THE PROMISED LAND : A NOVEL
By: Valerie Stocking
Published: January 13, 2012
It’s 1966, just two years after President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law, and twelve-year-old Joy Bradford’s life is changing dramatically. Born and raised in the white suburbs of Connecticut, Joy is moving to Willets Point, Florida to live with her mother Jessica because her parents are divorcing. Hoping it really is the Promised Land that her mother describes, she joins in Jessica’s enthusiasm only to find out how horribly wrong that vision is.
Unfortunately for Joy, the move does nothing to change her mother’s emotional and mental instability, resulting in a continuation of the physical and verbal abuse she is all too used to receiving. Her new school is years behind her old one, the kids dress and act differently, and on just the second day, Joy has a run-in with her geography teacher. Things are going from bad to worse until Clay Dooley, a mixed-race boy from that same geography class, offers his friendship. The two become close, sending shockwaves that dovetail with a growing sense of tension and unease in the community as a whole. Clay’s father Clytus, a well-educated black man, attempts to open his own clothing store in the white section of downtown Willets Point. This causes Jessica’s new lawyer cum boyfriend and leader of the local Klan chapter, Bill McKendrick, to join with other white citizens in using great force to block Clytus’ dreams. Tempers flare and emotions run high when Clytus refuses the Klan’s subsequent demand that he and his family move out of the white neighborhood they live in, setting off an explosive confrontation that will change them all forever.
Stocking’s story evolves over a very critical period in our history. What plays out in the story is at times difficult to grasp and stomach. It really saddens me to read of the horrors that were done to African American people in America. Unfortunately, I am sure these stories are just a few of the thousands that were perpetuated all across the south.
This book is full of many themes including mental illness, racism, parenting, the 1960’s, and teen issues. I can imagine book clubs having really deep discussions around the themes in this book. It is definitely a novel that makes you think about how you treat others and wrongs being made right.
I was really shocked at the blatant racism in the book. As a child born in the Midwest, I haven’t seen the harsh, horrible acts of racism that were portrayed in this story. It really made me sick to my stomach. On top of that, I had to “witness” Joy’s mom’s mental breakdowns that resulted in Joy being neglected and verbally and physically abused. Both of these issues in the story were integral, but tough to grasp. It was hard to like the main characters in the book. I certainly didn’t feel sorry for them.
I think the most difficult passage in the book for me to read was after a fire had occurred in The First Baptist Church and several children were killed in the fire:
“I understand that a few pickaninnies lost their lives in a fire here, at the First Baptist Church……Yes, folks, we all have to look at this in perspective. After all, ladies and gentleman, these weren’t little children. They were little niggers.”
I am cringing just typing and reading this passage again. I can not imagine ever thinking this way or anyone I know thinking this way. It just really broke my heart.
Because, this book was set in 1966-1967, I had to realize the limitations of the era as well as the how children related to their parents. Situations were much more hush hush during that time. Joy didn’t have the knowledge or experience to battle against society or her parents.
Even with all the hate in the book, Stocking does leave you with a glimmer of hope at the end. You want to believe things will change and you know they eventually do. But we also know, that in the Spring of 1968 is when Martin Luther King, Jr was killed, so there was still quite a bit of unrest and racism that was yet to be overcome.
The author shares that this book is about her childhood and many parts of the story are based on things she witnessed as a child. I can’t imagine the horrors Stocking experienced and I hope writing this was a bit of healing for her.
Thanks to Dorothy at Pump Up Your Books and Valerie Stocking for sending this book my way. This review is my honest opinion. I was not compensated in any other way for this review.