This is the story of Richmond, Virginia after the Civil War. The war ended three years prior, but the conflict is no where near done. Shad and his family live in Richmond. One night Shad follows his brother to a Klan meeting and joins the brotherhood. At first he thinks it is all meetings and singing songs and playing pranks, but then things get serious. It doesn’t help that Shad has started teaching colored children how to sew in return for reading lessons. Shad has always thought he was stupid because he couldn’t read, but now he learns that he just switches some letters around and can read after he learns some tricks. Everything changes when the Klan kills his teacher and wants to torch the colored school. Shad has to decide if he is going to stick with the Klan or try and do what is right.
This is a very powerful story that isn’t often heard. You read a lot of books about what happened during the Civil War, but not a lot about reconstruction. You also don’t learn a lot about the poor Southern families who didn’t own slaves and who fought in the war for freedom not slavery. I really enjoyed the rawness of this story and how honest it was in its portrayal. My only quibble, and its a minor one, was the scene where Rachel, the colored teacher, first meets Shad on the street. She is extremely forward with him and doesn’t act anything like a just freed slave would act. During the rest of the book she acts much more restrained. That one scene really stood out to me and felt inaccurate. Other than that the rest of the book seemed like it could have really happened.