Allie’s levelheaded narration is refreshingly nuanced. Hitchcock unflinchingly characterizes the emotional struggles of being young and lesbian… Throughout, Allie asks ‘hard questions’ about whether homosexuality is right in the eyes of the Bible or her community. Ultimately and affirmingly, her adult role models encourage her to be true to herself. A compelling and honest addition to the few existing stories about gay middle schoolers.
Shannon Hitchcock’s important story shines a bright light on the struggles that LGBT kids had to deal with in the mid-1970s, giving us a context with which to understand more fully the same struggles that are happening today. In straightforward prose, this honest look shows us how far we’ve come, and at the same time doesn’t deny how far we have to go.
Hitchcock—The Ballad of Jessie Pearl (2013) and Ruby Lee & Me (2016)—is no stranger to writing about the tumultuous lives of young people. Reminiscent of Nancy Garden’s Annie on My Mind (1982), Hitchcock’s novel follows Allie and Samantha as they navigate a newfound friendship and slowly budding romance against the backdrop of religious intolerance, family discord, and school drama—complete with a
plethora of ’70s pop culture references. Religion bumps up against self-discovery and early romantic fulfillment, but with an accepting minister and supportive friends, both Allie and Sam work to understand their place in the rural South. The story explores the delicate dance of coming out at a young age, and while the book is reminiscent of early LGBTQ fiction for young readers—family strife, alienation, quickly wrapped-up endings, and so on—the 1970s time frame provides something of a justification for the southern attitudes. Young readers will find this novel to be ultimately uplifting and inspirational,
particularly considering the current lack of middle-grade books with LGBTQ content.
Shannon Hitchcock brings a light touch to a very complex era in history, revealing how the “one true way” is the path to unconditional love for two girls. A brilliant and powerful story!
Gr 3–6—After a tragic accident leaves her younger sister Robin hospitalized, 12-year-old Sarah must move in with her grandparents. Miss Irene is Granny’s neighbor and friend, and her granddaughter Ruby Lee has been Sarah’s best friend since she can remember. The trouble is, Sarah is white and Ruby Lee is black—and it’s 1969 in North Carolina. The local school will be integrated this year, and the first black teacher has been hired. Tension is high in the tiny town of Shady Creek. Forced to leave her home and start over on her grandparents’ farm, Sarah must come to grips with her guilt about her sister, her anger and confusion about Ruby Lee, and the uncertainty of relationships among whites and blacks in the rural South. Balancing the heavier topics are home-style recipes, strong storytelling, and Southern charm, which will engage younger middle grade readers. The characters are well developed and the historical setting realistic. VERDICT Tenderly told, this appealing story explores racial tensions during a key moment of the civil rights movement.
Hitchcock deftly weaves her narrative through history to gently bring important past events to light. Excellently written, the novel’s characters avoid stereotyping and are well-developed, and Hitchcock perfectly captures Sarah Beth’s voice as she wrestles with big questions. The somber themes of race relations and personal guilt are handled sensitively and with a good dose of flour, courtesy of Sarah Beth’s grandmother, and hope for racial healing is offered. A heartening and important offering for younger readers.
[A story] about sibling love and self-forgiveness
Sarah’s inner struggles take place against the background of integration in a rural North Carolina community; Hitchcock… depicts her guilt, anger, and grief with credibility and the important people in her life in sympathetic, fully dimensional fashion.
Inspired by Shannon Hitchcock’s family history, THE BALLAD OF JESSIE PEARL wraps you like an old quilt in the traditions, tastes, and dialect of rural North Carolina.
With the poetry of plain speaking, Shannon Hitchcock recreates the daily drama of a vanished world.
This fast-paced historical novel is filled with enough factual detail, recognizable emotions, and personal drama to keep readers turning pages, eager to learn the final verse in the ballad of Jessie’s life. An author’s note about the story’s origins in actual events could inspire students to seek out family stories of their own.
Told in a believable first person, present-tense voice that emphasizes the immediacy of Jessie’s problems and her sometimes-raw emotions, Hitchcock’s debut also neatly captures a full flavor of the setting [a North Carolina tobacco farm] and period [1920s]. The aspects of many characters are also effectively revealed, mostly through authentic-sounding dialogue. …A satisfying tale for readers who don’t require a fully happy ending.
Hitchcock’s debut novel introduces 14-year-old Jessie Pearl, who endures more than her fair share of hardships, beginning with the death of her mother. Opening in 1922, the story follows the daily activities on the family’s North Carolina tobacco farm. …Hitchcock’s story is gently and lovingly written, with elements drawn from her own family history. Its detailed honesty about the particular struggles of the period, especially for strong women (Maude, a no-nonsense midwife, is particularly memorable), is significant.
This is a beautifully written book based on the author’s family history and gives teen readers an interesting glimpse at a time in our history when medical interventions were not as sophisticated as they are now and the impact of these limitations on families.
Hitchcock’s seemingly gentle tale ultimately reveals a powerful tension between Jessie’s love for her baby nephew and her deceased sister, and that of the equally strong pull for independence. …. First love, the risk and thrill of the unknown, a beautiful family that shores her up when she feels weak—all these forces tumble about in a believable manner as Jessie figures out her future one day at a time. You can almost hear the gentle fiddle tune playing in the background as she does so.
Rooted in Hitchcock’s own family history, the story of Jessie Pearl has a sincere tone to it that many readers will appreciate. Jessie’s character is particularly believable, and readers will be able to relate to her difficult choices. ….
[T]his could be a good choice for a classroom novel study.
In time for Women’s History Month, this book offers a realistic and heart-wrenching story of the choices, or lack of choices, women of earlier eras faced. Throughout the book readers will be eagerly awaiting the choice that Jessie makes to determine her future.