Book Title: Freedom Lessons (a novel) by Eileen Harrison Sanchez
Category: Adult Fiction (18+) , 245 pages
Genre: American Historical Fiction
Publisher: She Writes Press
Release date: November 2019
Content Rating: PG. This book is a clean read. The use of the words Negro, colored and a one time reference use of nigger, though not politically correct by today's standards, is era specific and not intended in any kind of pejorative sense.
2019 Best Book Awards Finalist in Fiction (Multicultural)
“This powerful tale offers a beacon of hope that individuals can inspire change.”
Freedom Lessons begins in Louisiana 1969 as Colleen, a white northern teacher, enters into the unfamiliar culture of a small Southern town and its unwritten rules as the town surrenders to mandated school integration. She meets Frank, a black high school football player, who is protecting his family with a secret. And Evelyn, an experienced teacher and prominent member of the local black community, who must decide whether she’s willing to place trust in her new white colleague. Told alternately by Colleen, Frank, and Evelyn, Freedom Lessons is the story of how the lives of these three purportedly different people intersect in a time when our nation faced, as it does today, a crisis of race, unity, and identity.
School desegregation is something we all learn about in history class; perhaps we even remember the striking image of Ruby Bridges being escorted to and from school by the U.S. Marshals. But for most of us in 2019, that’s near the extent of what we understand about that tumultuous time. Eileen Sanchez, the debut novelist behind Freedom Lessons (She Writes Press, November 12, 2019), draws on her own remarkable experience as a young, white teacher in the Jim Crow South during desegregation, to write her immersive work of fiction inspired by those events. The result is an unusually authentic exploration of a snapshot in history through the eyes of characters that are relatable and unmistakably human—living lives and navigating relationships against the backdrop of extreme societal upheaval. Sanchez has woven a beautiful story not just about desegregation as an abstract concept, but about the people who lived it—and asks us to question our assumptions about that time, and the issues it has left in its 50-year wake.
The first thing to capture my attention to this story was the cover. I grew up in this time era, so the depiction of the old-style school room brought me back to my youth. Secondly, I love reading historical fiction and non-fiction—both recent and distant, and I equally love learning from the lessons of the past.
What I liked:
The story itself was the next thing to draw me in. The characters were diverse in far more than just race and culture. I was intrigued by Colleen, a naïve white teacher from the North, delving into the segregated South. I learned to appreciate Evelyn, the black teacher who wore a hard shell and was difficult to read. And it was easy to connect and empathize with Frank, the high school football player. The author showed the changes in the nation through these varying points of view, revealing the mean and vindictive reluctance to change through their individual and diverse contexts.
What I feel was lacking:
Our upbringings can birth either prejudice or acceptance—this story makes that clear. But I wanted more from this book. I expected to get a better understanding of the hearts and minds of both those who longed for change and those who bitterly fought it. And in some ways, I did. But I still wanted more. I longed to dig deeper, to peel back more layers and unearth cavernous emotions, but the writing style felt more like reporting than storytelling.
Freedom Lessons depicts the intolerances and injustices of the civil rights era. I feel this is a wonderful book to introduce middle grade readers to this pivotal time in history, but as an adult I expected the story to penetrate deeper.
Eileen Harrison Sanchez is now retired after a forty-year career in education. She started as a teacher and ended as a district administrator. She has been writing part time for seven years with a writers group in Summit, NJ. Eileen is a member of the Historical Novel Society, Philadelphia Stories Writers Community, Goodreads American Historical Novels Group, and several online writers’ groups. A reader, a writer, and a perennial—a person with a no-age mindset—she considers family and friends to be the most important parts of her life, followed by traveling and bird watching from her gazebo.
connect with the author: website ~ facebook ~ twitter ~ instagram