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One Mississippi Review

One Mississippi: A Novel One Mississippi: A Novel by Mark Childress

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars
At the start, this appears to be your basic southern childhood adventures memoir. Led by the famous "My Dog Skip" by Willie Morris, it's a genre that can be enjoyable, but pretty predictable. Kid moves to a small town. His parents are troubled. He's a loner. He bemoans that there is nothing to do there until he makes a wild new friend who leads him on dangerous adventures that help the kid find some true core of himself.

This started that way, but took some interesting diversions. It's set in 70's post-school-desegregation Jackson, MS, and both the black and white kids are trying to find their place in the new paradigm. The prejudices of both sides are shown in many shades of grey. When the band teacher refuses to drop an old minstrel song from their statewide band competition routine, the black students retaliate by purposefully sabotaging their performance. The later regret on both sides is nicely portrayed. It's the same with the treatment of a church youth group putting on a hilarious Jesus Christ Superstar style rock opera. The kids look at the intense church culture critically but enjoy the fellowship and music, and the church leaders are written as humans instead of stereotypes. The novel also deals with the extreme taboos against homosexuality at that time, but nothing feels heavy handed. It's just a natural part of these kids lives at the time.

Towards the end, the book turns suddenly quite dark. Although I truly didn't see it coming, it didn't feel disjointed. Life smacks you in the head with something horrible now and again. (Honestly I get a little sick of the ominous foreboding that many novels lay on thick at the beginning so that a tragic ending feels natural. Just let me ENJOY the good times in the book for now.) After the tragic events, the book didn't offer any easy answers, but it also didn't feel hopeless. I appreciate that.

It's not groundbreaking writing and the focus on teenage hijinks is pretty silly at times, but it was an engrossing read.

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December 2008

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