“Red” Porter is the protagonist of this coming-of-age novel set in a small town in the Deep South in the 1970’s. He has only just turned twelve and certainly does see red quite a few times in the novel in his angry and frustrated attempt to deal with his family situation. Red’s father has just died of a heart attack and his mother wants to move away from all he and his little brother have ever known: Crushed by grief over her husband and unable to deal with the feelings of her children, she wants to return to Ohio for a new beginning. Red is on his own and is determined to take his father’s place. He starts playing hooky in order to run his family’s small shop. In his desperate attempt to stop his mother from selling the family business and house, Red asks a bunch of neighborhood boys to help damage the property to discourage potential buyers. He unwillingly finds himself at a junior KKK assembly and, horrified, is bullied into setting fire to a cross. All along, Red is trying to live up to his father’s high moral standards of doing “what is right” and “fixing things”, and finally Red finds his way.
As the plot unravels, so do tales of prejudice reaching back for many generations and an old grudge towards the neighbouring family, the Dunlops. Mr Dunlop is the kind of man that beats his children, gets bad-tempered and carries a shotgun – exactly the opposite of everything the “good” Porters stand for in their community. The third corner in this triangle of relationships is Miss Georgia, an old coloured woman and friend of the Porters who lives close by and whose family was wronged many years ago. But things are not as straightforward as they seem. Red stumbles upon an old family secret that rocks the foundation of everything he has ever believed in.
“Seeing Red” touches upon many issues of the era, ranging from racism, over women’s lib to the Vietnam War. The 1970’s are depicted as a decade in which not only the bedrock of Red’s world is shaken, but America itself is wounded.
When I started reading this novel I was afraid it would be full of stereotypes of the Old South. But then the story went much deeper than I had anticipated and I enjoyed following Red’s development from a stubborn, hurting boy to a young man who is able to face up to some very harsh truths in a short period of time. This book has a universal appeal and is suitable for young teenagers that want more than wizards and vampires.
Erskine, Kathryn: Seeing Red, Usborne Books, London, 2014. 371 Pages
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