Book review

Storm by Suzanne Fisher Staples (1996)

Stormy weather, but a storm of emotions too in this heart-breaking book. It's a story about racism.

Buck Smith is white. His family have farmed the land on the eastern shore of Virginia since the 1700s. His best friend, Tunes, is black. She also uses the name Smith because her family have worked the Smith farm since the days of slavery. Buck and Tunes have been brought up together, all their childhood. Their friendship is as solid as a rock. The life they lead in the wild places around the shores is idyllic.

So how could it all crumble away in the course of a few months? The story begins when Buck finds a body in the shallow waters that he is fishing. He knows who it is. It is the manager of a group of immigrant farm workers. Jorge has been murdered. Well, this is where Buck begins to tell his story, but it isn't the beginning of the story, of course. Tunes already seems to know more about the matter than Buck because she makes herself scarce straight away, as though she expects to be blamed for something.

She's right. She is blamed, for the murder of Jorge. You will have to read the book to see how the Sheriff comes to that conclusion, but the real point is that never, for one blink of an eye, does Buck believe that Tunes did murder Jorge. Tunes is his friend and he knows she would not do such a thing. His loyalty to his friend is unshakeable.

The trouble is that no matter how he tries to help her he finds himself striking against the blank wall of adult hypocrisy. Why won't the white Sheriff make the effort to find out who really commited the murder? Why do the white townspeople just stand by and allow Tunes to be blamed for this terrible crime? They have known Tunes all her life too. Even Buck's own father, who owes a huge debt of loyalty to Tunes' father, is content to look the other way, until it is too late:

Dad never was able to believe in Tunes' innocence. He never said as much, but I could tell by the way he tugged at his chin whenever anybody talked about the evidence of the case. Dad was a rigid man for whom there were no shades of meaning when it came to good and bad. But he'd decided that loyalty counted for a lot with family, and he'd remembered almost in time that Tunes was family. Almost but not quite.

There is no way out of this mess. It's a sad and hopeless story - hopeless for the people involved. But I think that despite the despair that you may feel, you will also get a lot out of this book. Highly recommended.

What can I read next?

There aren't any happy books about racism. They are all heartbreaking in their own way. If you enjoyed Storm, you might like to look at this one by Gaye Hicyilmaz:

If prejudice is a matter which concerns you deeply, you could look at this one by Reinhardt Jung:

Also this one by Rosa Guy:

Victimisation of a different kind, but equally devastating, is dealt with by Gillian Cross in this book:

Also, the Bookchooser has found these books with a similar profile:

Storm features in these lists: