This is a unique and vividly told novel about a girl named Betsey Brown, an African American seventh-grader growing up in St. Louis, Missouri.
This world, though a work of fiction, is based closely and carefully on actual history, specifically on the nationwide school desegregation events of the Civil Rights movement in Americas recent past.
As such, Betsey Brown is a historical novel that will speak to and broaden the perspectives of readers both familiar with and unaware of Americas domestic affairs of 1950s and 1960s.Shange has set her story in the autumn of 1959, the year St. Louis started to desegregate its schools.
The novel is firmly located in the wake of this landmark ruling; the plot of Shanges novel and the history of Americas quest for integration during the Civil Rights era are fundamentally entwined.
Thus textual references abound to the watershed events at Little Rocks Central High School in the September of 1957, for example, and to "fire-bombings and burningcrosses" in the South as well as "'battalions of police and crowds of crackers'" at a demonstration in St. Louis.Betsey is the oldest child in a large, remarkable, and slightly eccentric African American family.
Her father is a doctor who wakes his children each morning with point-blank questions about African history and Black culture while beating on a conga drum; her mother is a beautiful, refined, confident, and strong-willed social worker who is overwhelmed by the vast size of her young family and who cares very little for all that nasty colored music.Indeed, Betseys whole existence can be seen as a perceptive, adventuresome, and still-developing hybrid of her parents most distinctive qualities.
Their her parents' difficult marriage, like the difficult era of desegregation that has only begun in St. Louis and the rest of America, is the realistic, conflicted, yet ultimately hopeful backdrop before which Betseys lip-synching, poem-reciting, soul-searching, truth-seeking, tree-climbing, and fact-finding take place.
Betseys running away sends her parents into a vicious fight, while her subsequent return seems to bring them closer together (if only temporarily).As a novel, Betsey Brown is panoramic yet personal.
It tells us what being a Black student in the early days of American desegregation was like by showing us what being Betsey Brown is like.