Nancy O'Toole's Reviews > Witness

Witness by Karen Hesse
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Jul 28, 10

bookshelves: school-related-reading, historical-fiction, verse-novels, library, lsc530, middle-grade
Read from June 15 to 16, 2010, read count: twice

In 1928, the Ku Klux Klan settled in a town in Vermont. Witness shows how certain members of the the town reacted, including a young Jewish girl, an African American adolescent, and a racist minister. Witness, narrated from multiple view points, is told in verse form instead of prose. This gives the reader the unique experience of getting to see inside the minds of eleven different people living in one town. To assist the reader, the author has provided pictures at the beginning of the book of each character with their name and age. While reading the book, if you need to remind yourself who a certain character is, you can always flip back to that page and see their picture. Children should be able to relate the most to the younger children, especially twelve year old Leona Sutter. Most of the cast are actually adults. Hess does not hold back on the racism present in the community, such as with Merlin Van Tornhout and Johnny Reeves, both who use racist slang that people may not see as appropriate for young children. One of the benefit of the use of such language is it makes the characters much more believable, giving the time frame. The arrival of the Ku Klux Klan is not the only thing going on in Witness. Hess does a great job establishing the time period by having characters, such as newspaper editor Reynard Alexander, comment on related current events of the late 1920s. Time is also spent developing important relationships between characters, such as Sara Chickering and the young Ester Hirsh, as well as Leona Sutter and the elderly Mr. Field. It's these more gentle, positive moments of the book that make it more than a commentary on racism, but a peek into the lives of eleven very different individuals. Witness is a fascinating book that gets more enjoyable with every read.
Recommended Grade Level- 4-6
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