Brotherhood by A.B. Westrick

BROTHER
Brotherhood by A.B. Westrick
Publisher: Viking
Genre: Historical, YA
Length: Full Length (368 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 10+ (some violence)
Rated: 5 Stars
Review by Snapdragon

The year is 1867, the South has been defeated, and the American Civil War is over. But the conflict goes on. Yankees now patrol the streets of Richmond, Virginia, and its citizens, both black and white, are struggling to redefine their roles and relationships. By day, fourteen-year-old Shadrach apprentices with a tailor and sneaks off for reading lessons with Rachel, a freed slave, at her school for African-American children. By night he follows his older brother to the meetings of a group whose stated mission is to protect Confederate widows like their mother. But as the true murderous intentions of the brotherhood—-now known as the Ku Klux Klan—-are revealed, Shad finds himself trapped between old loyalties and what he knows is right.

A powerful and unflinching story of a family caught in the enormous social and political upheaval of the period of Reconstruction.

This is a remarkable personal journey that will hold readers enthralled.

I didn’t expect to be held enthralled.  In fact, I didn’t expect to enjoy Brotherhood. The South during the reconstruction period seems singularly lacking in charm: in fact, Brotherhood has a lot of anger which colored everyday life–anger and hatred and not only for people far away.

The story features characters that annoy – even the main character proves frustrating. Shad isn’t a bad fellow (for a fourteen year old, living in the turmoil of conflict and its aftermath) but he isn’t sterling either. He does not magically rise above the rampant racism around him, but he does question it. Shad’s grandfather and even his mother, don’t only accept what is, but are so actively on the side of hatred that it’s almost too much. And his brother has a life based in horrendous cruelty.

Shad’s sense of justice kicks in not only when someone is cruel to him, but when he sees the shady side of people, even people that are supposed to uphold the law. He is not okay with cruelty, and that sets him aside and ultimately (for this reader) is what makes this book worth reading. He does meet, and admire a young girl named Rachel, who is not white.  However, he was a not-quite-hater even before he ever met her. We are touched with his desire to impress and later, protect her, but I think, ultimately, it was not she who changed him. He seems to have recognized something within himself, although he is limited by those around him.

He struggles with who he was born to be and that struggle displays the very limits of his courage – even to him.

Brotherhood is a surprisingly evocative story of a young man living in a time that somehow couldn’t quite shape him. He wasn’t a better person than those around him, but then again, really, he was. Did he become the best he could ever hope to be, in his circumstances? This might be the central question.

Author A.B. Westrick is to be congratulated for this daring novel, and exploration of lives – of both victims and tormenters. It makes me hope always for kinder times…and kinder people. It also exposes that potential for kindness, and for a better general understanding, even as the tale struggles through the mires of racism and just plain outright hate.

Brotherhood is beautifully written and completely engaging. It’s frustrating yet hard to set aside. Make it a must read.

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