Monday, 17 December 2012

Feathers



It is the 1970's and though racial discrimination has been ruled as unacceptable, there is still a lingering sense of segregation in an American urban community. The blacks live on one side while the whites live on the other. Children go to their races' assigned schools, and for African American children, the school is Price, the setting of the novel.

One day, a white kid comes as a new student in class.  He is immediately dubbed as Jesus Boy. Being the first and only white kid in Price, Jesus Boy's coming made a stir in class.

Some of the kids were curious about the new kid: Samantha, a religious kid, believes that Jesus Boy is Jesus; Maribel, in her arrogance and disgust, shared  that Jesus Boy paid with pennies instead of dollars when he bought food from their family's store; and Frannie claimed that she saw Jesus Boy's father whom she described as black-colored like them.

But not everyone in school were satisfied at simply being curious. One of the kids in class, Trevor,  teases Jesus Boy in every chance he gets, telling Jesus Boy to return to his old school where other white kids go.

The story is told from the point of view of Frannie, a preteen who's only beginning to understand the things that are happening around her. She tries to explain many things: why Samantha's religious; why everybody laughed when Trevor was humiliated; and why, in Emily Dickinson's poem, hope is described as a "thing with feathers".

Frannie is particularly sensitive about disabilities because of her brother Sean who is deaf. She becomes angry when girls, who are initially attracted to Sean, would suddenly lose interest when they learn of his disability. She stares at other kids who make jokes about deafness and sign language. For Frannie, sign language is as natural as having a second language; so it makes her wonder what makes deafness seem too different for the others.

Frannie also feels torn on how her classmates treat Jesus Boy. She notices that Trevor and his friends always pick on Jesus Boy, and that Jesus Boy eats alone at lunch. She once experienced being a new student herself and she didn't like the loneliness she felt; but when she thinks about Jesus Boy, a white boy attending in their school, she agrees with the rest that it does feel strange.

Throughout the novel, Frannie is torn with her questions and not all of her questions will be answered in the end. Some are left hanging, letting readers to ponder for their own explanation.

This novel presents discrimination on varied aspects: race, disability, economic status, and religion. Though the theme of discrimination is highly sensitive, Jacqueline Woodson managed to present it in a story and in a tone that is not pitying, nor condescending, nor righteous. Through Frannie's point of view, the novel takes a tone that blends innocence with a developing wisdom; it's tone is curious, but respectful and understanding.

In this novel, Jacqueline Woodson shares a deeper look at the seeming victims of discrimination, giving them depth and a lighter dimension that are frequently overlooked and misunderstood by those who discriminate or pity. Because of it, the novel makes a fitting read for anyone who are seeking a refreshingly lighter view on discrimination.


"It's different, Sean said. Imagine if there was a bridge from every single window in the world to some whole new place. That would be crazy, wouldn't it? It would mean we could all just step out of our worlds into these whole new ones."

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