The NeXt Book Club choice for Black History Month (February) is "Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy" (Yearling paperback, $6.50) by Gary Schmidt, a fascinating but hauntingly sad novel that's based on a shameful true incident in early 20th century Maine.
When the book begins, 13-year-old Truman Buckminster has just arrived in Phippsburg, Maine, and already he hates it there. He's an only child and the preacher's son, so everyone in this very small town expects him to behave in a certain way.
Then Truman chances to meet Lizzie Bright, a girl his age who lives with her grandfather on nearby Malaga Island. The island is home to descendants of slaves, who are very poor and survive by fishing and doing odd jobs in town.
Lizzie is the first black person Truman has ever met. His father does not approve of the friendship, but Truman spends time with Lizzie who teaches him to hit a slow-pitch ball and dig for clams. When he is punished -- forced to play the organ for a dying neighbor lady every afternoon -- Lizzie sneaks into town to hear him play. All the while, the town's racist leaders are plotting to promote tourism by evicting the "squatters" and their shacks from the island.
We can't say more, but Schmidt notes that his novel is based on a true incident in 1912, when the State of Maine declared Malaga Island an eyesore and evicted about 50 people, burning their homes and even digging up the graves there.
This beautifully written and memorable novel won Newbery and Michael Printz honors and was both an American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults and Notable Children's Book and a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year. It's read in the classroom by schoolchildren in Michigan, where the author teaches English at Calvin College.
HOW TO JOIN BOOK CLUB: Readers 18 and younger may write a short review (150 word or less) of "Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy." Don't just rehash the plot; tell us what you especially liked (or didn't like) about it. Mail the review to NeXt Book Club, Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, N.Y. 14240 or or e-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Include name, age, school you attend and home mailing address (for prizes) by March 5. Some reviews will be printed in NeXt. All who send reviews will be eligible for a drawing of NeXt T-shirts and books and tickets to the upcoming production of "The Giver" at the Theatre of Youth. (See below.)
>'THE GIVER' BONUS:
Award-winning author Lois Lowry is coming to Buffalo on April 1 at the same time the Theatre of Youth presents a play based on her classic novel, "The Giver." NeXt is offering passes to the TOY play in a random drawing to NeXt Book Club members who turn in reviews of either "Lizzie Bright" or "The Giver" by the March 5 deadline. TOY presents "The Giver" starting March 9.