There are times when a tree can no longer withstand the pain inflicted on it, and the wind will take pity on that tree and topple it over in a mighty storm. All the other trees who witnessed the evil look down upon the fallen tree with envy. They pray for the day when a wind will end their suffering.
I pray for the day when God will end mine.
In a time and place without moral conscience, fourteen-year-old Ansel knows what is right and what is true.
But it is dangerous to choose honesty, and so he chooses silence.
Now an innocent man is dead, and Ansel feels the burden of his decision. He must also bear the pain of losing a friend, his family, and the love of a lifetime.
Coretta Scott King Award winner and Newbery Honoree Julius Lester delivers a haunting and poignant novel about what happens when one group of people takes away the humanity of another.
About the Author
Julius Lester is the author of the Newbery Honor Book To Be a Slave, the Caldecott Honor Book John Henry, the National Book Award finalist The Long Journey Home: Stories from Black History, and the Coretta Scott King Award winner Day of Tears. He is also a National Book Critics Circle nominee and a recipient of the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award. His most recent picture book, Let's Talk About Race, was named to the New York Public Library's "One Hundred Titles for Reading and Sharing." In addition to his critically acclaimed writing career, Mr. Lester has distinguished himself as a civil rights activist, musician, photographer, radio talk-show host, and professor. For thirty-two years he taught at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He lives in western Massachusetts.
Read an Excerpt
Davis, a small town in the deep South of the United States.
Fourteen-year-old Ansel Anderson stands by the screen door in the entrance of the store his grandfather started, the store where Ansel's father worked beside his father when he was a boy, the store where Ansel now works beside his father.
It is late afternoon. The heat is as heavy as a broken heart.
Nothing moves, not the leaves on the large oak tree at the end of the concrete island in the middle of the main street, not the three men sitting on a bench in the tree's shade, not even a bird.
On the other side of the street, the clothing, shoe, and drug stores are as empty of customers as Anderson's.
Long before Ansel was born, when his grandfather ran Anderson's General Store, they carried clothes, shoes, and remedies in addition to the groceries, rifles, ammunition, and fishing equipment they carried now. Bert, Ansel's father, took over the store after his father dropped dead behind the counter from a heart attack because, Bert believed, the store had tried to be everything to everybody. That was a good way to give yourself a heart attack, not run a business. Bert was only eighteen when his father died, but he consolidated the inventory and increased profitability.
Ansel has worked in the store since he can remember. One day it will be his. He is not sure he will be as good at it as his father is.
Bert is a congenial and handsome man with curly, dark hair, blue eyes, and a smile that could steal honey from bees.
Many people, especially women, come to the store as much for hissmile as to buy what they need. Bert knows people need a smile as much as they need to buy milk.
People almost always leave the store feeling better than when they came in, and all because Bert smiled at them.
Ansel is more like his mother-short, dark straight hair, dark eyes. She looks younger than her thirty-two years, and he certainly looks younger than his fourteen.
His mother, Maureen, used to work in the store every day after she and Bert married six months before Ansel was born. But she only works Saturdays now. That's when Zeph Davis, or Cap'n Davis, as everyone, white and colored, calls him, brings his Negroes into town.
They don't have money. They work on shares. He takes care of all their needs-a shack to live in, clothes to wear, food to eat, cottonseed, and everything else they might need. In the fall when they pick the cotton and bring it to Cap'n Davis to be weighed, he deducts their expenses from what he would have paid them for the cotton, and their expenses include the cheese and crackers and sodas they buy at Anderson's every Saturday. Their expenses are always greater than what Cap'n Davis pays them for the cotton they grow, so each year they end up deeper in debt to him than they were the year before. It is another form of slavery.
Ansel's mother is the one who writes in the big ledger book what the Negroes buy and how much it costs.
There is a dour seriousness about her and Ansel. Both mother and son are cloaked in melancholy, a sadness arising, perhaps, from the land in which the sorrowing trees spread their roots, a despair that their lives have as little meaning as the dust stirred up by a passing car.
It worries Bert that Ansel is so much like his mother. The boy can't seem to grasp a simple thing like how important it is to smile at customers. "People buy as much because they like you as because they need something."
"What if I don't feel like smiling?" Ansel asked his father once.
Bert had gotten angry. "There ain't no place for feelings in business. Your job is to see to it that people who come in for one thing leave with two, three, or four. The only thing you should be feeling is how you can get somebody to believe he needs something, whether he does or not. People don't want to feel like you're taking their money. Smile, and they'll feel like they're giving it to you."
"But that's not honest," Ansel had insisted.
Bert smiled. "It is if you're running a business!"
Ansel turns away from the door and goes over to his father, who is seated behind the counter.
"Papa? Do you need me and Willie for anything?"
Bert looks at his son. He remembers what it was like when he was fourteen and stood looking out the screen door on a day like today thinking he was going to die of boredom. He would not have minded closing the store and going home, but if he did, as sure as he was breathing, somebody would come to town wanting something.
"I reckon not. You and Willie going to do a little fishing?"
"Y'all can go on. But tomorrow's Wednesday. You and Willie have to take groceries and supplies out to Miz Esther's first thing."
"Yes, sir. Thanks, Papa." Ansel runs eagerly to the storage room at the back of the store where Willie is.
Bert frowns as he hears the two excited voices.
He had hired Willie for the summer because Esther Davis had asked him to. As far as Bert was concerned, a nigger boy like that ought to be out working in the field, but his mama was Esther's cook and housekeeper, and his father was crazy. There wasn't anybody he could work in the fields with.
Bert didn't need the boy, but he couldn't refuse to do something a Davis asked, even one as eccentric as Esther.
He had to admit that the boy worked hard keeping the storage room neat and organized, shelving goods, and packing groceries. Him doing what Ansel would normally be doing had given Bert the opportunity to start teaching his son the business-how to do the ordering, from whom and for what, how to keep track of inventory, and how to total up the receipts at the end of each day.Guardian EPB. Copyright (c) by Julius Lester . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Loved this book. It was a quick read with a powerful message. I recommended this for a middle school group read. Provides lots of thought-provoking discussion. Themes of friendship and integrity combine with the darker side of black history to pack a punch!
This book discusses an important but disturbing piece of American history ¿ racially inspired mob lynching in the 1940s South. The book takes on the perspective of several people living in a small town where a shocking and violent rape results in an innocent man¿s life being taken. I admire the author tackling such a weighty issue, but I had two major problems with this book. The first is that the slim book focuses on less than a week¿s worth of time, and I feel like the characters and writing style both suffer from this. Instead of letting the characters have time to develop, the author has to just come out and say what the characters are supposed to be like ¿ i.e., he is evil, he is good, he is scared, etc. ¿ rather than show this through a more elaborate unfolding of the major characters. As a consequence, the reader never really feels like the characters could be real people (instead of caricatures) and can¿t feel connected with the characters. The second problem I had is with the writing style. For much of the book, it feels almost like the author is writing stage directions rather than a novel. In addition, I didn¿t particularly like the way the omniscient narrator jumps back and forth between the past, present, and future within a sentence or a paragraph. (For instance, note the discontinuity in this paragraph: ¿As the Reverend walks back into the crowd, people eagerly step forward to shake his hand, pat him on the back, express their condolences over his loss. Many of them will think back on this night when, the very next summer, the Reverend is caught with one of the girls from the Junior Choir, which is what had happened in Atlanta. The Reverend and his wife were barely given time to pack before they left Davis. No one knew where he went, and no one cared.¿ ¿ p. 87). Personally, I also felt like many of the situations in this book were more adult than young adult in nature. Honestly, the best part of the book for me was the historical facts included in the back of the book.
A deeply moving book with an equally deep message, I found this book at the library and brought it home but then never read it. A couple months later i came back and got it again. I read it and have not regretted it since. It is a quick but powerful read.
This short story was very moving. Ansel is a 14 yr old growing up in rural Atlanta in a very racial town named Davis in 1946. He¿s the son of the local general store owner who tries to make everyone happy and acts just right so as not to ruffle anyone¿s feathers. Ansel is a good kid. He has a crush on the pastors daughter Mary Susan, he has a caring mother, who hates the racism of the town, and a close friend, Little Willie¿who happens to be black. Bert his father isn¿t happy about it but Ms. Davis asked him to give Little Willie a job and no one says ¿no¿ to a Davis. Ms. Ester Davis isn¿t like the rest of the town. She was educated in Massachusetts and only returned to help take care of her ailing father, who God apparently punished for his wrong deeds by making him die a slow 10 yr death. Ester is unhappy watching her younger brother Zeph torture the blacks in town with his son Zeph following suit and worse yet. In the short few days this 78 pg story takes place, Ansel & Willie¿s lives are permanently changed. I agree with the author, Julius Lester, the story was unique & startling to present all the ugliness of racism & lynching from a white persons point of view; who had to live with the knowledge of "what if¿"
i read this book andjust thought it was so good!! it was really sad but i would definetly recommend this book to my friends and family! also it is definelty worthy of reading again!!! i love julius lester he is an amazing author!
There was a dark time in the history of the United States when even the best-intentioned people bore silent witness to the atrocities that were being committed by others. A time in which a person had to chose between honesty and personal safety.
It is Tuesday afternoon, a hot summer day in 1946. By Friday night a crime will have been committed, two people will be dead, and fourteen-year-old Ansel Anderson will be forever tormented by the events of that night and those that followed.
Ansel lives in Davis, a small town deep in the South. The town was named after the most wealthy and influential family in the area, the family now headed by Zeph Davis. Cap'n Davis has a way of employing his "negroes" in such a way that they remain in debt to him, a legal form of slavery.
Everyone in Davis knows the rules of the social order. Black people are expected to address all whites - even the children - as "ma'am" or "sir", they are to move from the sidewalk when a white person is coming, and they are to always be congenial. Even Ansel's best friend, Willie, addresses him as Mister Ansel.
Ansel works in his father's store, along with Willie. Bert Anderson is preparing Ansel to take over the store someday, and to be a successful store owner he knows that Ansel has to start considering who he spends time with and what the other people in town think of him. His mother Maureen feels differently. She doesn't like the way the townspeople act and doesn't want her son to grow up with such narrow-minded influences. She has bigger dreams for Ansel, and, along with Esther Davis, Cap'n Davis's sister, she plants the seeds for Ansel to dream of a future beyond Davis.
An unfortunate storm is brewing in Davis. Entitlement and anger are swelling in Zeph Davis the Third, the teenage son of Cap'n Davis. But who would believe that the son of a wealthy white man could commit such a heinous act as rape and murder when there was a negroe at the scene of the crime?
And even if they do believe, will anyone take the risk of speaking out?
GUARDIAN is an amazingly well-crafted story that grabs your attention and your heart from the very beginning. Author Julius Lester has a way of pulling you along in such a way that you can feel the intensity building with every word until the explosive finale. There is no sugar-coating to this story; it is real and it is raw and borne from a very sad reality in our world.
If you can read and pass along one book this year, let it be GUARDIAN.