Rather than paint a black versus white picture of the pre-civil-rights South, Levine uses the story of the friendship between a black teenage girl and a white teenage boy to explore the different shades of prejudice of the time period. Everything from acceptance to the ugliest bigotry is present.
The hero acts mostly as an observer of prejudice. His fairly liberal family has not raised him to be racist, and he already has black friends when Emma moves to town. His main objection to her is actually that he wanted a boy his age to live next door, not a girl. She gradually overcomes even his chauvinism as he comes to appreciate her brains and bravery. The friendship between them is touching and realistic. Levine even includes some romantic tension, and I would love to see her tackle that issue further in a sequel.
The writing is well-done, and the only reason I kept this book down at 3 stars is that the plot calls for heavy suspension of disbelief toward the end, and I could not quite make the leap. For many young readers, though, the fact that the teens achieve social justice by hoodwinking adult authority figures may override the slight implausibility.
Recommend to: Age 13-17, classrooms, historical fiction fans