The Changelings

Added Jo Sinclair’s The Changelings to my book recommendations list. A complex and powerful story about prejudice, as well as young people’s struggle against the restrictive mindset of their parents.

[This post was imported on 4/10/14 from my old blog at satsumabug.livejournal.com. My old book review webpage is no longer up, but I’ve pasted the text of my review below.]

The Changelings is a very powerful, richly written book about fighting back against prejudice. In a general sense, the story focuses on a white (primarily Jewish) community which is determined to repel the entry of black residents into their neighborhood. On a more focused level, the novel concerns two twelve-year-old girls, one white and one black, as they attempt to make sense of the world around them. The normal difficulties of growing up and trying to find their place in the world are painfully intertwined with the larger racial struggle, and Judith and Clara deal with both in a courageous and moving way, rejecting their parents’ way of life while accepting their parents as people.

One of the biggest reasons I liked this book was that none of the characters in it, particularly the main characters, came across as ordinary or stereotypical. Judith and Clara are tough tomboys, gang leaders, smokers and fighters. And while the others around them are not such unusual figures–a sensitive invalid, a rebellious son, a dreamy and hopeful single woman, etc–they are always believeable; no one is idealized or sentimentalized. I am amazed that this book, written in the fifties, is still so relevant and electrifying.

Classification: The book is electrifying, but not all the way through; I have to admit that for the first seventy or so pages I was a little bored and I thought this was just going to be a so-so book. The definitely dated typesetting and cover do not help at all (I believe there’s only one edition, so there’s no escape for you!). It is not a long book, but it seems long because it is so complex and because the beginning is so slow and the print so unappealingly old-looking. Mainly, I would not recommend reading this right before going to sleep, although it is a nice evening read (maybe early evening?). First, if you are sleepy, the slow-moving first part will be extra dull. And then, the ending is not conducive to restfulness, which is why I am now up at two-fifteen am writing this review! Another thing: I always find that I would rather be alone to read books that really move me, so if that’s also the case for you, make sure no one else is around. Once you start to get to know the characters, once you get past the development, things really start moving and you will be entirely engrossed. A very, very powerful work.

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