Every person blessed with the gift of functional literacy should
have at least a few books he or she can enjoy at least once a decade.
Some may carry the warm pleasure of familiarity. Others and the
changing ways we interpret them may give insight into our inner
evolution. Two of mine are The Little Engine That Could and To Kill A
Mockingbird. Karen Hesse's Witness (2001) is a recent addition to my
lineup. It reminds me of Thornton Wilder's Our Town which, of course,
has a very special place on my list. (I have not only read it across
decades, but acted in it as a teen and a parent).
When we think on the KKK, we tend to envision the South. Truth
be told, those white-sheeted cross burners made some inroads pretty
far North, even as far as Maine I've been told. Witness, told in free
form verse, has them showing up in a Vermont town, turning neighbor
Eleven residents take turns describing events from their
perspectives. Sara, an unmarried farmer, becomes very protective of
the little Jewish girl, Esther, who has brought new joy into her
life. Johnny, a preacher feels that the clan holds a cure for the
promiscuous evils of a wanton generation. Harvey and Viola, a middle
aged couple who own a store are split on the issue. He thinks joining
up might be good for business; she has strong reservations...
Reading the book is like dropping in on a community in a very
different time, hearing the bits and pieces that add up to a rich
crazy quilt of humanity. A very discerning reader might be inspired
to look at an issue dividing his/her town, school, or social group
from multiple perspectives and gain more understanding.
On a personal note, Witness is one of the books that inspired me to go
for free verse rather than prose for telling my stories.
A great big shout out goes out to all authors who can create
believable communities of regular people.
Julia Emily Hathaway
Sent from my iPod