Erskine starts out Seeing Red with a punch – “when your daddy dies, everything changes” and indeed it does. We are taken on a summer journey into the life of a twelve year old whose world is changing faster that he can hope to understand. We are looking at family loss, witness to family abuse and the confusion and hurt that comes with racial misunderstanding, the lack of women’s rights.
Red’s family different -his father is gone, his mother has retreated to the bedroom and the relationships with the people around him do not make sense. He now feels he must be the man of the house and those decision are not easy to make.
This is a coming of age story like many we have read but Erskine keeps us walking the line between good and bad choices. Red, our main character, is at odds with most people around him as his mother works to sell their home and daddy’s shop. He is determined to find a way to stay and looks for help in not the best places.
The mark of a great read is when the characters change and we learn from their choices- good and bad ones. This is one of those stories where you watch each person grown over time. Red’s mother finds her voice and place in a world without her husband, his younger brother begins to grow up, his friends have lessons to learn but it is Red that you are cheering for at the end. He has learned about himself and what friendship means to families across time and color lines.
This middle grade novel would be a great companion book to read with a history unit on civil rights, women’s rights and/or the 60’s. There are so many wonderful places to stop while reading and explore the events and emotions of the characters. We also need to take time for our students to share their thinking and feelings on these powerful topics. The author makes connections to newscasters like Walter Cronkite, and events like the death of Emmitt Till that are prefect for small research projects and family discussions with parents and grandparents about their memories and feelings.