When sixth-grader Lu Olivera discovers an unexpected passion for running, she also finds a potential friend in fellow speedster Belinda Gresham. Unfortunately, 1970s Red Grove, Ala., is not an easy place for this friendship. Although public schools have officially become integrated, Lu, an immigrant from Argentina, and Belinda, a black girl, are not supposed to "mix," according to the culture of the community. School may be desegregated, but their classroom reflects the reality of the racial status: "White kids sit on one side and black kids on the other." Lu is "one of the few middle-rowers who split the difference," not belonging clearly to either group. The kids in the middle rows "believe in equal rights and all that good stuff," and this "makes [them] weirdos in some people's eyes." Everyone in the class is closely following the upcoming primary election in which ex-governor and segregationist George Wallace is trying to reclaim his old position from the current moderate governor, Albert Brewer.
Based on true events in Lila Quintero Weaver's own 1970s childhood as an Argentinian immigrant in a small Alabama town, My Year in the Middle is a moving story about finding one's center in the midst of overwhelming external pressure. Lu is believable as a girl who is afraid to "stick [her] neck out too far." And she's genuinely likable as a girl who wants nothing more than to find a friend who shares interests and a sense of humor, even if she doesn't share a skin color. Weaver writes vividly about the spaces in the middle, between black and white. Any reader who has struggled to find a safe and happy place between polarities will appreciate Weaver's deep understanding of just how difficult--and rewarding--this can be. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor