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The Lions of Little Rock

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Two girls separated by race form an unbreakable bond during the tumultuous integration of Little Rock schools in 1958

Twelve-year-old Marlee doesn't have many friends until she meets Liz, the new girl at school. Liz is bold and brave, and always knows the right thing to say, especially to Sally, the resident mean girl. Liz even helps Marlee overcome her greatest fear - speaking, which Marlee never does outside her family.

But then Liz is gone, replaced by the rumor that she was a Negro girl passing as white. But Marlee decides that doesn't matter. Liz is her best friend. And to stay friends, Marlee and Liz are willing to take on integration and the dangers their friendship could bring to both their families.

298 pages, Hardcover

First published January 5, 2012

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Kristin Levine

5 books205 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,247 reviews
Profile Image for Julie G .
857 reviews2,632 followers
September 30, 2020
We listen for so long in our lives, until one day
We push back our chairs and stand to speak.

--Alberto Ríos

Marlee's a junior high student in Little Rock, Arkansas who is too timid to talk. No one knows why, but she has only ever spoken to her immediate family and her bossy friend, Sally. When it comes to voicing her opinion, giving an oral report, or standing up for herself, we hear only silence.

Liz is the new girl at school and she's sassy and pretty enough to be causing a stir in the way that only new girls can. Sally and her high society mother are immediately on their guard. Who does this new girl think she is? As Sally and her mother make it their mission to put this Liz in her place, Marlee realizes that she actually likes the new girl. For once she has a friend who is encouraging her to speak her mind instead of enjoying the fact that she never interrupts the monologue.

When Sally and her mother discover Liz in the “colored” part of town, they realize that Liz is actually Black and has been “passing” as white, to receive a better education at the white junior high. They make sure they shame her by publicly declaring her “deception” and she is forced to leave her new school and her new friendship with Marlee.

It's 1958, and it's the segregated South and Liz's act of deception echoes the previous year's “disruption” of the Little Rock Nine, the nine students who bravely determined to attend a white high school despite public outcry.

Marlee's in a terrible position. She's a small girl, and a mostly mute one at that, but she likes Liz and she realizes, for the first time in her life, that she is being told that she can't do something that seems ridiculous to ban. Why can't she and Liz be friends?

Before she knows it, Marlee is taking risks that she has never taken before and is aligning herself with her father, who is a high school teacher and a community integrationist. It's not long before she is receiving death threats from grown men in town, who phone her at home to call her a “nigger lover” and a “little bitch.”

Marlee is terrified (this is no after school special, folks), and she has several moments of wishing she could back down from this unpopular friendship, but when she finally realizes that sassy Liz has no choice and no voice because she is “colored,” she knows she must find her own voice to represent both of them.

I couldn't read this to my 10-year-old; the language and themes were far too provoking, but my 12-year-old was just mature enough to tackle this one with me.

We laughed, shook our fists and bit our nails throughout this entire read and when we finished this middle grades novel last night, my middle child said, “Mom, no joke. Best book we've read all year.”

A weight carried by two
Weighs only half as much
--Alberto Ríos
Profile Image for Jennifer.
1,721 reviews6,662 followers
August 4, 2015
Required Summer Reading = Unhappy Tween Boy


My poor boy. Apparently, the school is ruining his summer! Did you know they are intentionally STEALING his vacation time away from him?? Oh, the drama...

Post-meltdown, I went in my closet and had a little laugh, composed myself, and then sat down and made a plan. I've always made an effort to read along with my boy and summertime is no exception. So we went on a book hunt (with a frappuccino stop of course) and printed out all the assignments the school organized for each book...which was a lot I have to admit. With books in hand, and audio on standby to keep us on task, we mapped out which chapters would be read on which days. With 57 chapters, it evened out to approximately ten chapters a day (they're fairly brief chapters). So this is how it went...

Day 1: Chapters 1-9
Day 2: Chapters 10-19

Everything going as planned! Yay!

Day 3: Chapters 20-39
I stopped him at chapter 30 but he wanted to keep reading. Okaaaaay...

Day 4: Chapters 40-57
Again, I stopped him at 50...but he didn't want to stop.

Basically, this is my review. An incoming sixth grader came to this required book with a negative outlook. He had a week to finish it and he finished it in four days. Some may say he just wanted to get it over with, and that may be true, but I was there. His gasps, smiles, and concerned frowns spoke for themselves.

He's working on his assignments as I write this with no complaints. It's like he actually liked the book and doesn't mind reflecting on it...it's my turn to gasp.

My favorite quote:
"We tell kids that sometimes. We pretend the world is straightforward, simple, easy. You do this, you get that. You're a good person and try your best, and nothing bad will happen. But the truth is, the world is much more like an algebraic equation. With variables and changes, complicated and messy. Sometimes there's more than one answer, and sometimes there is none. Sometimes we don't even know how to solve the problem. But usually, if we take things step by step, we can figure things out."
Profile Image for Cathy.
102 reviews4 followers
August 3, 2012
This is a really powerful piece of historical fiction based on some real events. The year is 1958, the setting is Little Rock, Arkansas. The public high schools are shut down to prevent further integration and the conflicts that ensued. The main character, Marlee, and her friend Liz are the kind of characters that really get into your heart. They are such normal girls, wanting friendship & struggling to grow up, but they also have such unusual courage and perception. The author makes you care so much about them and what happens in their lives. Marlee is extremely shy, and Liz helps her to find her voice. Liz is too outspoken at times, and Marlee teaches her to use a journal to capture those words.

One of my favorite pieces from an early chapter:

(Marlee's thoughts)
"You see, to me, people are like things to drink. Some are like a pot of black coffee, no cream, no sugar. They make me so nervous I start to tremble. Others calm me down enough that I can sort through the words in my head and find something to say. My brother, David, is a glass of sweet iced tea on a hot summer day....."

I will recommend this to the intermediate school teachers in my district. It would be great for a cross-categorical book study; tie ins with Math (magic squares), Social Studies (Civil Rights), and Science (Sputnik era & the space program) are easy to spot. It's a snapshot of a very ugly time period in the history of the United States, but also a time when some brave people started to stand up for what was right and fair. I will be trying to put this book into the hands of many students this school year!
Profile Image for Cassi aka Snow White Haggard.
459 reviews154 followers
April 16, 2012
Normally I go to the library with a plan. However sometimes, when I'm doing a lot of driving for work, I just dash in and grab a book quickly. Normally I have pretty low expectations for these books. Something has caught my eye, the description or the cover-art, but I have no idea what to expect.

The Lions of Little Rock is a book I just happened to encounter. It's set in 1958 Little Rock. Not tumultuous 1957, known for the Little Rock 9 but 1958. I've always enjoyed history classes but I had no idea that anything interesting happen in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1958.

But boy did it. In 1958 in an effort to avoid integration, ALL the public high schools in Little Rock were closed. There were special elections, recall elections and lots of fascinating complaining. I loved the history, especially since it was history that I never learned in school. But this isn't a history book, it's a novel with a historical backdrop.

This is the story of how 12 year old Marlee found her voice. Marlee doesn't talk. It's not because she can't, she talks to her sister and her father, but because she's afraid to. She's an exceptionally gift student, especially when it comes to math. But talking doesn't nearly as easily as her multiplication table.

Until Liz, a new girl comes to school. She befriends Marlee. As they understake a history assignment together, Liz teaches Marlee to speak up. It's the first time Marlee has had a true friend. Then one day Liz disappears. Even though the teacher's claim she's sick, word quickly spreads that Liz wasn't what she appeared. She was black "passing" as white.

Marlee struggles to understand what that means. How could Liz be white one day and colored the next? Yet eventually Marlee decides that it doesn't matter. The girls attempt to be friends, despite the dangers, parental disapproval and many mishaps along the way. This feels surprisingly believable in the context of the story.

The story touched on a lot of issues without getting preachy, integration, racism and even touches upon sexism when Marlee notes that all the NASA scientists are men.

The story also doesn't oversimplify characters. I like the fact that characters who seem bad in the beginning, aren't all bad by the end. They're struggling to unlearn what they've been taught and re-learn how to think for themselves. Racism isn't something that just dies one day, but something that children are taught and must come to terms with.
Profile Image for Kady Mac.
38 reviews
April 23, 2012
The Teaser: Marlee is nearly 13 years old and that means it is high time for her to get over her fear of... well, fear of almost everything, actually. A quiet girl, who greatly prefers math and numbers to words and people, Marlee lives her life categorizing people as what type of drink they'd be and following around the same Queen Bee bossy and popular girls that she's known forever. When the school year starts and Marlee meets outgoing new girl Liz (warm milk with a dash of cinnamon), she thinks things might have changed. With Liz's help, Marlee begins to overcome her fear of speaking to other people and learns what it's like to have a real friend who shares her interests for the first time. But when Liz suddenly withdraws from school and disappears without a word, Marlee is hurt and confused. The rumor that Liz is actually a African American girl who has been passing as white doesn't do anything to make Marlee feel any better. Caught between her integrationist father and don't-rock-the-boat mother, in an ugly year where all of Little Rock's public high schools stayed closed to prevent integration and racial tensions are at an all time high, all Marlee knows is that finding and keeping her first friend is worth risking the wrath of the entire city. What follows is a story of first crushes, family relationships, finding a voice and becoming brave in ways you never knew the word brave meant. A story about two girls who know that they need each other and are willing to risk just about anything to stay friends.

What Stands Out: Oh man, Marlee, I feel you. It is hard to have a crush on that popular boy and then realize that maybe he's not all that after all. It is hard to finally have someone that you can confide in, only to have them yanked away without any warning. And it is hard when even your home feels like a battleground and you don't know where you fit anymore. Nothing on Marlee's journey, from when we first meet a terrified 12 year old chickening out on a high dive to the end where she's standing up to Ku Klux Klan members, feels forced or rushed or anything but a completely natural progression. Levine has a clear voice and skillfully navigates between the real world history that informs the narrative and Marlee's own story. And can we get a what-what for Liz and Betty Jean, the two main African-American characters, who had a lot more to fear than Marlee but who didn't believe in backing down in the face of opposition either.

What Didn't Work: Nope, not a thing. I started reading this book on my lunch break and got so sucked up into the world of 1958 Little Rock that I was 10 minutes late getting back to work. I finished it later that night and immediately sent a friend an e-mail that said "this. book. is. so. so. good."

Anything Extra Special?: Oh heck yes.

I went to college in the great state of Arkansas and I flipping loved it there. Arkansas gets a bad rap a lot of the time but it is truly one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. While in school I worked at a garden adjacent to Dunbar Junior High, the all black junior high that Curtis goes to in the book. I have friends who went to Central High School, the school that the famed Little Rock Nine integrated in 1957. They can point out rooms where they had classes in the pictures in history books. Reading call backs to all these places that I know made me feel right at home and like I had special insider knowledge- I know exactly how bad it must have felt to get sent to Pine Bluff, a town where I once waited 3 hours for a pizza to come out at the Pizza Hut.

I think most people know the story of the Little Rock Nine, the kids who integrated Central High School. What not a lot of people know about, and I certainly didn't until reading this book, was what happened the year afterwards. While the story in Lions of Little Rock is very much fictional, it's set in the real Little Rock. The one where high schools stayed shut for an entire school year in an attempt to re-segregate the schools. The civil rights and pro-segregation groups featured in this story actually existed, as did the McCarthy-like blacklisting of public school teachers. I appreciated the insider view of how things like a school board election would actually work and I'm that dork who completely ate up the Author's Note at the end where Levine details exactly what was real and gives suggested books for further reading.
Profile Image for Barb Middleton.
1,600 reviews121 followers
September 21, 2012
This novel is like an exploding bottle of Mountain Dew that showers everyone with emotion, fear, friendship, and hope. Thirteen-year-old Marlee chooses not to talk out loud. She'll confide with her sister and talk with her family or Sally, her friend from kindergarten, but it is not much. She's no chatterbox, that's for sure, nor is she a selective mute. She talks in her head and deals with stress by reciting the times tables or prime numbers. She usually describes people in her head as types of drinks. When she meets Liz, Marlee astounds herself by speaking three words out loud, "Please sit down." She wonders if Liz is wholesome as whole milk or if she is a shot of whiskey. "I couldn't place her, and it made me nervous." When she later learns Liz's secret, things take a dangerous turn, but by then they are best friends and Marlee is going to stick by Liz no matter what. The problem? Marlee endangers Liz's life and really doesn't realize the magnitude of hatred, divisiveness, and bigotry in the town of Little Rock, Arkansas.

The tension makes this a page turner and the life-and-death situations really amp up the excitement, especially since Marlee's radar doesn't detect the extent of racial hate that exists in Little Rock. She makes decisions that threaten her safety scaring her parents and Liz's, but she and other youths don't realize that people will commit murder over the color of skin. She only sees herself as sticking up for a friend. We applaud Marlee when she finds her voice that she didn't know she had and shows courage and strength in suffering.

The character of Marlee and how she changes is like a flower blooming. I love how she uses numbers to size up people, control herself from blurting angry words at others, or describe relationships such as with her mom, "So we didn't talk, and by not talking we made it even worse. It was like a repeating decimal. You can divide 10 by 3 for as long as you want, but all you're going to get is 3.33333 with evermore 3s after it. There had to be some way to finish the problem." (p. 170) It's wonderful how Liz teaches Marlee to be brave and speak out loud and then Marlee teaches Liz how to not get angry and have outbursts against those teasing her. The two become real friends and it reminded me of the blast I had with my best friend growing up. Like Liz, my friend, dared me to climb a tree and I got stuck swaying in the boughs like Marlee because I was too terrified to scamper down.

I wanted the supporting characters such as Liz more developed, especially toward the end of the novel. I found my interest waning at the end when Marlee starts to sound too perfect and too grown-up. The leap from being slightly immature to being a wise woman was too great for me. She sounds like a teacher at the end, such as when she talks to JT, "JT," I said gently, "you're thirteen. Your brother is not an excuse. It's time you started thinking for yourself" (223) or when she shrugs off Sally being vain and not caring about the issues (228) or when she isn't angry at Liz's mother for not letting them even talk on the phone or when she agrees to being punished for jumping in the trunk. I'm not sure the danger of the girls talking on the phone except the mother was that scared, but the mother already knew the huge danger she was placing her daughter in, so it doesn't make much sense that she is that fearful, although it does add more drama and tension. I also thought Marlee would show more anger. Yes, she's level-headed and smart but she's also thirteen and the 13-year-olds I know tend to be more self-centered and get angry as learn the meaning of injustice.

I kind of wished the book had ended when Marlee's mom finally takes a stand. That was a heartwarming emotional scene with nice repetition to dramatize the message. After that section, the plot seemed forced with Marlee in the trunk of the car and forgetting the dynamite. Marlee is an extremely bright, level-headed, detailed girl, but her not grabbing the dynamite seemed out of character even if the situation was highly stressful. I see how the author uses the dynamite to push things to an extreme, but that's the section where I started to notice the plot structure and wasn't as swept along with the story as in previous pages. That said, it adds great tension and plenty of action.

I really liked the development of Marlee and Liz's friendship. I did wish the adults were more fleshed out as characters. I was so happy when Marlee's mom finally stood up, but I still wanted more after that; it seemed that Marlee was still teaching her mom more than her mom was teaching Marlee. There were a few too many comments on Marlee's bravery from mom and I wanted her mom to show more depth. I also didn't like that Mr. Harding didn't intervene when he knew Marlee was cheating for JT. He saw her every day for lunch! Crikey, he had plenty of chances to bring up the issue and they do talk at the end but it seems awfully late in the plot. It is the teacher's responsibility to keep kids safe and I think Mr. Harding would have done something. If he was a jerk of teacher then I could see him choosing to ignore it, but as a conscientious teacher, I didn't buy it that he wouldn't say anything. BUT, I am an adult reader and a teacher with my own biases. I don't think young readers will notice.

Christianity is used as the author weaves 1 Peter 3:14 throughout the story to emphasize suffering to do the right thing and not being afraid. There is some romance but only kids asking each other on dates or going to the movies. The characters are dealing with academic cheating, relationships, and abuse. The abuse is not gone into great depth but it shows one family with the father possibly abusing the wife and the older brother abusing the younger brother. Lots to mull over in this terrific novel and the tension and fear of racism during the 1950s is well-captured by the author. It's obvious that she did quite a bit of research for this book and she lists more resources in the Author's Note at the end. Marlee changes dramatically from start to finish which makes her interesting even if I thought the changes made her sound a little too old by the end. The author carefully shows how Marlee gains courage finding a voice to speak out and learning to face fears such as flying, climbing a tree, or going off a high dive. While the ending is too pat for me the book as a whole tastes like a carbonated soda. Enjoy!

Reading Level 3.9

Profile Image for Rob.
679 reviews83 followers
April 24, 2014
3.5 stars. The Lions of little Rock is an interesting case of a Young Adult book doing some things better than an acknowledged classic even though it's still obviously not in the same league. Set in 1958 in Little Rock, Arkansas and narrated from the point of view of Marlee, a 13-year-old girl whom many townspeople think is mute (but is really just intensely shy), the book focuses on the time the local schools closed to prevent the integration of white and African-American students. It isn't as sophisticated as Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, but it treads similar ground, and I think Marlee represents, in many ways, a more compelling character than Scout Finch.

Where Scout narrates Mockingbird from a distance – an older, wiser character reflecting on the past – there's an immediacy to Marlee's storytelling. Scout gets to filter the events of her book through the gauze of experience, but Marlee tells her story in the now, and her struggle to come to terms with the events of 1958 – the schools' closing; befriending a light-skinned African-American girl "passing" at the white school; threats of violence; a recall election – is part of the book's appeal. Unlike Scout, Marlee doesn't have the benefit of hindsight.

It would be foolish to claim this book is better than Mockingbird, but I found compelling how it approached this crucial chapter of the civil rights era from a place of naivete; by aligning us with a shy, awkward child, we're asked to process the events as Marlee does, and this lends a freshness to a period of time that many people now unfortunately take for granted.
Profile Image for Laurel.
Author 38 books725 followers
July 25, 2012
I fear my experience of this book suffered, because I'd just finished The Only and One Ivan.

I liked it. A lot. But I didn't love it.

I thought the history was well handled, the characters pretty real in most ways. I liked the friendship at the center of the book. And I liked that we got to see a full cast of characters, therefore a range of reactions to integration.

But the prose wasn't that special, and the ways in which the book tried to do "more" felt forced to me. The conceit of a kid who doesn't speak finding her voice felt heavy handed, and I didn't buy it altogether. And that, plus her reliance on math for emotional stability made me think there should have been more going on. I wondered if maybe we were supposed to read her as OCD. But then she was fixed, ta dah!

Likewise, the sudden awakening of several secondary characters felt too easy.

This was a tough topic, and I admired the attempt. I think the topic was deftly handled. I guess I didn't feel like the character development got the same level of attention.
Profile Image for Sandy.
2,488 reviews58 followers
March 27, 2014
It’s 1958 and there is a whole lot going on in Marlee’s life in Little Rock, Arkansas. For starters, twelve-year old Marlee doesn’t do much talking, at least out loud. In fact people make fun of her because of this issue. Starting middle school, Marlee knows she’s going to have some issues with the new teachers as they adjust to Marlee’s silence. Her home situation is difficult now, since the high school closed this year. The recent rules on integration that caused its closure, has caused major effects on Marlee’s family. From her parents conflicting views on integration, to her mother’s job at the high school, to having her sister not going to the local high, this closing has had a ripping effect upon the Nisbett household. Starting middle school, Marlee happens upon a new girl named Liz, who Marlee finds she likes a great deal except Liz talks a lot. Liz tries to help Marlee open up and speak even if it’s only a few words. Reading what these two girls do together to break the glue that held Marlee’s lips closed reminds me of the friendships I had when I was younger. Marlee and Liz, they have this connection to each other that brings a smile to your face as you read how they share the world with one another. The day of their school presentation, Liz doesn’t show up and Marlee has more than concern for her friend when she hears that Liz is never coming back. How could Liz lie to her and not let her know she was an African American? Would she ever be able to see Liz again? Liz finally helped her speak out and she was the only best friend Marlee ever had, she can’t just let her go.

The connection that Liz and Marlee had was amazing. Liz helped Marlee open up and those first couple words that Marlee said brought a smile to my face as I read them. Marlee kept a list in her head of all the people she actually spoke to as she was so proud of the accomplishments. Both in the amount of words she was speaking and in whom she was speaking to. Liz also needed help from Marlee and Marlee was able to assist Liz, which deepened their relationship and another great part of the story. They both had a lot to deal with being only twelve and having to handle integration. Peers and family feelings and opinions weighed heavily on their minds and hearts. Marlee loved things having to do with numbers so this girl had my heart, as I love numbers also. She loved reciting the prime numbers when things got difficult and she tried to get Liz to use multiplication for her coping mechanism but realized that Liz was a words person. Marlee found a way using words that Liz could rely on when she started to feel overwhelmed. They both found their voice when they found each other. Highly recommend this book.
Profile Image for Joyce Yattoni.
298 reviews23 followers
February 11, 2017
I enjoyed listening to this HF narrative this past busy and hectic week. I was able to snatch time as I was getting ready for school and car rides. The story takes place in 1958 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The year after The Little Rock Nine were integrated into Central HS. I learned that in the subsequent year many school boards refused to integrate their schools and some high schools did not open that year for the entire school year. As a result, many families sent their children off to relatives where the schools remained open. I loved the closeness that the protagonist, middle schooler Marlee, had with her siblings. I loved some of the simple routines of family life from this time period that were demonstrated: family breakfasts and dinners, no fast food stops. The author did a beautiful job of capturing the culture with her references to the party line telephone, saddle shoes and The Women's Emergency Committee who worked hard to get the schools open. Fascinating book about a most disappointing time in American history. The author's note is especially intriguing because as the author set out to do research on The Little Rock Nine it was apparent to her she needed to focus on the year after and from the perspective of a family dealing with closed schools.
Profile Image for Katie Clark.
209 reviews29 followers
February 15, 2013
An unflinching look at racism in Little Rock in 1958 all through the eyes of 12 year old Marlee who is becoming increasingly aware that the culture of white and black she's always known isn't right. Not someone who makes friends easily, mostly because she doesn't speak to anyone outside her family, Marlee finally finds a kindred soul in Liz. When Liz doesn't come to school the day of their big class presentation, Marlee is told that Liz wasn't who she had seemed. I enjoyed seeing this background story to what was happening when Little Rock was deciding the fate of integration of their schools (the Little Rock Nine).
Profile Image for Rebecca.
186 reviews12 followers
September 21, 2021
The ONLY flaw this book has, in my opinion, is one it shares with a lot of MG historical fiction - namely, a few places where the prose gets kind of weak. But for the most part, it’s a beautiful story told in Marlee’s own, strong voice. Having a very quiet little sister, it was so special to me to see the way this book shows both sides - Marlee growing and finding her voice, but also that her quietness isn’t completely bad, that it’s a kind of strength too.

“Marlee listens to lions.” <<< I love that.

I may laugh, as a homeschooler, at how important public schools were made out to be, but it was nevertheless glorious to see the community come together to do something about racial injustice and their kids’ futures, and to know that it was based on real events! And the way Marlee’s and Liz’s friendship was portrayed - Liz herself - and the way ALL the characters were drawn and redrawn (as you learned more things about them or as they changed) was so good. One of the most interesting things to me - and I’ve seen this in real life - was how the only time KIDS were racist was if they were explicitly taught to be by their parents. Sometimes parents might fall into casual, unthinking racism, but kids really don’t. To kids everyone’s the same. But they also really really mimic their parents. Just...interesting to me. Especially since, as I said, it lines up with my real-life experience.

All in all, a story about friendship, courage, quiet people, and school integration in 1958 Little Rock.
Profile Image for C. L..
340 reviews15 followers
December 20, 2016
This story could have been several hundred times better if the POV switched between Liz and Marlee, instead of just sticking with Marlee. Instead what we have is the "Perfect Negro" trope, whose purpose is not to have a personality of her own, but rather to forward the moral development of the white girl. (Case and point: we're supposed to believe a 12-year-old black girl in Little Rock in the late '50s, while trying to pass at a white school, is going to be enthusiastically making friends with and/or talking back to every other student she meets? That is not the behavior of a believable character; that is the behavior of a prop to the protagonist's plot.) Terrible things are happening, but the novel assumes the reader can only understand, or care, if they see the *white* person's suffering. The entire thing deeply, deeply rubbed me the wrong way. Not recommended; read Flygirl or Sylvia & Aki instead.
Profile Image for Megan.
216 reviews20 followers
April 24, 2021
*blows nose* Wow. I'm becoming such a weepy reader.

Or maybe I've just been reading really good books lately.

Yeah. Let's go with that.

Anyway. This was wonderful. It jived really well with material covered in my college survey of U.S. history, so that's a plus, but even aside from how impressively immersive this was (my concept of 1958 is SO much more fleshed-out than it was before), the story was wonderful.

Kristin Levine's turn of phrase reminds me of Clare Vanderpool's at times, which I mean as nothing but the highest praise.

And the character dynamics were great. I especially appreciated how subtly some of the bad guys were handled. But to give details is to give spoilers.

Anywho. The kinds of things that happened in this beautiful little book are the reasons I read.
Profile Image for Samantha (WLABB).
3,329 reviews231 followers
November 29, 2022
Rating 4.5 Stars

This was so well done, and after listening to the author's note at the end, I really appreciate that she chose a different event than originally planned. Obviously, parts of this book made me so sad, but it was wonderful to see a child lead them, and to see other hearts changed. I came looking for a book to check Arkansas off my reading challenge, and I found a gem.

20 reviews2 followers
November 16, 2020
I really liked this book. I liked how Marlee stayed firm and did not give up hope on the election. She stayed positive. She was able to make friends and get out of her comfort zone. This was a good book.
Profile Image for Margo Tanenbaum.
785 reviews21 followers
January 22, 2012
Some books introduce you to a really special character. Kristin Levine has done that with the protagonist of her new novel, The Lions of Little Rock, twelve-year old Marlee. Marlee is a brilliant math student, who dreams of becoming a rocket scientist (although she wonders if it's only boys who can have careers in math). But at school, Marlee is painfully shy, and is so nervous she's scared of saying anything in class. Not surprisingly, it's difficult for her to make friends. It's 1958 in Little Rock, and Marlee's starting middle school. Her older sister, Judy, should be attending high school, but the governor has closed the schools rather than have them be integrated, even though nine African-American students had enrolled the year before (the famous Little Rock Nine).

Things seem to be improving for Marlee when, much to her surprise, a new girl at school, Liz, comes to eat lunch with her and soon becomes her friend. Liz and Marlee are even working together on an oral presentation for school, and Liz is helping Marlee gather the courage to speak in front of the entire class. But when the big day comes, Marlee is devestated to find out that Liz is not returning to West Side Junior High--and it's for a shocking reason. It turns out that Liz is African-American, but has been "passing" for white. When her identity is discovered, she must withdraw from school.

Although Marlee's mother is shocked by what she sees as Liz' betrayal, Marlee can't help missing her friend. Can Liz and Marlee still be friends even though it's become dangerous for them to even be seen together?

This novel is an excellent pick for tweens and middle school students, exploring serious issues of prejudice within the context of a story of two girls' friendship that students that age will easily identify with. The lions of the title live in the zoo not far from Marlee's house, and she hears them roaring sometimes at night. But the title also refers to the courage that Marlee and Liz demonstrate by fighting the prejudice that was so much a part of their milieu in 1958 Little Rock. Marlee even lies to her family to meet Liz secretly, not thinking that it might be dangerous for Liz and her family for the girls to see each other. The secondary characters in this novel, including Marlee's sister, parents, and their African-American maid Betty Jean are just as skillfully drawn as the two protagonists, and enrich the story as well. I would particularly recommend the book for mother-daughter or library book clubs, since the subject matter and the characters' response to their situations would make excellent material for discussion.
Profile Image for Becky.
4,989 reviews92 followers
September 22, 2012
I loved, loved, loved Kristin Levine's The Lions of Little Rock. Since I had also LOVED The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had, I knew to expect great things from her, and I was not disappointed. I'm not sure which of the two is my favorite, favorite. I loved both books so much. All I can say is that I definitely want to reread them both!

I LOVED both Marlee and Liz. Marlee is a heroine that I found so easy to love. She's so shy, so wonderfully smart but painfully shy. So shy that her family--who loves and supports her--challenges her (in a good way) to speak five or six words a day. In the beginning, she's so reliant on her older sister, but through the novel, she becomes more confident and brave. But above all, she becomes more thoughtful. She takes time to think and consider, for the most part, what is right, what is true, over and above what is easy and what is comfortable.

Liz is a new girl who becomes Marlee's very first true best friend, but their friendship will soon be tested in Little Rock, Arkansas in the school year of 1958/1959...

I do enjoy historical fiction. I found the setting of this one to be so very fascinating. It is set one year after the Little Rock Nine, and readers learn about the year that public high schools were officially closed in order to avoid integration. It is simply a fascinating, compelling novel. I just couldn't put it down.

I did love the characters, and not just the main character(s). Readers get a chance to get to know all the people in Marlee's life, her mother and father, her older sister and brother, a few teachers, even a Sunday School teacher, I believe, the family's new maid, her classmates, her friends, those that bully her, etc. So many glimpses of people that felt so genuine.

I also LOVED the writing. I just LOVED, LOVED, LOVED it from start to finish. So lovely, it just has a "just right" feel to it.
8 reviews
March 13, 2017
I loved everything about this book! I couldn't put it down, in fact, I read the entire book in one sitting. The main character, a 13 year old girl named Marlee, is an inspiration to people of all ages. This historical fiction novel is based in the year 1958 in Little Rock, AR. Little Rock was being watching by the entire nation in 1957 with the first integration of schools. Kristin Levine based her story on the year following school integration and the issues that Little Rock faced.

We follow the story of Marlee a 13 year old girl trying to find her place in middle school and is thrown into the middle of a war on race. We watch Marlee and her friend Liz face situations that would be terrifying for someone 3x their age. This book really puts life into perspective.

I would recommend this book for all adults as well as students 4th grade and older. This book is an excellent tool to tie multiple subjects together. Math is something Marlee uses every single day, students can see prime numbers, algebra, and times tables being used in day to day life. This book would also pair perfectly with Social Studies and students studying Civil Rights. The Little Rock 9 is something that is mentioned in every history book. The Space Race and Communism is another item that most students learn about and is mentioned plenty in this book. There are other Easter Eggs hidden in the book as well, such as King Midas. The options for mini lessons are endless from the content in this book.

Lastly, this book can teach students about standing up for what is right even when doing what is right can be scary. For students who are too young to have learned about Civil Rights or advanced Math, this book teaches empathy for others who might seem different from you.

Kristin Levine is now on my list of authors for "Must Read".
Profile Image for Tessa.
879 reviews33 followers
June 13, 2013
I liked the book. We don't like to face the reality that narrow-minded racist attitudes are held by perfectly normal people. Klan members were well standing members of society. The South was not populated by monsters, but by normal people who did horrible things. The Lions of Little Rock makes us face that reality. And it goes even further than that by having Marlee's mom be a bit racist. She's not shouting racial epithets or anything like that, but she's not comfortable with her daughters going to an integrated school. So often, all the "good" characters in these historical novels are enlightened and see clearly through racism and bigotry. This book is more real than that. Life is complicated and people are made up of spectrums of grays.

I also appreciated that the conflict was resolved realistically. Levine didn't just wave a magic wand and make everything better. Things end better than they started, but it's still messy, as it really would have been in history. There are a couple uses of the N word throughout the book, which I was not expecting in a middle-grade novel, but I feel they are contextually justified.

All and all a good read, not terribly momentous.

You can read this and other reviews at my blog.
432 reviews
June 3, 2013
Historical fiction at its best. This account gives us new information about the aftermath of the well-known Little Rock Nine, as seen through the eyes of good people of Little Rock, Arkansas. After the turmoil of the year when the Little Rock Nine integrated the high school, the school board and mayor of Little Rock closed the schools. This power play was supposed to show that citizens would not allow their schools to be integrated and controlled by the federal government. But several brave citizens, particularly the Women's Emergency Committee to Open our Schools (WEC), fought for public schools in their own way and eventually prevailed. The story becomes human and real when Marlee befriends a new girl and learns that she is "passing." When it is discovered that Liz is really black, she and Marlee endure threats and intimidation, and learn far more about the cold world of racism than they ever knew existed. Levine's book is both a realistic account of history and a very compelling human story. Good read for middle grades.
Profile Image for Jewell.
Author 28 books1,330 followers
August 13, 2014
Set in 1958 in Little Rock, Marlee, a shy girl who doesn't like to talk learns the value of friendship in the face of prejudice. Courageous and lovable, Marlee is a wonderful heroine. A great book to add to the juvenile historical fiction cannon!
Profile Image for Susan Ballard.
1,183 reviews44 followers
June 19, 2020
This is a heavy topic for a middle school book, but I applaud Kristin Levine for not shying away from the truth of the ugliness of the events that took place in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957. If you are unfamiliar, it was then that nine black students were integrated into Central High School. They endured so much harassment and abuse that the 101st Airborne Division was called in to help keep the peace.

With the true account of segregation vs integration in the schools as its back drop, this story is a fictional account of friendship. Marlee, who hardly ever speaks, is watching this segregation debate tear her family apart. When a new girl, Liz, shows up at her middle school, things seem to take a turn for the better. Liz and Marlee become fast friends, until one day the teacher says Liz won’t be returning to school. Seems Liz was caught “passing” for a white. Confused, Marlee doesn’t understand why they still can’t be friends. It's too dangerous for them and their families. Marlee is tired of all this; it's time to find her voice!

Although the target audience may be middle schoolers, I highly recommend this book. It is a great historical glimpse back into the time when segregation was commonplace and so many ignorant, and well just plain stupid beliefs were held. Marlee and Liz’s friendship, although fictional, is a heartwarming reminder that love is always stronger than hate.
Profile Image for Samantha B.
310 reviews19 followers
June 13, 2021
I really enjoyed this one! My stomach is growling, so I need to keep this a bit brief, but anywho.

-Marlee was awesome! I loved the way she slowly found her voice.
-I loved Liz, too! I think I related to her the most...I was so impressed with her bravery.
-The historical setting was fascinating.
-The plot and character arcs were paced just right.
-Parents-not-knowing-everything trope = happy Samantha
-Is that a subtle Wicked reference? *smirk*
-Friendship! This also = happy Samantha
-Christianity! Yay!

Thanks for the recommendation, MC!

4 stars!
Profile Image for Janice.
108 reviews
February 24, 2022
I think everyone should read this book. I learned so much about the year the high schools were closed in Little Rock, Arkansaw in 1958. It is based on the year after The Little Rock Nine attended high schools in 1957. I didn't even know what that was. I loved the characters of the book and it almost felt if I was reading non-fiction and not historical fiction. I especially loved the main character, Marlee, because she reminded me that some of us who are quiet can make changes big and small.
Profile Image for Tammy.
460 reviews
August 20, 2019
Great historical fiction for tweens and teens that takes place in Little Rock, Arkansas during the Civil Rights era in the late 1950's. I had no expectations before reading it and I was pleasantly surprised!
Profile Image for Mari Bianco.
198 reviews16 followers
September 12, 2019
I loved everything about this story—the historical context of Little Rock, Arkansas set the stage for a perfect introduction to the Civil Rights Movement for my ten-year-old boys. This book prompted important—and difficult—discussions in our family, some I should have addressed years ago, but I’m glad Marlee’s experiences candidly and poignantly helped build the empathy that all humans need when dealing with racism. I adored Marlee’s character and her OCD tendency to count in only prime numbers; I adored the way she described everyone as different types of beverages (I think I would be a frothy cappuccino with a double shot of espresso); I commended her bravery; I appreciated her innocence; I respected her knowledge and opinions; and I loved watching her grow through the story. This is a must read for all!
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