Earlier in June I had the great fortune of attending Book Expo America (BEA) in Chicago. BEA is a librarian’s dream. We were able to meet authors, hear about upcoming book releases, and even snag advance copies of some of the titles. I picked up many titles that I’m excited to share with readers, but there were two titles in particular that stayed with me long after I finished reading. Both are gripping, thought-provoking stories that offer unflinching portrayals of the horrors of racism.
Ben Winters’ “Underground Airlines” (coming in July) imagines that the Civil War never happened, and in present day America, slavery is still legal in four states. It is detested by many, with some free states refusing to do business with slave states, and many underground groups working to free slaves. But the law requires that slaves who escape into a free state must be returned if caught and anyone helping them will be arrested.
The US Marshalls Service is responsible for tracking down escaped slaves, and one of its agents, Victor, is tracking an escaped slave named Jackdaw. But Victor is black. Why would a black man support this horrible institution? As the story progresses, we learn why Victor is in this position and we also learn that there is more to Jackdaw’s escape. As Victor hunts down Jackdaw and pieces together the mystery of the slave’s identity, he finds he must cross the Fence into slave territories. It is a dangerous mission, but one that could potentially bring the downfall of slavery at last.
In Thomas Mullen’s “Darktown” (coming in September) it is 1948 and the Atlanta Police Department has just hired its first African American officers. Racism is still rampant in the South and the police force is no exception. The black officers aren’t allowed to drive squad cars, make arrests, or even walk into police headquarters.
Black officers Lucius Boggs and Tommy Smith are on patrol one night when they witness a white man driving while intoxicated with a black woman in the car. Unable to arrest him themselves, they call in white officers. Officer Dunlow, one of the white officers on the scene, lets the man go with no explanation. Frustrated, Boggs and Smith continue their patrol, only to later witness the woman with the drunken man, jump out of the car and flee. Not long after, the body of the same woman is found murdered. Boggs and Smith immediately suspect the drunken man, but the man is never questioned. Though none of their fellow white officers seem concerned with solving the murder of a black woman, Boggs and Smith are determined to bring her killer to justice despite the threat to their own safety.