The Color of Thunder by J.C. Wing
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Beautiful and satisfying, though sometimes bogged down in the details.
The Color of Thunder follows young Faith Linsey as she grows up in Jackson, Mississippi in the 1940s, '50s, and '60s. As the daughter of a prominent and respected pastor, her role in the family and the community is one of service. To her father, she is an extra female useful for helping her mother with the household and for keeping her unruly sister, Hope, out of trouble.
Faith embraces her responsibilities and accepts the world at face value until one fateful night when she witnesses her father sneaking out into the night to send a fiery message to a family who committed the unspeakable crime of showing kindness and giving a ride to their young black housekeeper. Rocked by the revelation that her father isn't the righteous man she'd always believed him to be, Faith begins to take note of the things happening in her family, her town and the world.
Set in the South during the rise of the Civil Rights Movement, racial tension and gender bias color an otherwise normal, though at times tragic, upbringing. Incidents like a young boy tragically murdered after talking to a white shopkeeper's wife on a dare reveal much about the times and are shocking, in part because of the reactions of the various characters such as women overheard in a shop chatting about the gall of the young boy and saying he deserved it versus the newspaper article Faith finds that portrays in gruesome detail his injuries and his mother's refusal to hold a closed casket funeral.
The members of her family and are wrought with realistic personalities: prideful and prejudiced, loving and dutiful, haughty and irreverent, and, of course, innocent and sweet. Most of all, I enjoyed watching Faith and her siblings grow up, their values and beliefs developing in response to love, strife, and loss. I was pleased that her brother Luke, though he follows his father into the ministry, does not follow him in his world views. Hope, rascally as she is, is one of my favorite characters. Her fierce yet tender loyalty and devotion to little Grace is truly heartwarming.
Overall, I found this book satisfying and thought provoking, though the level of detail sometimes gets carried away. I do not need to know that a person is using their back molars to chew something, nor do I need to be reminded exactly how and to what body parts sweat drenched clothing is sticking. In particular, these details are distracting when placed right in the middle of dialog and expounded upon at length.
In my opinion, this is not a book you should read when tired; it is too easy to lose track of what's going on. And, perhaps as a side effect of the overzealous descriptions, the book is quite lengthy. I rarely skim or speed read, but there were times I found myself doing that to try to find the next significant detail in the story. That being said, some of the images brought nearly tangible memories of my own childhood to mind, yielding mixed feelings about the level of detail. In some ways, it's too much; but in others, it's just right.
I would definitely recommend this book to those who enjoy coming of age stories, historical fiction, and a realistic telling of life during a difficult time in our country's history. This is a story that deserves to be read in a cheerful, bright location, perhaps a garden or cozy breakfast nook within view of nature and the sun, perfect complements to the vivid prose. While the story is lengthy, I think readers will be able to quickly and accurately determine whether this story is to their taste as the opening chapters are representative of the whole.
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