  I didn't think anything of it, it seemed normal to me.  My father and his family were from the south and unfortunately they were racist, but I didn't know that was what it was back then either.  It seemed normal to me, I didn't know anything different.

I don't remember learning anything about this until I went to college in the late 80's/early 90's in the general education history classes I had to take.  It I had had a good teacher I probably would have wanted to learn more about it, but the teacher I had was just phoning it in unfortunately.

I really enjoyed learning more about what happened back then and how it affected not only the children but the teachers also.  I don't think anyone stopped to think about them through this process.  I liked that there were multiple perspectives from blacks and whites and it wasn't the same for each person. 

This was a hard read but was a book I am glad I read.
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I’m going to lay my cards on the table from the start. I’m white, English and grew up in a town with a large black population and thought nothing of it - it was normal. In fact, as a teenager I sneaked into clubs and  it was black music I liked and us girls made a bee line for the black lads as they were cooler and way better dancers! I have occasionally witnessed racism and it breaks my heart. I have no experience of southern US states so have no clue what it’s like to live there other than what I’ve read. I was a history teacher so I know a lot about the civil rights movement which I’ve also taught,  so I know about things like Jim Crow and desegregation. This absolutely fantastic book is set in 1969/70 Louisiana at a time of desegregation following landmark rulings, however, it is one thing for President Johnson to abolish the Jim Crow laws and another for it to be a reality as views have become so entrenched. This novel is part memoir as the author taught in Louisiana at this time and part fiction as the characters while they are based on real people, they are made up. The story is told from three perspectives - Colleen Rodriguez who is married to Miguel who fled Castro’s Cuba and is serving in the US army and is transferred to Fort Polk, Louisiana for a year. She is a teacher and goes to work in West Hill, a black school where she is the only one with a  white face. The second perspective is Evelyn Glover who is an experienced black teacher at the same school and the third is Frank Woods who is also black and a talented football player and a high school student. This white/black mix gives an excellent insight into these turbulent times as it follows the forced integration of black students into white schools. It captures the dangers that are ever present for those who make a peaceful stand both from the police and the Klan. 

I feel like  I’ve been on an emotional roller coaster ride, except this one would probably have segregated cars and the white ones would be plusher than the black ones. The book makes you feel a whole gamut of emotions. There’s anger at one of the characters (Jan) who spouts racist filth and  at the treatment of black teachers and students who at times are treated like they are nothing when they are relocated to Kettle Creek Elementary. The white teachers ostracise white Colleen because she is teaching black kids. There is sadness that the black students are denied opportunity which particularly effects Frank at the high school as not only is he denied a place in the football team but the black students are told they will not graduate that year. There is joy at the delightful students that Colleen teaches who she works her best to inspire. She tries to do some lovely things for them, such as take them to the local library but it becomes impossible as she is warned off by one particular police officer.  Colleen learns that Jim Crow is a way of life - for example, rather than integrate the local park is closed down so that it can’t be shared. You despair at the mean spiritedness  that believes that is acceptable. These are dangerous times as Frank knows only too well and as Colleen learns. I love that the high school students and parents made a stand against some decisions and won. Good on ‘em. 

Overall, a fantastic book which had me gripped from start to finish. The characters are amazing, the story that it depicts is not an easy one but it is so worth reading and I won’t forget it in a hurry. Highly recommended. 

Many thanks to NetGalley and Smith Publicity. The book has just been published in the UK.
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Book review - freedom lessons

“Deny everyone so you don’t have to share”

“He breathed in the fresh air of freedom as he exhaled the secret”

This was an easy, yet engaging, read regarding the desegregation of public schools in Southern United States in the late 60s. We hear the story from 3 POVs - Colleen, a young white “Yankee” teacher, naive of the deep prejudices of the South who accepts a teaching position at the Black elementary school and faces the scorn of the white community and is not used to the careful cautious behaviours of her fellow teachers.

Evelyn- a Black teacher with years of experience, assigned as Colleens mentor, a task she reluctantly accepts
Frank- a Black high school senior, forced to attend a White high school, and unfairly placed on the 2nd string football team destroying his hopes of a scholarship.

I identified most with Colleen, not only because I am white, but because of her naivety. I grew up in an area rich of immigrants where my skin colour made me a minority - but the thing was I didn’t even notice, not until much later. It’s about the kids, who shouldn’t have to bare the knowledge that something as ridiculous as the colour of their skin somehow makes them inferior to another child. But what I didn’t realize and what Colleen learns is that as a white person you cannot ever imagine the suffering of a race subjected to years and years of inhuman treatment. As much as Colleen imagines she is helping, without the knowledge of a culture that has been made to feel inferior which causes them to be cautious in every step they take, her actions prove to put her students, as well as herself, in danger. 

It is through Frank and Evelyn that we experience the full on unfairness of the treatment of Black people and the many, many injustices that they endure. Both mange to walk the line, hold their head up high, and try to protect themselves and their families from the ever-present white hand ready to choke them. When the novel hits its climax these two characters both participate in measures intelligently - without radical and violent actions- in order to retain some semblance of human rights. Their fear is evident throughout the novel and it made me as a reader feel very sad.

I really liked that the author was able to convey this tumultuous time through her own experiences without the extensive use of violence. While the KKK and it’s dangers are present they are on the outskirts of the novel and not used as a blatant villain- more of an ever present threat waiting  in the shadows for a wrong move.

Thank you very much for the free copy. I really enjoyed it!
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Segregation used to be something far away for me. Both literally - I'm Dutch, so the US is on the other side of the ocean - as figuratively - I am a white woman after all. Books like this help me realize that it is more than a history lesson. It was real, and in several ways is real even today, and everywhere, even if we used to take the moral high ground over the people in the past, or people in another country. As the writer mentions, it is not written by a black woman for black women. It is written by a white woman. It does point out how very much privileged I have been in my life though.
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Easy reading this book will make you think. Message that is important in today's world, just as then. Good read. 

Thanks to author,publisher and Netgalley for the chance to read this book. While I got the book for free,it had no bearing on the rating I gave it.
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This book shows several different POVs during a town's school desegregation in the south. One main character is a white teacher newly-married to a Hispanic man. Another main character is a black teacher at the same school and the other main character is a black male about to graduate high school. How these characters interact and deal with racism in this time period really kept my attention.
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