John Armistead

The Return of Gabriel

Milkweed Editions, 2002


Recommended for young readers (ages 8-13)

"Young people will not be able to put this book down. It gives a wonderful and emotional picture of the difficulty that faced African-Americans who wanted to change the system and white Americans who wanted to help."
—Dolphus Weary, Director Mission Mississippi, author of I Ain't Coming Back

The summer of 1964 begins calmly enough. Cooper Grant, Jubal Harris, and Squirrel Kogan form a secret society called the Scorpions, hoping to even the score with the local bully, Reno McCarthy. But when civil rights workers come to their small Mississippi town and the Ku Klux Klan responds with intimidation and terrorism, the sultry days and nights are transformed into Freedom Summer.

Reviews


From Publishers Weekly
Armistead follows his strong first novel, The $66 Summer, about prejudice in the 1950s South, with an equally dramatic story set in 1964. The easy-going friendship between Cooper, a white 13-year-old, and his African-American neighbor, Jubal, is suddenly threatened when liberal-minded college students arrive from California, determined to bring change to Cooper's segregated Mississippi town. His loyalties split between his own family and Jubal's, Cooper finds himself in a precarious position, unable to please anyone. His membership in a "colored" church riles the anger of the white community. By following his father to KKK meetings, he arouses suspicions and resentment among African-Americans he has known all his life. Cooper puts himself in danger in order to save friends who have abandoned him, and his actions pay off when he prevents a church from being bombed. Political messages at times overpower character development, but readers will remain riveted as the action rises to a fever pitch. The star role Cooper plays in disbanding his town's newly formed white supremacy clan is inspiring, however, students familiar with American history may find the resolution to be more idealistic than realistic. Ages 8-13.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From School Library Journal
Grade 5-8-The summer of 1964 begins simply enough for Cooper, Jubal, and Squirrel, the founding members of a secret club called the Scorpions. Their biggest concern is to finish building their fort and impress the local bully, Reno McCarthy. Life becomes much more complicated for these three friends who come from different racial and religious backgrounds, when civil rights workers come to their small Mississippi town and encourage the blacks there to vote. The Ku Klux Klan responds with intimidation and terrorism. A cross is burned in front of Squirrel's house, and his family flees. Cooper's father insists that his son attend Klan meetings with him. The mounting racial tensions drive a wedge between the young people, but they struggle to look past them and remain loyal to one another. The Return of Gabriel is a suspenseful, compelling story of boys having to grapple with decisions that are well beyond their years. Their determination to keep their friendship intact despite all the pressures to end it will resonate with readers. An inspiring story set during the contentious Freedom Summer.
Edward Sullivan, White Pine School, TN
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist
Gr. 6-9. The lives of friends Cooper Grant, Jubal Harris, and "Squirrel" Kogan are changed forever when the freedom movement explodes in their small Mississippi town in 1964. At 13, the boys are old enough to understand the issues and know that their bonds will be tested as their families and communities take sides in the escalating conflict. The boys' families have been linked for generations; Jubal's mother cooks for the Grants, and Cooper attends the Harrises' church, Oak Grove Baptist. Cooper's uncle supports the burgeoning voter-registration movement, but his dad attends Klan rallies. When Cooper learns about Klan activities, he faces a terrifying dilemma. What if beloved community members are killed and he had knowledge of the plans? Should he play the role of angel Gabriel and secretly warn the folks whose lives are in danger? What if he's found out? Armistead tells a powerful story, with solid characterizations and a finely paced, page-turning plot. It's not only a flashback to earlier times but also a potent, thought-provoking political scenario. Anne O'Malley
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Selected Works

Fiction
A Sheriff Grover Bramlett mystery
A Sheriff Grover Bramlett mystery
A Sheriff Bramlett mystery
Young adult fiction
A thirteen-year-old boy in Alabama visits his grandmother and learns about the violence of racism.
A thirteen-year-old boy is caught up in the violence of Mississippi in the summer of 1964.